This morning, once we had readied the clothes section of Emmaus for the public, we moved onto the shoes. As I was distributing footwear to the various areas, I saw a couple of pairs priced for 100 euros ($150)! This really surprised me, and yet, there are some clothes here that are exorbitantly priced as well, at least for second hand (literally, 'de deuxième main'). However, many types of people shop at thrift stores and there are those to whom a brand name means a lot. Emmaus capitalizes on this by pricing specific 'marques' as high as possible. The shoes I saw apparently sell for about 700 euros ($1050) brand new.
I learned today that the workers at the store fall into three categories: there are six employees, who are long standing, highly trusted individuals that direct much of the store; there are us volunteers, who comprise a fluid, uncertain number; and then there are about 35 or so 'compagnons.' While translated literally as 'companions,' a better understanding might be 'members of a community.' These are actually individuals who come from a variety of backgrounds and are working here for various reasons. Some are new to the country as refugees or immigrants and are just starting out, hoping to learn the language and get a start; many are without formal papers and somehow, Emmaus can hire them. Others have been out of the workforce for several years and want to gradually integrate themselves back in -- apparently, there is a program here where the government pays 90% of the wage and the employer, the other ten, so it's a real incentive for the organization. There are also those who have come from the rougher side of life and need a chance to understand how to hold a regular job and work within a community so Emmaus takes them in and supports them. It's a real 'mélange' and I've come to appreciate the distinct mix. The focus is on community rather than on setting a fast pace. It often seems there are more individuals than are needed for the work but this allows for more of a social aspect that seems to embellish the day-to-day activities. I discovered today, while talking with my regular lunch mates (Dominique and Josiane), that Dominique and the 'King of Toys' (Pierre) live together, having met here some years ago. She continues to volunteer four full days a week and floats among the various areas, helping where she can. All know her and she receives many hellos and kisses throughout the day, from worker and client alike. I have a feeling Amirouche (the 'grand chef') asked her to take me under her wing initially as she's the really social one.
I have come to recognize a few clients now that I have been there a few days; apparently, about two thirds are regulars who come by a few times a week. There are also those who have been banned from the clothes area, under the direction of Jean-Paul, due to their penchant for stealing. In fact, one person is always assigned just to watch individuals. As I was working the ticketing booth this afternoon, Mbinti was at her observation station and came by to advise me she saw some suspicious behaviour from a fellow. In a few minutes, when I suggested to him that he hadn't yet bought the jeans he was about to pack away, he said he had bought them in another area. Jean-Paul and Mbinti got involved and after some haranguing and haughty words from the 'buyer,' he apologized, intimating he had made an honest mistake. He's now on Jean-Paul's 'watch list.' I was further surprised when Mbinti said we have to really watch out for the people from Eastern Europe as they are the ones who steal. Intolerance can come from all quarters, I realized anew, when she herself must have been the recipient of it herself. Later that evening, when I was wondering aloud to Thierry why Jean-Paul, an educated man with a degree in Informatics, came to be working as a campagnon, Thierry suggested it might have to do with the racism against Africans that is still prevalent in France.
At the end of the day, I waited for the bus with many others; on Fridays, the end of school tallies with my shift and the bus is standing room only because of it. This time, there seemed to be an inordinate number so I expected some of us wouldn't get on. However, the driver (the same one who I wrote about a couple of days ago) did nothing to limit the people so we kept pouring into the gaping hole. I found myself at the end of the queue as others pushed themselves forward, mounting the bus two at a time. When the front doors squeezed behind me, they pulled on my clothes and hair and I narrowly escaped getting pinned. I hoped the line would move forward but it seemed there was no excess room throughout the bus, so there we were, cruising down the boulevard, squished like French sardines, with no real concern, it seemed, for the safety quota, or for the 'magic yellow line' present in Canadian buses behind which all passengers must stand. I was acutely aware that, should the door not hold, I would be the first on the tarmac. Then came the first stop to let some people off. As the front doors were opened, I felt them try to slide against me and the others who were still at the front, jamming at intervals. I took this as an opportunity to move further inside the bus, relieved there was a new niche into which I could crawl. When the driver attempted to re-close the doors, they wouldn't budge from their open position. He tried again and again but to no avail. The earlier trauma had rendered them unresponsive. A passenger in mirrored, heart-shaped sunglasses suggested perhaps not-so-helpfully to the driver that he 'check the manual.' After several more tries, while we sweltered together, the driver -- and we -- finally succumbed to the realization that the bus was not going anywhere in this state. Despite this, Mr. Sunglasses tried to manually adjust the doors, pulling them shut with brute force. The driver allowed this but apparently recognized the safety issue when the doors wouldn't respond further. He called in the 'depannage' guys while we all waited for the next bus to arrive.
Amid those waiting were two women with strollers and young children, as well as a few older people (older than me, I mean). As we waited in the heat, I wondered how this would play out. When the next bus did arrive, the young people immediately swarmed it, leaving the strollers and elderly in their wake. While one stroller made it on, the other was eclipsed, along with the older folks. I, too, waited for the next bus. It was quite an interesting sociological scene. When discussing this with Myriam afterwards, over our rabbit stew, she indicated, sadly, that this was all too common in France.