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A Woman I Admire Writing Competition Spring 2018

Rachel Caldecott-Thornton

I met Danika two summers ago at a gathering of earnest ‘do-gooders’. We were all involved in some capacity or other with the refugee crisis. I'm sure you can imagine the sort of guests we were: white, middle-class, liberal and, as I've already said: Earnest.

Danika arrived late. As the event was being held in her honour, she was forgiven.

I was struck by her looks. She appeared to be simultaneously Parisian and something else… interestingly foreign. Her voice was a low, throaty, sexy Slavic rumble.

I can't say that I warmed to her at first.

But this woman, attractive and terrifying in equal measures, held us all in awe. Born in Sarajevo in 1982, her family, and country were ripped apart by war. Yugoslavia is a country that no longer exists — that ceased to exist, I suppose, the moment Tito died.

At fifteen years old she became a refugee, settling for a while in Rijeka, Croatia, before once again fleeing more madness and settling in Paris

Danika has been tempered by war. Strengthened like steel. Her experiences as a young, frightened child have given her compassion of a magnitude I have rarely seen. She is ceaseless in her efforts to help the refugees who, like her, have ended up in Paris. She is their advocate and their defender.

“Shoes,” she told us at the gathering. “Everybody needs them. They can save lives in winter, when people are literally freezing to death.” We had all seen the images of refugees struggling through Greek and Balkan winters and we'd seen her photos from a grey and icy Paris. Horrific in this day and age, we thought, shuddering. “You! You cannot understand,” she growled. Her passion was personal. She was talking from her heart, from the burning core of Sarajevo. “You think you know what it is like. But until you have lost everything and everyone you've ever loved, been driven out into the world with nothing… You cannot know. All you have is imagination and imagination will only take you so far.”

Her appeals on Facebook are effective. You'd have to be entirely heartless not to be moved by them. Whenever she can, day or night, Danika walks among the freezing refugees. She carefully takes their names, phone numbers and shoe sizes, then buys forty pairs a day and distributes them. The gendarmes may slash and burn tents, but they only rarely confiscate shoes. Danika's shoes.

“They are living through hell and the fucking media is already bored,” she said. “The images of refugees cluttering the streets of Paris are not as ‘sexy’ as the images we had before; of drowned children on a beach, or the tide of humanity on the move.” She is bitter. She is tired. And sometimes her heart is close to breaking. But someone needs to care once that tide of humanity has crashed onto the shore. That's what Danika does. She cares and that's why I admire her.

Rachel Caldecott-Thornton © 2018