• Harriot Grinnell-Moore

The Reality of Barbès

View from my rooftop in Barbès

I live in an 'immigrant area" of Paris, and so it is really a melting pot of culture and experiences. However it is also quite a poor neighbourhood, and so there are things that seem to come hand in hand with that, such as a huge police presence and high homeless statistics. My neighbourhood is also notorious for being quite rough and so there are a lot of fights, drug busts and arrests but there's also an amazing sense of community and entrepreneurship.

The first thing you'll notice stepping off the metro is the sheer number of people, it's always bustling and thriving, the streets are always lined with people selling lots of different things from nuts, to corn on the cob, to phones, to handbags, to watches, the list goes on and on. At first I found it all so intimidating, people thrusting products under your nose, especially because the ratio in the neighbourhood seems to be 90% men to 10% women but then you realise that this is just another way people make their living, and it's quite inspiring.

They also look out for one another, in many different ways, for example whenever someone is stopped by the police (usually being searched for drugs), people don't just cross the road they wait and see if they need any help, whether that's to calm them down if they start kicking off at police or to just make sure someone knows whats going on. If someone falls over, people stop to help, they give regularly and generously to the two regular homeless men on our street. They care.

Sure, it's not unusual to witness fights in our neighbourhood, as I was cooking dinner the other night I could hear yelling down on the street below and looked out only to see a man hitting another man over the head with a chair. C'est la vie. The most intense fight I've seen so far was probably a few nights ago. I was woken up by my roommate yelling, "Charlie he's at it again" and then I heard lots of yelling followed by several large bangs.

Not one to miss out on some drama, I immediately jumped out of bed running to the kitchen where I found my flatmates already leaning out of the window. Across the street from our apartment is a little corner shop type place, and there's a little bench outside where a group of men always congregate. The shop is open basically 24/7 and so it's always privvy to some drunken scuffles but this was something else.

There was a guy going raging mad, throwing around anything he could get his hands on off of the shelves, kicking the stack of onions so they rolled all over the street and road, throwing punches at the other men and shopkeeper. It was mental. Apparently, he'd already been trying to start nonsense earlier in the night but obviously at this point, it was 2am, he was drunk, and very angry. Who knows why? Eventually he moved on but not before having trashed the shop and punched up a couple of guys, the shopkeeper couldn't even get his shutter to work to close up but that didn't stop him from getting a couple of guys and going searching for him. Only in Barbès eh? Who needs to get the police involved when there are already enough here normally. Or at least that's the mindset.

However, the shop was open and looking like nothing had happened the night before as I walked past on my way to work. Proving the resilience of my neighbourhood. So it might have a bad rep (sometimes justifiably as you can see), and if you ask people they'll usually tell you to avoid us but there are bad eggs in every community. There is also a rallying around of one another and a support system you'll be hard bet to match. Give Barbès a chance, you'll be surprised at the vibrancy and love you feel over here.

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Contact me: helgm1@gmail.com | The Netherlands

© 2017 by Harriot E.L. Grinnell-Moore

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