On Thursday, September 24th, 2015, I visited Caravanserai with my college writing class. As always, I plugged in my headphones on the Tube, and tried to tune out the business of a Thursday morning. In traditional London fashion, it was a cloudy morning, although the sun increasingly showed as the afternoon wore on. Before entering Caravanserai, we scouted the local area noting the differences between Canning Town and Waterloo, where we live. With far fewer people, Canning Town seemed empty when compared to the tourism and business of the Southwark area. In addition, we were able to find a small uninhabited area, where shrubs and grass had taken over, a nonexistent sight in Central London. However, the ubiquitous cranes and constant construction reminded me that some things are continuous throughout London. It seems to be impossible to escape this reality of growth and gentrification wherever I am in the city.
However, stepping through the painted gate of Caravanserai, something did indeed feel different. With gardens, sand, a see-saw, and a refreshing scent, the towering cranes were out of mind. Once inside, the program director, Che, taught us about the functions of the various structures of the site, which were both community-oriented, and environmentally friendly. Each structure is built with recycled materials. No outside energy is consumed. Gardens are available for the local community. Plays and events are held on weekends. It was extremely reminiscent of my home in California, where similar self-sustaining and ecologically-minded groups attempt to benefit local communities. Although the scale of the project is rather small, every part of the place is designed with the community in mind. From the local events and plays, to the available gardens, to the constant recycling, the project is inspiring.
After learning about the project, we were served tea and cake by volunteers who were kind-hearted and inviting. Their compassion displayed the purpose of the project. The site is called Caravanserai, and is meant to emulate the “oasis-like meeting and trading post” which exist in the deserts of the Middle East. These trading posts are meant to be a resting place, where travelers can enjoy entertainment, trade goods, and possibly make business partners. As Che described, the various functions of Caravanserai fulfill this name.
Once our time was over, I walked across the street to the bustling Tube station and plugged my headphones in again. Back to the real world. I watched people get on and off the cramped train, hurrying to work in their tailored suits. Emerging from the Tube at Waterloo, the hundreds of tourists racing around and taking pictures once again became reality. It was not until I got to my flat, took off my backpack and jacket, unplugged my headphones, and sat down that I reflected upon Caravanserai. It was an incredibly refreshing break from the typical hustle and bustle of the busy London streets. Although I was only there for two hours, the project surely impacted me. It would be wonderful to see more community projects like Caravanserai in London.