The French Diaries!

The French Diaries: Part 16 “Trying to be a Good Human.”

Lizbef learns that stealing a man's dog has its own pros and cons.

Wow. Well we’ve had a very eventful week here in Marseille. The hunt for the boat has become stressful at times and Edouard and I have been researching, traipsing the internet and calling the various ports of the South of France for quotes on mooring prices, enquiring if there are any unwanted boats in the area and anything else we can think of.

It’s been stressful because I don’t speak the language well enough to ask these questions myself, so I feel bad to ask Edouard when he is trying to enjoy as much of the land as possible.

He works for a homeless association called “On Se Gele Dehors” (We are Freezing Outside) at the moment (as well as his full time job) and visit the streets three times a week with a team of people to give food and clothes to those that need it. He would come home tired and quiet and I would be sitting in my seemingly permanent seat by the window and the fireplace, my fingertips hovering over the keyboard as I watch him take off his coat.

I don’t know why I couldn’t completely understand why he was so tired and quiet all of the time after his charity work. I don’t know why I didn’t even take it into consideration as deeply as I should.

But then I went out with him one evening, just the two of us with two of our friends. Edouard collected a bunch of donated food from nearby restaurants, made the soup, bought the bread and made sandwiches, prepared the coffee and stacked his car full of blankets, clothes and anything else he thought we needed.

I didn’t even raise my head from my laptop, so wholly consumed with my work, my research, designing and writing. I was working to create a future for us both whilst he was trying to fight for the future of others.

We went out into the streets to meet the people and I was instantly overwhelmed. A man crying in the streets because he and his family were being forced to leave their home and had nowhere to go. To see a grown man sobbing in front of me, to hear him scream into the night because he had no one to turn to, no knowledge of what he should do, tore my heart apart.

I stared at him, not knowing the language he spoke, but hearing the angst in his cries, it was all I could do but put my arm around him and sit him down at the back of Edouard’s car as he tried to overcome his sorrow.

We then met a man called Arnold (whose dog I attempted to steal) who was drunk but very kind. He stumbled towards us, probably younger than me, asking for another cup of soup because it reminded him of his mother’s when he was young. His dog, shivering, jumped into the bag of clothes I had and swiftly went to sleep. I ended up covering the dog with a blanket in the hope that the drunk man would forget about the dog and I could take it home and give it a new life.

“I’m taking the dog,” I told Edouard stubbornly.

I could see the strain on Edouard’s face as he sought to feed the people coming to the car. His eyes flicked over to my hidden bundle.

“Lizzie, you cannot do that,” he said, his voice in a firm tone that I hadn’t heard before. “It is his only friend. You cannot take that away from him.”

“I don’t care,” I said. “I don’t care if he wants a friend.” In my eyes the dog was cold, underweight and wouldn’t take the dog biscuits in my hand. He didn’t even follow her owner as he stumbled off in the dark to try and help his drunk ex girlfriend as she wailed into the night.

“I’m keeping the dog,” I said again, firmly.

The man returned, falling to his knees at the bag at my feet to stroke his friend on the head. “She is wonderful,” he told me with a wide trusting smile. “Thank you so much for helping us.”

I smiled back guilty. He thought I was a good person, and yet here I was, plotting to take away his only faithful companion.

We left the dog with his friend and I got back into the car feeling a heavy resignation settle in my stomach. Edouard had been surrounded by people all night, asking for his help, sharing their stories as he listened fairly, not judging, not condemning, as I huddled over the body of a sleeping dog.

Taking the dog would have been wrong. But leaving it was wrong as well.

It’s something I still haven’t figured out the answer to.

I suppose I’m just trying to be honest with you all.

“Arnold wants to come with us next time and to help,” Edouard told me as we drove to our next location.

I imagined a scenario where he would start coming with us, getting his life straight, quitting the alcohol- we could help him be heard, find somewhere for him, find a way where he could realise his dreams and have a warm home.

I imagined all of this.

But would I actually fight for Arnold?

But I fight for any of them?

Was I just going with Edouard tonight to give out a few sandwiches, so I could feel better about myself? To convince myself I was a good person? That I had done, “my bit”?

I think that’s why I feel bad. I think that’s why I sometimes feel like I’m not a good person, because I have the time but I don’t use it effectively to help others. I should but I don’t.

We go to a carpark this time.

“The taxi drivers keep an eye on the homeless in this location,” Edouard explains. “They know it is safer here.”

People are huddled together on cardboard with bits of blankets. Others have even dragged thrown away mattresses and made themselves shelter with whatever they could find. We give out food, clothes and sit and talk with them with a coffee in hand.

“Would you like me to bring some books next time?” I ask an old man called Patrick. I noticed that he has pieces of advertisements and newspapers on his makeshift bed to read.

“Oh yes!” he says. “That would be wonderful!”

Someone else mentions that they would like a book and I tell myself that I will come back the next day. That I will make more food for them. That I would try, take time out of my day and attempt to help.

“A man tried to take my dog way yesterday,” another guy told us. “Can you believe that?”

I look at the dog. It’s young, fat enough and seemingly happy and playful. I think back to the dog at our first location and become quiet.

“He’s my only friend,” the man continues. “Who can take away a man’s friend like that?”

Me, I thought. I feel sorry, conflicted and sad all at the same time.

“I thought all of this was supposed to make you feel good,” I said honestly to Edouard on the way home. “I thought helping people was supposed to be a nice thing.”

Edouard looks as exhausted as I feel. We’ve been on the streets for five hours and I feel as though I’ve been trying to water a desert with a handful of water.

“It’s not how it is, Lizzie,” he says truthfully. “But all we can do is try and help the people.”

“Like that man at the start?”

He nods. “I will try and help him.”

We hug and go to bed, our thoughts dark, confused and not knowing what we’re supposed to do to make a difference.

Am I really making a difference with sandwiches and books? I think.

The next day, I don’t go back to the carpark to deliver books and food like I told myself the previous night I would. I don’t research associations to help Patrick, I don’t seek help for the crying man in the street and I don’t look at any schemes that can assist Arnold and his dog.

I do nothing, so fixated on my own life, my own plight of getting my boat, our adventure, our story in going out into the wide world and leaving this place.

Edouard on the other hand calls around to find a home for the man who is due to be on the streets in three days.

“I think I may have found somewhere that can help him,” he says after coming back from another six hours giving food out to the homeless. “I have to go out on Monday as well to help rehome a girl.”

I stare at him as he comes into the apartment, tired, worn and drained. I now understand why he is so exhausted. I hug him, tell him how I respect and admire him, and how much he is making a difference out there.

“People have the time, you know?” he says, shaking his head when I tell him how amazing he is. “I am not amazing. I am just trying…”

But what he doesn’t know, is that he has inspired me. He has made me want to do more. Be more. Try.

Meeting these people on the streets, whatever their circumstances, whatever reason there is for them being there, I know that I can do more to help. Even if it is just handing out coffee or giving them a book.

It’s the small acts of kindness that goes a long way.

I’m struggling with these emotions in myself right now of how I can be a better person. How I can create something bigger. To be a part of something greater.

I want to make sure that when I sail, it’s not just to go and live the adventure and to drink rum. I want it to mean something. To stand for something greater, I want to help the people. I want to be able to make a difference.

I want to create an association that will go hand in hand with our journey. This adventure is about following your heart pursuing your dreams. But it’s also about helping others realise their own. To help someone stand when they’re on the ground.

Those of you who read this, I want to say thank you for being on this path with me for as long as you have. Because sharing this with you all gives me an opportunity to release everything I have inside about this issue, to share this experience with others who I hope will understand my honesty.

I want to make a promise to you guys, that I will endeavour to make this sailing journey of mine mean something. It will be for something greater.

I’m so grateful to be doing this with Edouard, one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met. I want to do this not just for you guys, the people or for myself, but I want to do this for him as well. I want to help him realise his own dream as well as my own. I want to help him make a difference and help him build something that can make a bigger impact.

We don’t know how this will work, but all we can do is promise you guys that we will do it.

So from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you.

Thank you for being with us on this.


If you want to find more about the association that Edouard works for- you can pop over here!


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Thank you as always! Lizbef x


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  1. A very emotional posting – realising that another side exists…
    BRAVO Edouard… and Liz too, for opening up to recognising this other side. <3

  2. Each to their own talents to achieve a common goal. Your writing is providing a forum for people to learn and pick up the gauntlet. Be proud of what Ed does and recognize your strength in helping a different way. Maybe that’s the thread for your next adventure on the sea. Find causes and nightlight through your brilliant writing. Well done Lizbet!

  3. You can not save the world. Most people including the homeless want something from you. That homeless schmuck that uses and drains decent folks….I would of taken the dog. I like dogs way more than people and they have a decent excuse for being in a bad situation and are worth saving (unlike most people). Next time, get your pirate hat out, kick the homeless guy in the head and take his dog! FTW!

  4. “I am not amazing. I am just trying…” that quote from Edouard says more about him than the rest of your diary. There is a man who lives life with his heart. You are very fortunate Liz and so is your man.

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