The Jungle Book, Calais
The Jungle Book, Day 1:
After dropping off my donations at the L’auberge des migrants’ warehouse, I hitched a ride with a group of determined volunteers from Ireland to what is now known in the Calais jungle as “The Jungle Book”….
I didn’t take my camera. All journalists are told not to film children or faces anymore because it could affect their asylum in the UK and could cause trafficking.
A few weeks ago when the government demolished some of the camps, over a 100 children disappeared and nobody knew where they went.
I had some battery left on my iPhone so took a few snaps of just the environment. You know, journalists are not appreciated here in the Jungle Book because refugees are often made to feel like animals in the zoo or some kind of washed up relic in a museum. It has been months since the crisis began and the refugees simply have had enough. They didn’t need another camera waved in their faces. I bumped into the BBC who were filming a news piece and seemed pissed off that they couldn’t film faces or children but directed me to the jungle book.
Walking through the melting point of over a dozen different cultures, I noticed various communities distinctly designed into districts. With grocery stores and all kinds of shops, schools, churches and mosques built into the jungle book, both the positive and the negatives weighed in on my thoughts. It had become a neighbourhood carved by limitations and survival of the cultural kind. Groups of men congregated around tables playing domino whilst others helped to rebuild their temporary lives and some lingered on for hope through education. But this can’t be life forever here. Change had to come in progressive ways.
The Jungle Book, Day 2:
After spending the morning in French lessons at the Darfour school, I stopped for lunch at the Asian restaurant in the Jungle Book. Two large plush toys of white and Bengal tigers embellished the atmosphere amongst colourful decorations twinkling in and out of focus. I wasn’t sure I was in France anymore… The food was delicious and the restauranteurs, who were refugees had plans to open up businesses as soon as they were given citizenship.
Next stop, I headed back to the Darfour school and decided to be useful. There were a few Sudanese men who wanted to learn English, so I sat with them outside the camp and we had a lesson.
After the lesson, they invited me to eat with them. I was asked to stand up and gather around a table when one man brought in an orange dish of hot Sudanese soup. Then they tore off a big chunk of bread and handed it to me and ushered me to dig in. Each man dipped his bread into the soup before taking it in. It tasted good. But I kindly stepped away after a few bites as I didn’t want to eat too much. As soon as I stepped away, I was asked to join the other group. There was no running away from food here. I was definitely going to pile on those carbs!! But the refugees used their new English words when communicating with me so a sense of achievement rose in the air.
Everyone stopped to the sound of the paraglider roaming the Calais blue skies over the jungle. I couldn’t stop wondering if they thought this was some kind of “Calais jungle air safari”?! The men just pointed and laughed at them. Then black smoke entered the air and it looked like a camp had caught fire. Nobody was too worried since it was normal.
I headed back to Jungle Books to do some research for my workshop the next day and was then invited into a caravan by one of my students. He bought me peanuts from one of many convenient stores set up in the camps with a guy sleeping on the floor. Inside the caravan were two British girls wanting to make a film and a Syrian refugee.
We burst into conversation of all sorts whilst the guy who brought me to the caravan displayed the table with nuts and fresh fruits.
On my way back, I noticed many journalists looking for an opportunity to get a story without actually helping them in any way. This was something both the refugees and the volunteers didn’t like from outsiders.
MEN: Come on, you have to join us for lunch.
SARAH: What’s for lunch?
SARAH: Where are the spoons?
MEN: We are going to use our hands.
SARAH: How do you eat soup with your hands?
MEN: You’ll see (gives Sarah a loaf of bread) Dig in!
The Jungle Book, Day 3:
I thought about the best help I could give. Ideas and knowledge on how to be self-sustainable using existing skills, strengths and talent seemed useful. With 24 hours to plan a workshop on entrepreneurship for the refugees at Jungle Book, it was time for delivery…
The half day workshop worked as a drop-in session in between their English and French classes. From identifying each person’s skill set and previous experience to mapping out a plan of action (mini business plan) using existing support programmes available to them in the country they wish to seek asylum. The students found it very useful. Instead of looking for opportunities, they could help create opportunities.
A few guys were already entrepreneurs in their countries before the war hit hard so they were thinking to rebuild that dream again. One boy was studying computer science and never had the chance to finish studying his course because of the situation in Sudan but I was able to help him plan a map of action. He promised he will start by looking for a university in France that offers a course in coding to be able to then work for a company as a coder and eventually become self-employed and design websites, etc. As he read out his plan, I felt my heart twitch, plucking a few tears. He thanked me and left. The class was full of very intelligent and ambitious individuals from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan. The ideas were interesting, realistic and achievable.
Just as the workshop came to an end, one guy finished writing something in Arabic. The translator read out what I thought was a plan. It wasn’t an idea, it was a message.
“My name is Muhammad and I am from Sudan. I have been subjected to violence many times and had to leave my country. Now I want to go to the UK. I know you are from there so please take me to England with you. PLEASE HELP ME!”
I explained that it wasn’t possible for me to take him to the UK with me but if I could make it all better, I would in a heartbeat. The best form of help I could give were these ideas, skills and knowledge so that he can help himself, use his time resourcefully both in the jungle and when he left. Everyone agreed. Many other men started queuing up for advice but I had to leave to fulfil my promise to the guys in the Sudanese community.
I trekked over to Sudan in the jungle to meet my new friends who were relaxing in the sun. They inviting me inside the tent and we sat by a fire sharing stories and experiences over cups of hot tea.
Just another day in the Calais Jungle Book… #Hope
The Jungle Book, Day 4:
I headed into the city centre to buy supplies for the schools. With my very rusty French, I managed to print out a few Business Plan templates and guides for my students who were serious about developing their business ideas. I also went all out on fresh strawberries and great quality chocolates! Back in the jungle, the students appreciated my token of indulgence…
For lunch, I headed into a restaurant known as “The 3 Idiots”. Assorted colours sparkled from every direction with balloons hanging from the ceiling and the kings of the jungle proudly perched in the centre of the room. Two plush tigers. People sat up on the platform, sharing plates of food of the finest kind. This place was set up and run by a small team of refugees.
A few British volunteers gathered around, eating and smoking next to us. One boy took out a can of paint and without hesitation he sprayed the words, “Tom was ere!” on the interior fabric of the camp, ruining the atmosphere created by the owners. Then he got up and asked the owner if he could get free chai to drink. Regardless of how long he had been there, this disrespectful mentality and attitude disgusted me. About 90% of all volunteers were English. Most of them were there to actually help. Some stayed for the free hash and abused the situation for their own agendas. Yes, there is an underworld here in the Calais jungle.
In the jungle, anything goes. Or does it? …
The Calais Jungle: Reflection…
Wow. What an experience! Waking through the jungle, I bid farewell to my new friends. I asked them to use their time wisely in this “limbo” because the situation was temporary and not to lose hope. There are places in the world where someone is always worst off than you.
Back in Calais, just before my journey back to London, I reflected on the entire experience. I have only been here four days. It was intense. Each day felt like an entire week. Each bond became special. Every action I took was important. And most of all, it was intended to make a difference no matter how big or small.
As I waited for my plate of mussels at a French restaurant, tears streamed down my eyes. I only just acknowledged that these people had left their war torn countries in search of a better and peaceful life. There were talents of all sorts amongst the mix and they had everything burned and trashed to the blood and bone driving them out of their homes to seek refuge elsewhere. It was great to see how focusing on the future instilled that flame of hope to rebuild their lives once again. No matter how traumatic the past. #TheCalaisJungle #JungleBook #RefugeeCamp #Peace#FocusOnFutures