In previous visits, I have likened the Calais “Jungle” to a dystopian festival of sorts. Though conditions far from ideal, amongst the cluster of shacks, tents and restaurants I would find music, dance, theatre, hope, laughter and love: humanity. The Jungle’s “spirit” is something those who have passed through are unlikely ever to forget.
The last two weeks, however, the Jungle has felt like the set of a Hollywood zombie movie, except there is nobody coming to the rescue and no sign of a happy ending. It’s been hopeless and I feel helpless.
The CRS “riot police” have been a presence since September and their brutality is well documented. But each visit their attire seems increasingly absurd, a parody. Hundreds clad with shields, tear gas guns, strange moon shoes and even go pros (!) patrolled the bulldozed area of the camp. The Church still stands silently, the community around it torn to the ground.
A couple of days ago I watched an unaccompanied boy cycling through the rubble where the school once stood, violin on his back. It made me cry. Where is this boy going to get lessons now the theatre and school have gone? Where are his parents? Where will he sleep? Why is he here? How have we – the world – failed him?
Crossing further into the “zombie zone”, I see two Sudanese guys huddling over a fire to keep warm, their shelter also bulldozed. They insist I sit for a cup of ‘chai’. “Jungle finished”, they tell me. We talk, we laugh, we sing, but there’s no advice I can give them. Nothing I can think of to tell them or to say about their future. People have – quite literally – nothing and yet they still offer me tea! Even in this mess, the scarce commodity that is “humanity” resurfaces.
I then play football with a boy of ten from Afghanistan. I ask him where his parents are. “Not here” he replies.
Around me, the Jungle is burning. Really burning. A mosque, built by refugees and British volunteers, is on fire. People watch on, horrified. The following day I visit the remains of this holy space of peace and sanctuary. More tears roll down my face.
But rebuild they do. Creation meets destruction meets creation. This community is the most strong and resilient one ever!
The North side of the jungle is still alive and kicking. How long for, nobody knows. But it was heart-warming to see different nationalities uniting, even in the face of fire, to help one another.
My favourite haunt in the North area is Sammy’s Restaurant, somewhat of an institution. An area of normality where one can eat, meet, chat, relax: everyone is welcome. Here I met a portrait painter called Peter who flew all the way from Cairo to help out. I watched him draw a 17 year old Syrian boy. As he was drawn, he told us about his city, which had been blown up recently, and how he worries for his family. But he smiles. It is my sitting next. A crowd gathers round, mostly teenagers and suddenly we are all in hysterics. It is moments like that I cherish and what makes me feel so heartbroken by the bulldozing. For all its problems, the Jungle harbours compassion in a way I have never before witnessed.
The end is nigh some say. But the struggle of these extraordinary people continues.
Thank you to amazing tribe member Sara Allan for these amazing, moving words.