We learn early on that throughout the previous evening groups of people had arrived at the camp. Some being taken there by police, others just arriving from a treacherous and dangerous trip. Yesterday we had made some good contacts that would help us on our fact-finding mission. There were lots of tears and frustration yesterday which had been wiped out as we remembered how the men had taken care of us when we were incapacitated by the brutality of the French police. We agree to go into camp to see how things are.
We sort out our van and headed back to the Jungle. It is a beautiful day. All appears calmer and there is a marked reduction in the number of police overlooking the camp. But they are present. They are always present as is the constant helicopters and light aircraft that fly overhead.
We park up at the side of the back road into camp and are invited to sit on the embankment with some men from Sudan. One is playing a childs electronic Bob the Builder game. It turns out he is improving his English. We give him a pack of playing cards and it was almost like we’d given him the crown jewels – he was delighted. One of our trio sits with one young man and helps him read a childs book. His spoken English is excellent but he wants to improve his reading skills in the hope that this will improve employability if he ever realises his dream to make it to the UK.
Our men from Sudan agree to be our ‘security team’ and we start distribution. Three volunteers from North West England arrive and help us and we chat with them about our experiences. Like us, they are on a fact-finding mission for their local group. Some of our volunteers at the donation drop had the excellent idea of sorting out toiletries into carrier bags which contain a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap/shower gel and shampoo. We manage to distribute two large boxes of these. A few men immediately start to brush their teeth at the side of the road. Everyone who receives a toiletry bag is saying thank you.
After distributing and taking time to speak to various people in the camp, we leave for a while. We know there is someone we need to meet arriving in the camp from the UK in the evening.
On our return, two of us meet the men from Sudan and we are invited to sit with them. We take things from the van as gifts - we give food and other items we think may help them such as torches and a firelighting pack. We sit in the communal cooking area and they make us sweet tea and a basic dough which is made into doughballs and we share the food from a large bowl using our fingers to eat. We sit round the camp fire getting to know each other. Meantime our other volunteer goes to meet the man that we need to meet as he may have the answers to our questions in relation what we can do to help.
As the sun sets, we laugh and joke and share stories of our culture and families. These men come from the Dinka tribe in the Sudan who are renowned for a form of dance which involves jumping. They promise to show us tomorrow as its Eid-al-Adha.
Despite the lack of alcohol involved and the darkness, we show them our national dances and do a Gay Gordon followed by a highland fling. They laugh loudly when I show them the men wearing skirts dancing a Gay Gordon on You Tube.
As we’re full from the food that we’ve shared and the sweet weak tea thats been made for us over the open fire, we all become silent. By now its completely dark. One of the men suddenly breaks the silence and says that he misses his son. He shows us photos of him. He hasn’t seen him for many years now and believes he is in a camp in Libya. He is very sad. We comfort him the best we can. But no words or comfort substitutes the fact he’s living in a camp which is ripe for disease, in a place which will become very cold over the coming months, far from his family.
I feel so grateful for everything I have. My heart breaks for him, for all of them. How awful is this situation? What makes things worse is that we could empty the Jungle – bring everyone into the UK. They’d pay us back ten-fold. And 4,000 people wouldn’t have any impact on our services throughout the UK – its half the population of Haddington. We have the ability and resources. I never did find the answer to the question ‘why can’t we come to the UK?’
I feel so blessed that I was invited to spend an evening, in the most surreal circumstances, with five men from Sudan who made me laugh with them and, afterwards, cry for them in equal measures. They are an amazing group of men. I will never forget that night and how seven people sat round a camp fire in Northern France and laughed. We were equals that night.
But my luck of birth to be entitled to the ‘right’ passport means that we can’t be equals because having that passport gives me rights as a human. Basic rights that people in the Jungle do not have.