Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Day 4 - Meetings and Maps

I wake in an odd mood.  I think about the previous night and how special it was. We are seeing a structure forming in camp and although things are still chaotic, the volunteer that had arrived the previous night was on it – he was going to make things happen.  Again today is torrential rain.  

Our amazing ‘leader’ couldn’t sleep so had gone to the camp very early in the morning. She was the only one of us who was insured to drive the van which left two of us at the hotel.  We have some Nutella crepes then get a taxi to the Jungle. 

For the first time since we’d arrived, the entrance where the police had blocked was open and we were dropped off by the taxi driver there. We walk through the Jungle towards the volunteer area, making sure we stop at the guys who saved us from the tear gas to wave, smile, shake their hands and say thank you once more.  As we pass, we shake hands, say hello and are invited to eat with the people we pass and offered to sit with them and have some sweet tea. Unfortunately it would take us the whole day to get through the camp if we stopped so we regretfully decline the invitations.

As we near the volunteer area, we meet two women from South East England who have turned up with a car load to distribute.  We ask them to join us. We have a meeting to attend with the main activists in the camp to find out what we can do to support them. The two women, who had arrived in the jungle for the first time, were roped into assisting to sort through some items which had landed in the camp in a huge tent.

We have our meeting at one of the makeshift restaurants in the camp. We have spicy egg with bread and sweet tea.   We sit crossed legged on a raised counter with a table cloth spread out in front of us. The rain is torrential outside and the restaurant ‘owner’ tells us the sewerage smells and is running down the dirt street outside. 

The people in the camp are resourceful - they've had to be. There are makeshift restaurants and shops within the camp.  They’re very similar to the type of cafe’s and shops you find in villages in rural Africa.  The shops don’t sell much – drinks and basic food with cigarettes wrapped in tinfoil.  I’ve no doubt there is some kind of black market as I’ve read so many times but I didn’t see any evidence of this. The people in the camp have all had to show amazing strength to get where they are.  No one could experience what they have without having some form of trauma. 

We agree quite a bit at the meeting. Things are looking more and more positive. It becomes apparent that the priority is shelter – strong robust shelter that will keep people warm throughout the winter. The difficulty is that because its a temporary camp, nothing can be put into the ground. This means everything has to be freestanding.  We manage to arrange a meeting with an NGO who can assist with sanitation.  We all feel so much better about the future in the camp.

Its agreed that two of us will go round the camp to make a map and a note of what nationalities exist and where they are located. This will help new and current volunteers navigate the camp.  The main nationalities are from the Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Ethiopia and Kurdish.  There are other nationalities in there but these appear to be the main groups.  

As we make our way round, we’re invited to share food, for tea, to sit down round the open fires and in general to chat.  We shake so many hands and find the stories of so many people.  All quite tragic.  These are articulate people and would be an asset to any country which agrees to allow them to have a future.  Lots of people ask us if David Cameron will let them come to the UK.  We respond by putting our thumbs down and say its unlikely – there is no point in giving people false hope. 

One man from Syria is on crutches. He’d tried to get on the train going through the channel tunnel.  He’d fallen and broken his leg in four places. After weeks in hospital, he was sent back to the Jungle.  He spoke fluent English and wanted to come to the UK to find work.  He appears to be aware that some of the UK population do not want people from Syria to come into the country. I assure him that some may feel that way but I know many people who would welcome him with open arms. 

A man from Sudan speaks to us and asks if we’d heard about 15 year old Idi from Sudan.  Idi had attempted to get through the tunnel to the UK last night and has been killed.  What stuns me is that its almost like an acceptance that this happens.  It reinforces that the risk of death rather than staying in camp is one worth taking.  I understand that. I shouldn’t, but I do.  Human life is not paramount to people in camp – what is most important is hope and a future. When you feel you have nothing to lose, you risk everything. I return to incredulity that this is really happening in Western Europe in 2015.  It defies belief.  What an unjust and unfair society we live in. We deny people basic rights. 

We meet some women from Eritrea who chat to us. We find a helpful man from Kuwait who offers himself up as our guide and interpreter round the camp.  We see the makeshift Church, the Book Store/library, the school and the mosque.  

We meet a man we’d seen the previous day from Afghanistan. He had been cheerful but now appeared to be deflated. We ask him what is wrong. He tells us he’d tried and failed to get through the tunnel last night.  He’d had hope yesterday. Today he had nothing.

On our way back to the volunteer area, we go to see our Sudanese friends.  There is no one around.  We continue back to the van and agree we’d had a productive day.  We decide to go to a hotel and chill out this evening to give ourselves time to reflect. We also decide we would return home the next day as we are satisfied that we had a plan of action in place.  

On our way out of camp, we see one of our friends from Sudan.  We stop the van. He comes over and tells us that he is on his way to the tunnel tonight.  We beg him not to attempt it. He says he has to try.  We all cry as we hug him and shake his hand and wish him safety.  What else can we do?  We return to the hotel and do everything we can not to worry about our friends.  But always, in the background, was the hope that they would be safe no matter what the outcome.

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