Time melts on as if it has no meaning. The rumours are rife- "Jungle finish?" we're asked each day. Nobody wants it to be here but they (and we) are constantly anxious about what that means. Nobody wants another eviction, we can't loose any more children in the process, but there's no way we can sustain over 10,000 people over the Winter without being allowed to build more solid homes. We live day by day, maintaining their existence, providing clothes, food and some sort of shelter, but it's not getting better. In over two months, I've taken a few days to myself, but there are others who've been at it since Christmas.
We don't ask for people's stories, but they often tell us and I finish each day weighed down with tiny glimpses of their lives. Men in their twenties, glowing with hopeless pride as they tell us about their children, praying to find somewhere safe enough to unite them; photos of brothers killed by the Taliban. There's exhaustion sketched onto their faces. Engineers living in shelters made of branches and tarp, sharing a blanket to avoid the endless queues and disappointment. The water is contaminated and despite the general sobriety, the toilets look better at Glastonbury. Police tear gas at night. You can't lock a tent and grown men have trouble sleeping.
We're trying our best, but everyone's just making it up as they go along. We spent a weekend moving people away from the crumbing sand dune into the area pictured below, only for it to flood two weeks later. We're part of the first aid team, but our qualifications are wholly inadequate and way out of date. The fire team try to reduce the risk by persuading people to give up their gas bottles, but how do they keep warm with an ever dwindling supply of wood for us to chop? They aren't supposed to "fight" the fires with their buckets and hand-held extinguishers, but try to stop it spreading. When the time comes, the whole place will burn whatever we do.
I try to avoid reflecting on the bigger picture, wars carry on, people continue to arrive, the Winter is coming whatever happens to this camp. We've been busying ourselves with the small things, distributing toothpaste and sim cards without top-up, cutting onions and trying to make sure at least someone is going to have dry socks the next day. The build team fix-up with scavenged material, mending doors and floors, made to feel like smugglers for bringing in waterproof tarp, but constantly cheerful and bounding with energy until the evening. I spent a month in the warehouse, trying somehow to help cope with the ever changing needs, limited storage and fluid work-force. You could never find a more enthusiastic roller of blankets or sorter of semi-used underwear if you paid them. Now I try to find a way to distribute 100 sleeping bags and 2000 shoes between 10,000 people in need- "Material Vulnerabilities"- "people who need stuff"- what does that mean?
Sometimes it feels like a morbid holiday. You make ten new friends a week and say goodbye more often than you can count. It can be hard to keep up. We watch films and play music in the evenings, recounting stories from the day on a good one or thinking about them if not.
Things have got more serious recently and the atmosphere is subdued. We're told we've got less than a month. Half the camp is wearing flip-flops and everything we do is like juggling angry cats. It used to be calmer, but desperation is setting in. Their homes are being uprooted again, with no promise of a better future. The time is too short to help, but every day lasts an eternity. The authorities might not let us in to witness how it happens, but we will know. They will tell us and we will not forget.
I also wrote about the jungle back in March and Dunkirk in April.
If you want to help us, please write to your MPs, send us sleeping bags or shoes, donate a little money and we'll spend it on food. Have a look at Help Refugees website.
At the very least please follow the following groups run by my friends on facebook...
- Refugee Info Bus- providing legal information and wifi to residents, trying to keep us in the loop of what the hell is actually going on and generally looking at the bigger picture I'm trying to ignore.
- The Calais Woodyard- chopping pallets all day long regardless of the weather, supplying thousands of people with fuel to cook on and keep warm with.
- Calais Kitchens- also providing food packages to thousands of people, straining the backs and working like ants to the loudest music in the warehouse. Nobody is starving in camp which is a miracle considering all food is supplied by volunteers and donations.
- People Helping People- a film project run by super-long-term volunteer Tom (who I first met building during the eviction of the South), aiming to give us volunteers a voice in this crisis.