Disconnected stabs of consciousness from Calais.

I've written very little about Calais over the last three months I've been here. There is so much to say and yet none of it forms in my head into a coherent narrative, message or anything even close to a solution. The jungle is finished, but I still feel like I have so much to learn. I never took any photos, I never said my goodbyes, all lost threads from a tapestry of unsolved problems.

 

Photo : Hassan Akkad from https://www.facebook.com/HelpRefugeesUK/
Photo : Hassan Akkad from https://www.facebook.com/HelpRefugeesUK/

 

The bambino who'd spent two years in Libyan prison and was too upset to go to the Youth Centre and play football, the forgotten men from the containers who we couldn't deliver backpacks or shoes to, gold toothed Adam who turned from a rampant monster to our brother...  The single group of Afghan men at the back of an entirely Sudanese area of camp who, when I asked them diplomatically if they were OK, said that they loved the Sudanese and began to point out friends they had despite their almost non-existent language cross-over. Somehow, they liked living there. 

 

Misunderstandings can be hilarious or catastrophic depending- "Do you have or do you need?"- "yes, ok" ...? We did everything on visual assessment to avoid those with better English or charm receiving all the limited help we could provide. That meant going into people's houses- "welcome, welcome"- remove your shoes and step straight onto someone's bed- sit with your knees up by your chin and try to explain to people with perfect or non-existent English how to get to a clothing distribution in town, or do they need a sleeping bag? Andy drew a map- under the bridge, to the end of the road, turn right, over the blue bridge, past Lidl and turn off at the stop-lights BEFORE the police- there will be people there to point you in the right direction. I tried manically to round up the stragglers on the first two events- accidentally asking black citizens of Calais if they had a ticket, finding myself more racist than when I arrived. I ran around a lot the first time, nearly fainting at 2pm when I realised I had forgotten to eat.

 

After a couple of weeks, they ignored our map and walked along the train lines regardless; less police that way. Stewarding the route we passed a slightly overweight, profusely sweating refugee, CRS crawling behind him and ranting abuse as he cycled "while black" as casually as he could manage. The week before James and I had stopped them badgering a group of fifteen coming away with their bin bags of donations, simply by going over to the police and saying "bonjour". They let the refugees go and checked our papers instead. 

Run by retired French people, there was sandwiches and tea for everyone with a ticket at the distribution, but they automatically sat themselves down in a queue in the yard, institutionalised by months of volunteer crowd control. Shoes was less pleasant. With only fifty tickets, chancers had walked all the way from the jungle in their broken flip-flops. We had to close the gates and I chatted to them through the mesh, ragged trainers and torn apart sandals on the bottom rung and hands clinging to the bars above- "please sister, just one ticket?". It wasn't up to me, but even if it was I couldn't have done it. You have to stick to your arbitrary, self-devised rules and regulations to avoid corruption. I never wanted to be a cop though and we often got it wrong. 

 

When we first started "material vulnerabilities", we were trying to get something to the hundreds of people just sleeping on a blanket over sand, one more on top. We churned out car-fulls of reject duvets and sleeping bags to get them up off the ground, impractical deflated airbeds underneath as a waterproof membrane. Thousands of people were still freezing overnight whatever we did. There are few things worse than an enforced camping trip that never moves on or ends, for those who can't eat marshmallows or afford to sleep anywhere prettier than an old asbestos wasteland.

 

 

Calais jungle eviction, container camp, fire
Photo taken by a child in container camp.

The fires have ripped through the jungle now and children "safe" in the containers have been calling us in distress. They couldn't breath through all the smoke. Others have been left stranded to sleep on concrete, unregistered and later arrested. A video of terrified young teenagers being man-handled by CRS into the back of their vans made me cry yesterday morning. There has been so little coherent information for adults or children. We have no idea what to tell them. The situation changes hourly, but they are saying it's finished. Done. Jungle halas.

 

Where is everybody now?

 

Write a comment

Comments: 10
  • #1

    Dan (Friday, 28 October 2016 14:30)

    Beautifully captured Katie :(

  • #2

    Katie Featherstone (Saturday, 29 October 2016 01:17)

    Thank-you I think.

  • #3

    Sophie (Saturday, 29 October 2016 08:48)

    Well written, Katie. An honest portrayal of the difficulty of trying to help people. It's fascinating to read, so do post more vignettes if you feel motivated to. I am completely in awe of your determination to lift these people out of absolute squalor and give them back their humanity. Great work by both you and Dan. xx

  • #4

    Mary-Ann (Saturday, 29 October 2016 11:48)

    I am speechless Katie we have to ask ourselves what would have happened if you amazingly courageous volunteers were not there...Where are the children does anyone know? Xxxx

  • #5

    Keith Hawkins (Saturday, 29 October 2016 20:18)

    You are so selfless giving up so much for all those unfortunate soles I hope your not to emotionally scarred I think you could do with a fun time somewhere with family and friends to recharge after that one as it sounded relentless

  • #6

    Katie Featherstone (Sunday, 30 October 2016 10:27)

    Thank-you everyone. Many children in the containers, no care other than security guards. Some still homeless outside and no idea what has happened to the others. Some have gone on busses elsewhere.

  • #7

    Shikha (whywasteannualleave) (Sunday, 30 October 2016 23:36)

    Cannot begin to imagine how terrified the children and adolescents must have felt when the fires started Katie. Or how helpless you must have felt in those moments. But I've said it to you before and I'll say it again, I have the utmost respect for you and the selfless devotion with which you are trying to do whatever you can to help in this nightmare situation.

  • #8

    Katie Featherstone (Monday, 31 October 2016 18:47)

    Thanks Shikha, there is so little we can do.

  • #9

    Julian (Tuesday, 08 November 2016 17:57)

    Hi Katie, I think the "tone" is where it should be. You capture the contradictions and reality of the situation well. I've no doubt your writing (which is also well crafted, thoughtful and poignant) will inspire others to action. And that can only be good. Thank you.

  • #10

    Katie featherstone (Tuesday, 08 November 2016 22:59)

    Thank-you very much.

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