Went to the Jungle today. That’s the headline. Yeah! I got in!
Learnt the word ‘voluntourists’ today. Thank goodness it didn’t apply to me. I was Working. Another line I landed on the right side of.
Did a hundred handshakes.
Did a thousand nod-and-smiles.
Gave out two thousand, three hundred and thirty-something people-for-a-week’s worth of wood. Not enough for a week actually, but the maximum weekly output of the woodyard divided by the number of people in the camp. Crikey, well done me. (And the team I’m a part of, of course). Oh stop it, I’m really just like everyone else, just blushing more. What’s my point? Well, I think something like:
Everyone* I’ve met in the last four days (yeah, I’m pretty long-term) shares a common feature I’d describe as Willingness:
The fluid population of the warehouse/woodyard/camp for volunteers; the residents of the refugee camp itself; the hosts at my Airbnb, who met me graciously at later-than-arranged and then invited me to join them in the main house for a glass from the bottle they were sharing, and spent half an hour suffering my schoolboy French (because, selfishly, they don’t speak my language better than I speak theirs... secret conclusion: well done me).
So, Willingness: to accept, to work hard; to do something for someone; to wait patiently for distributions of life-sustaining essentials and accept your meagre quota even when the truck looks full and the measure haphazard; to invite a stranger into your home... all quite different things, some easy, some hard; but all have struck me this week as different forms of the same quality, and I feel myself lifted on a wave of it.
*before moving on, I have to fill in the exception to the Rule of Willingness: the police officers at the camp gates. For some reason applying their rules with an inconsistency as lunatic as the rules themselves are incompassionate, they seem to be a group yet to reach an agreement on what their own version of willingness looks like.
One Small and Probably Insignificant Observation from Inside the Jungle:
There are many screaming unfairnesses on display to visitors of the camp (Hang on.. is the Calais Jungle at present the Number 1 Most Famous Refugee Camp in the World? I think it might be. Awesome, I went in at number one. Excellent). Most of these screaming unfairnesses are too obvious to list; too frustrating, too upsetting, and they’re being described far better elsewhere. But I’d like to mention my own one I spotted:
Along one edge of the camp (in its present shape and size) runs a road. A real tarmac road such as they have in many parts of Europe. Half way along, there is a Traffic Calming Measure. It’s a classic pinch and hump, such as you’ll have swerved and bumped through whilst driving along many a small-town high street. As we made our way from the camp and passed over the hump, I laughed humourously at the Traffic Calming Measure, an incongruous vestige I thought almost comic, of the real-world life this plot of land must once have had, before anyone had ever heard of the Calais Jungle, before the good citizens of this part of northern France thought refugees had anything to do with them.
Hearing my humourous remark, the driver of our truck (an old hand of some two months or more helping to run the woodyard here) smirked himself, but replied seriously: “Yeah. They’ve only just put that in.”
I don’t know how much it costs to install a Pinch and Hump on a road (€5,000? €10,000? A tenner?) but this is a small thoroughfare that can only be accessed by a tiny number of NGO and administrative vehicles, after stopping at an exhaustive and exhausting police checkpoint a few yards away. At around the same time as the camp was being given this road-safety innovation, the national police were systematically working through the camp’s home-grown high street, ensuring that the shops and restaurants which had sprung up like wild flowers on the verge of a dusty road, were closed down. Still now, all but a tiny few remain shuttered and closed, fresh groceries lying imprisoned inside.
So this is my chosen unfairness. A stupid bit of road work.
I know nothing about all this. I have come and chopped up some wood and learnt to use a few power tools most young dads would only dream of. And more significantly (but only to me) I have had many small, glistening interactions today with people whose life experiences have been as different to my own as if we were a separate species.
In fact, we just landed on different sides of a line.
I feel lucky to be here, and am trying not to feel worthy, as I return to my comfy digs, to my home comfort Bonne Maman marmalade (I was so thrilled to find they do it over here). I was no less of a tourist in that Jungle we’ve all heard of now than anyone else. I can only be grateful that I was welcomed by its residents as a guest into their home, and hope that I brought the right gift.