Calais: A write up from the Jungle | Part 1

Lily Einhorn is the Two Boroughs Project Manager at the Young Vic, working with local residents and community groups in the neighbourhood. She is also a freelance writer and community theatre practitioner. In a series of posts Lily shares her experience of a recent visit to the Good Chance Theatre, a newly constructed creative space in the refugee camp in Calais.

In early November four of us from the Taking Part department and Directors Program at the Young Vic  – myself, Sharon Kanolik, Gbolahan Obisesan and Elayce Ismail – travelled to Calais to support the Good Chance Theatre that has been erected in the refugee camp there.

At a volunteers meeting to organise aid for the Jungle, a refugee camp in Calais, a young man stands up. A refugee with faltering but excellent English. He thanks everyone there for their help but he wants to know what’s next. ‘I am living in nowhere.’ He says. ‘I am living in no hope. We want real life.’

 *            *            *

The strangest thing about being in the Jungle is how ordinary it can be. How oddly familiar. People have naturally congregated into nations. In Sudan young men play a casual game of kick about. Five men, two balls, idly scuffing across the ground. Boys on bikes whizz between tents, grinning and spitting in Bedouin Kuwait. A main road in Afghanistan hustles with restaurants and shops while people wander, browsing the goods. A chai tea shop is lined with synthetic Afghan rugs and papered with posters for an Ed Sheeran concert long since screamed out. The tea is hot and very very sweet.

We’re not in Calais anymore. We’re not in France anymore. This is every man’s land. A liminal space where time passes slowly whilst life moves fast. When we arrived at midday a group of men were hammering large wooden supports into the ground. Five hours later the structure had a roof. Another restaurant. Eritrean food – a gap in the market.

In the bright sunshine the jungle almost – almost – looks like a tolerable place to live. A community of communities, cohabiting peacefully. Children playing, running up and down banks and chatting with friendly adults. Men washing, smoking, talking, even a few women (though they walk without making eye contact. Chatting. Smiling. Looking at the ground). But in the rain, the mud thickens into trenches, puddles gather in the pathways and seep towards habitations. A glimpse inside a small green tent near the theatre reveals no ground sheet. Small mounds of human faeces are dotted about the camp. They’re avoidable when it’s dry. When it’s wet the ground is a sodden cocktail of waste.

 

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