It’s been nearly five months since I first arrived in Calais (for a week…) and it has gotten harder, not easier, to respond quickly to the question: “so, how are things in Calais?” I’m constantly expecting it and consistently unprepared to answer it. I falter, unable to say that it is either good (which it certainly is not, although it has it’s sweeter, rose-tinted moments) or bad (which needs elaborated on, extensively, and yet of course that takes time, and a lot of effort from me and the listener, and isn’t always the most comfortable conversation point to be had over a cup of coffee, or in a bar, or indeed, over Facebook messenger).
But you’ve asked, which is better than not asking at all, and so here’s an attempt at an answer. The situation is shit without any end in sight. To call it a humanitarian crisis suggests that there’s a plausible solution. Blame and anger flies in all possible directions. The more I know, the less I know. It’s a big fuzzy grey mess full of police brutality, fighting, racial tension, people smugglers, desperation, teargas, fascists, avoidance of responsibility, legalities and red tape, politics, nationalism, globalisation, social media, inequality, anger, sadness, tears, injustice, fire and fury. And young children, caught in the storm. Regardless of what’s to blame here, it’s not their fault. And that’s just in this little pocket of Northern France.
Friendships I’ve made are tinged with sadness at the fact that after five months many of these wonderful people are still stuck in this limbo, and I’m still seeing faces I’ve seen every single day since I first came back as a long-term volunteer. Others have achieved their goal of making it to the UK and send us photos from nightclubs around the country, or of them reunited with their families, or ask for advice about which city they should live in. Countless others I’ve lost track of completely, and could be anywhere in France, or the UK, or elsewhere in Europe, or deported back to their country of origin, or worse.
Friendships made with fellow volunteers, on the other hand, are what I would answer as “good”. Actually, much much more than good. There are some truly incredible people working out of and passing through this little warehouse in Calais, and to quote a fellow volunteer and dear friend, “RCK has taught me that there is no limit to the number of people you can absolutely adore”. Living in close quarters in a peculiar little caravan park on the outskirts of Calais and working 12 hour days wherein you touch base with every single emotion on a daily basis, it’s impossible not to form strong bonds with people. A definite highlight of this year was a weekend running wild and free around Glastonbury, a mentally if not physically refreshing adventure which I’ll never forget. Thanks Steve Bedlam for a bloody wonderful weekend with wonderful people.
I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be here. It’s important to keep moving forward, so I imagine it’ll just be a couple more months, and then? Well, I’ll definitely be looking to work or volunteer further in this field, be that elsewhere in Europe or the Middle East or in the UK. Working towards trying to implement some form of change for the better in the system would be a good long-term goal, although I’m aware that that path will hit a lot of frustrating bureaucracy. Working on the ground is rewarding and immediate but simultaneously is just putting a plaster on a gaping wound, and more needs to be done at a much higher level. In the meantime though, I am happy. Sad and angry too, in equal measure, but I’ve definitely got a few months left in me here. When that balance changes, it will be time to move on.
We need to build a new kitchen at RCK. The authorities are trying their damnedest to shut us down yet we are the ONLY organisation providing daily hot meals to refugees sleeping rough in Calais at the moment. They’ve hit us with the health and safety card and we’ve been forced to comply. If you can, please consider donating, or fundraise for us during your next half marathon or bake sale. I can guarantee that the money you raise will go directly to building our new kitchen and continuing to feed refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. We’re making over 2,500 generous portions of food every single day at the moment, so our closure would hit hard.
This week I’m heading out on a nighttime maraude with Utopia 56, a wonderful charity working through the night to provide food and supplies to people in desperate need. Blog post about exactly what that entails coming soon.
(P.S. On a very similar vein to this blog, I’d recommend giving this a watch).