Calais – By Alice (Hub volunteer)

November 17th, 2015 by

On the second day of cycling we got to Dover, missing our ferry by a few minutes.We still got through. In the lane for boarding, all the hills and fields in our muscles and in the stink of our tshirts. An epic feeling rises. We made it! We got there! On the other side, at the roundabout, eighty people plopped on the grass, the feeling retreats. We’re about to go inside the jungle. To see the real life of real people. We cycle into the camp. It is a dirt road bordered by bushes and tents. Rubbish overflowing, big puddles of water, people walking and standing around. Everywhere voices greeting us. Hello! Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! The irony of that.

Guy and I went to get water. On the way we met a Sudanese man, who had been there for four days. He held himself very straight in his purple shirt. He pushed down the tap while we filled all four bottles. He said, Sudan to Chad, Chad to Lybia, Lybia to Italy, Italy to France. Very difficult. Very difficult, crossing the Sahara. Very difficult here.

We talked to people by a small fire, where a dark mixture bubbled and solidified in a pot. Akra introduced himself. He invited us, offering a steel can to sit on. I looked at the rings of it, at the men huddled there, so close to the ground. I was so humbled. Akra looked like my flatmate, the way he smiled at jokes. He pointed to a boy standing in a duffel coat nearby. “He will try tonight.” Akra has been at the camp for four months. He tries to get to England every night. One night he was lucky, the train was delayed and he saw the entrance of the tunnel. Then his friend fell on the track and broke a leg. The police came with gas and dogs, beasts. The friend’s leg was amputated. I asked him what he wanted to do when he got to England. “Educate!” He said when you are running to get in the tunnel, “you know there is 50% chance of death, 50 % chance of life.” He said he doesn’t care for money; he wants education.

Everyone insisted we taste Sudanese coffee. We sat on the sand to decide how to distribute the bikes. It was wrong right away. Too many people and too much need. Our 80 bikes paled in the face of all those gathered round, not even a tenth of the population of the camp. Suddenly everyone got up. A first couple of bikes, locked together, were carried off. The meeting was over. People standing watching. Several people came up to us apologising, saying they felt bad. We felt bad too. We felt we should be apologising. We had brought chaos.

Then the rain poured down, the sky darkened. In a tent with Guy, I tried to talk myself out of the jungle, to stop feeling in my gut the fear, the despair of the tent and the storm lighting it up, the voices outside, still arguing at first, then looking for help, for people, for tents, in the hail and thunder. In the morning everything was quiet. Shoes and bags half buried in sand, where the cyclists had been. Tents fallen over and flooded. On the bridge at the entrance of the camp, the grafitti read, “France is dog life, England is good life.”

In Dover, it was raining and I was weary. I crossed the road to sit in an empty café, hoping for tea, for warmth, for rest. I took off my soggy raincoat. I sipped. On the table, a newspaper headline read, SEAL UP THE BORDERS: Britain immigration records. Disastrous numbers. Minister promised he will be tougher. The girl who served me said, “and how are you today?” She wore a green sweatshirt, black jeans. Her hair was tied up high, a tiny bit of eyeliner. She told me how to get up the hill, towards Folkestone. She goes there to chill with friends, when it’s sunny. She has been living in England for three years and a half. She comes from Latvia. She wants to go to university, but to study what? She is starting sociology, art and maths this year.

I wondered if Akra survived the night. I wondered what subjects he’d study, if he got the chance.