Notes from Calais

Weds 9th

We arrived early this morning after parking up somewhere between Bolougne and Calais overnight. We found the flat that is now serving as a base for activists coming to Calais and met with the others currently here:  T_, S_ and D_.  We are warned of a virus that has been doing the rounds.

They have been helping two Kurdish Armenian families, both with young children, who arrived together in Calais and were found by activists two days previously. The families have no money and nowhere to go. Last night they were put up in a cheap hotel by one of the humanitarian organisations here in Calais. S_ took me there to meet them and to have a sly shower in the hotel (the families insisted!)

Pete went with the others to collect unsold food from the market and deliver it to the Sudanese Jungle in his van. There has been no transport here for a while and only one bike, so the van will be extremely useful.

Later we went to find a Vietnamese Jungle nobody knew about before. It took us ages to find it and we hung about outside for a while unsure of how to make contact as we didn’t want to freak them out or intrude into their space. Eeventually we went in cautiously holding some of the fruit we had brought with us. A woman, H_, came out to meet us and immediately invited us in, without even bothering to ask who we were or why we had just appeared on their doorstep bearing fruit. H_ is the only woman in the camp and is living there with 19 men. They came together in a big group and the atmosphere in the camp is very pleasant. They were extremely polite and hospitable and invited us to eat with them, which we did, although I just ate the rice and not the meaty stew.

Another activist turned up later on, DD.

Thurs 10th

Pete’s birthday. We were awoken early by the others who had gone out on patrol and bumped into the CRS who were raiding the Ethiopian squat. We got there to find cops already inside and T_ and DD being pushed around outside by CRS. One with a ginger Tash hit T_ on the arm with his baton. 9 arrests. The CRS left and we went into the squat. A couple of minutes and people started crawling out of all sorts of hiding places. Much laughter.

S_ and M_ went with the Armenian families to their prefecture, they are trying to claim asylum in France. Due to some beaurocratic error they will have to go back again on Tuesday. The families came back to the flat and all was chaos with children everywhere and us trying to have a meeting in the middle of it all.

S_ left to go back home to England and the rest of us went out to celebrate Pete’s birthday at The Coconut, which unfortunately was shut. Next we tried l’Absinthe, but it was all out of Absinthe and that was what Pete decided he wanted for his birthday. We walked round all the bars but no Absinthe could be found. We settled on coctails at Bouis Bois, the kitchest bar in town. Bizarre mixture of musical types playing while 911 dramatisation played on TV behind bar.

Friday 11th

I awoke needing to puke and shit. The No Borders virus had finally caught us. Spent the whole day lying on sofa cushions in the flat lounge while the others went on patrol. They found the Kurdish Jungle near to the Iranians deserted and destroyed with only a pile of bags remaining. The bags contained papers and IDs so we decided to go back for them later.

By evening I was a bit better and managed to cook some soup with Pete. He was ill too, but without the sickness and had been eating all day while I starved my virus out.

Hearing confirmation that the CRS had cleared the Kurdish Jungle we went back for the bags, but alas they had already been gone through. Others went out for late patrol while I went early to bed.

Saturday 12th

Feeling much better. We went to market and got lots of free food. I got to try out my French, “Pardon, est que vous des invendus pour emigrant solidaritè?”

Driving we passed  some police (not CRS) around a man who appeared to be unconscious and another French man we are friendly with (P_) We heard that he had got inside the fence of the dock but was seen by security and jumped from the bridge. We are ushered on by the cops but P_ says he will go to hospital with the man, who he knows.

Took some of the food to the Hazara Jungle, where we were greeted by “Water! Water!” The Hazara are unable to carry water by hand as it’s such a long way. A man who usually gets it for them has not been by in a few days. We loaded the van up with empty bottles and containers and drove out to the water pump at the car park where La Belle Etoile destribute food, accompanied by B_, an Iranian man who is living at the Hazara Jungle. He has been in Calais only two days and is a good contact to make as his English is excellent. B_ told me he had been tortured in Iran before the election. He showed me where they burned his arm with cigarettes.

At the water pump I held the water bottles while some of the men who had been hanging around came over to help wind the pump. I became very conscious that they could see straight down my top. Perhaps that’s why they were so eager to help.

When all the bottles were full I returned to the van where Pete was getting mobbed by gathering crowds who had seen the food in the back. We gave away all but one box of food, which we saved for the Sudanese camp. We also gave out lots of the clothes we had brought with us from England. Pete reports feeling like an aid worker, something he is uncomfortable with. He said he felt in enormous power as to who could receive and who not. Very interesting.

We drove the water back to the Hazara, where I photographed B_’s wounds with my phone. He had pictures of his injuries before, but they took his camera from him in Greece, where they locked him up for three months and took his fingerprints. There is an injured man, A_ at the Hazara who is out of medicine. We promise to bring him some tomorrow.

I got a text from Pete while in the library saying Manu Chao gig in Calais tomorrow and we will have a stall there. Also an initial false rumour that he wanted to play a gig IN the Pashtun Jungle. Turned out to be a mis-communication and Pashtun not up for it anyway: Ramadan and they don’t trust us. Our relationship with that particular Jungle is unfortunately bad now as the people who run it have told the others not to trust us. We have been told it is dangerous for us to go there. Our relationship with all other Jungles is very good at present and we are looking for ways we might be able to help heal this one, maybe when Ramadan is over.

I met the others at the Ethiopian squat, where they dropped off the car battery we had charged up for them. They now have lighting, although the CRS have smashed one of their lights.

We went on to the Dockside (formerly called Palestinian or International) and Sudanese camps briefly to deliver clothes and food. Back to the flat for dinner then out for a late patrol. Hung out with Sudanese by train tracks for a while, then the Docks, where I had a fascinating discussion about Anarchism with a Sudanese man who had never heard the word before.  We also saw the man from this morning who had jumped from the bridge and been taken to hospital. He seems ok but is in pain. His foot is bandaged up. Apparently he was in Dover two days earlier, but got caught and sent back. Now he will have to rest.

Sunday 13th

Got up late. Nothing open, including pass clinic so we can’t get the medicine for A_ as promised. We drive to Hazara to tell him and offer to drive him to hospital instead. He accepts reluctantly as he is in a lot of pain. We all wait in A+E for a long time. I left after a few hours and went back to the flat for a nap. There are only so many ‘Madame’ magazines one can read.

Awoken at 7pm by a text saying not enough tickets for Manu Chao so me and Pete not going. M_ and A_ were the last to leave hospital. After one hour they washed his feet, after another hour they said they had no scissors, so they went to get some and never came back. M_ left with ‘five hours’ written on his forehead in biro.

With the others out to play at the gig, Pete and I have the flat to ourselves.  We have a candlelit meal and a stroll in the park before bed.

Monday 14th

D_ and T_ left this morning. Sad to see them go as we have all bonded quite well, but now more people are arriving. PP, who I know from EF! and Climate Camp, turns up unexpectedly at the window and surprises us; L_ arrives later on.

B_ works on a bus that takes tourists from Germany to Calais. Due to an administrative mix-up there wasn’t enough space for her on the bus back, so they gave her the train fare instead. D_ had just left the flat on his way back to Scotland and was wearing his usual ‘Antifasciste’ hoodie. B_ saw it and began a conversation, which lasted over an hour and meant that D_ missed his bus. He told her about what we were doing in Calais and she decided to come for a couple of days. Synchronicity in action!

Pete went back to the Hazara to try again with A_ at the hospital, but he refused to go saying an injection they had given him had helped with the pain. Pete did another water run for them and then went to visit the African houses alone.

PP, M_ and I went to meet Manu Chao at La Belle Etoile (humanitarian organisation) food distribution. Very odd situation with random Manu Chao groupies turning up and migrants not knowing who he was or what all these oddly dressed people were doing there. We had a nice little chat with him though. He seemed very laid back and up for helping, but maybe not quite sure how best to do so. He gave me his email address.

We did an evening patrol all together, spending some time at the Sudanese camp, where we met a man called H_, with excellent English and drank super-sugary tea and orange squash round their fire. The wind was blowing furiously and some of the tent structures are in need of more rope and pegs.

Past Ethiopian and Eritrean squats, both very quiet so we didn’t go it. Pete was at Eritrean earlier and met two children who had arrived today. We will check on them tomorrow.

Over to Docks, where we hung out for a while in the middle section, despite one quite randy man called A_ being there who creeps me out a bit. He has an odd energy about him and unlike any other migrant I have met is almost always intoxicated. I think we handled him quite well. We had missed a CRS visit by about an hour, which was unfortunate. It seems they come at nightfall when people are just about to eat. It’s Ramadan now and many people do not eat during daylight hours. The police come, throw the food away and arrest people. This needs careful monitoring. We tell them we will come back at nightfall the following night. A quick visit to the far end of the docks where we discover the friends we had the political discussion with the other night are among those arrested. Some of the migrants have started saying ‘No Borders’ when you ask what country they come from.

Tuesday 15th

P_, B_ and L_ accompanied M_ to the Armenian families’ prefecture. It turns out that B_ can speak Russian in common with the families, so she found herself in quite an intense situation translating into lots of different languages. The decision was for the family of five to be split: the woman and her brother have been fingerprinted in Poland and so have to return there, despite being terrified to do so. They are now illegal here in France and have been given one month to leave. The father and children have been granted refuge in France.

Meanwhile, Pete and I clean the flat with our French friend, who I will call Padre, in preparation for our landlord’s visit. Padre is very handy and when I come back from the library we have a newly fixed chair, bathroom shelf and marble mantlepiece in the bedroom. We also have four smiling crusties from Lappersfort, the protest site in Belgium, along with four bikes they have driven down for us. Bikes, hurrah! Each of the bikes could do with a good fix-up, but they are just about rideable at least. Now there are eight of us, so we divide into two teams of four for the evening patrol. Pete and I go with two of the Lappersfort crew on bikes and the other four go on foot.

We go to the Iranians first, only four of them left now after twenty managed to cross over to England at once a week or two ago. The Kurdish camp nearby has been dismantled by police and we pass all of the Vietnamese looking excited and furtive, obviously on a mission, so we decide not to visit them tonight. Next we cycle past the Pashtun where the Lappersfort guys want to go in, so we split our group and me and Pete go on to the Hazara.

This is where our goodbyes start as we have made some Hazara friends. Tomorrow Pete and I will leave Calais. He’ll drive somewhere with me for a couple of days and then go on to Poland where his grandfather is now very ill. I will head slowly down to Spain.

Next  to the Docks, where we bump into the other patrol team. A CRS van parked there leaves when it sees us. Perhaps so many activists at once scared them off? All quiet at the African houses, so we head over to the Sudanese camp, both ma and Pete’s favourite hangout. We say our goodbyes, swap emails and finally manage to get some sugarless coffee. Our Sudanese friend looks at us in disgust when we ask for it and wants to know if this is some kind of No Borders endurance test. Usually they pour half a box of sugar into the pan as it is boiling.

So, tomorrow we leave. Where will we go? We’re not sure yet, but maybe Lappersfort?

4 thoughts on “Notes from Calais

  1. Hey, M here. Just want to refine something quickly:

    “After one hour they washed his feet, after another hour they said they had no scissors, so they went to get some and never came back. M_ left with ‘five hours’ written on his forehead in biro.”

    It was more like this: one hour after presenting ourselves at the reception, and explaining the problem, we get out the waiting room, and inside the hospital proper. That is, inside, where the real, tough, hardcore waiting gets done and your soul tries to escape your body.

    There, we are told there ain’t many people today and the whole thing won’t take too long, thereby unfortunately misleading us into thinking the whole thing won’t take too long. An hour later, we are finally taken to the radio room, and this is probably the best part of the day, cause it actually was quickly done. I don’t know what they were thinking.

    Then, we’re taken back to the original room, wait another hour before a nurse does the washing of the feet. ‘Should you get a plaster ? Um, I’m gonna ask.’ Well she comes back to say that yes we will get one. Oh, nice.

    Obviously, that kind of feat of arms warranted another hour of waiting, and that’s just what we got. Ouh yeah !

    You should also know, people kept coming back and forth because the storeroom and medical supplies were just next to us. So there we are waiting and having our hopes up every time someone enters, only to have them crushed when they leave for another patient.

    Alright, but now something seems to be on the way, they are moving and speaking to us, in a language which, I realize now, was my own native one, French ! Ah ! And bandages are assembled, oh but, the scandal ! No scissors ! Where do we get scissors in a hospital !

    Well then, the plastering will have to wait, scissors need be found. We just got another hour there. Oh, here’s that nurse woman at the reception, and she got scissors ! Do you actually need scissors ? My, what a coincidence !

    Well now, all that remains is for that doctor to show up again and finish the work. Hey, in the meantime, A, could you help us with a translation, that guy barely speaks english. Whom do we see on the way ? That not-showing-up doctor ! And what does she have the fucking guts to ask ? ‘Oh hey, here you are, I’ve been looking all over for you !’ All over !? We’ve been fucking standing there the whole time !

    Do you think I left there and then ? Nop, not yet. I let the translation get done, and still got another dose of waiting after returning to the plaster room, expecting that doctor to come after all. She sounded like she was looking for us, and looking forward to get the job done. I let that possibility a chance for 20 minutes ,and THEN I did what the author of this blog said.

  2. Jo

    It is all over the news today that The Jungle is going to be shut down next week in Calais. They had cameras there and everything and having read on your blog about it I thought I’d keep you up to speed in case you can’t get the news elsewhere. I will send you an email about this as well so maybe you can have the chance to get it either/or.

    The Jungle sounds really grim. Really felt for the people as I was watching it on the news. Of course, they made out about it being an ‘eye sore’ concentrating on that rather than why the people were there, how they were living, or not, getting fed, etc. And when asked where the people might go for the future when the camp is closed next week the answer was they would prob be sent back from where they came, but that Calais is no longer going to be a halfway place for them to get into England.

    Hope all well with you, and thanks for the chance to share your journey with you.

    Love Mum

  3. I’m loving every minute of keeping up with your adventures … and some adventures they are turning out to be! Never forget, you come from a long line of activists of which I am very proud … and so so proud of you xxxx

    I match what you are talking about to what they show on the news now almost every night … okay, they are selective about what they show, but sometimes they show more because people have gone in with hidden cameras to try to get the real story about what is happening to the people.

    Your blog is very comprehensive and makes avid reading.

    Have written you an email when you can get online .. I too am having exciting adventures of my own although all I’d like in the world right now is to snuggle up with someone safe and loyal and reliable who isn’t going to fleece me for money.

    Speak soon
    Much love

  4. Pingback: No Borders Calais – September 2009 « The Antlers of Identity Blog

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