I’m on a posh train, can’t find my seat, standing in floods of tears, too tired to walk the ten coaches or so to find my place. That feels a fitting end to a week where I have been in Calais to try and support my friends, daughter Anna and her partner Jonny as they weather the disinformation and mess which has come from the clearance of the Jungle.
24hours ago I wrote a blog which was all smiles. The French authorities had planned a plan, and it was so nearly working. But they seem to have failed to plan for anything going wrong, or realised that things might take longer than they planned. They had a plan for 6,000 refugees – but the charities on the ground told them there were nearer 9,000. They planned for 1,000 young people, knowing there were at least 1,200 – and then they wondered why there were photos of 200+ young people sleeping outside the safe zone being cared for by volunteers. They put out a press release saying the camp was clear when anyone with an eye or a camera could see 1,000 refugees standing looking at their burning homes. They talked of a careful plan, and then they advanced with riot gear to clear anything in their way.
This morning (Thur) I was in the off-site warehouse as one of the support volunteers and I peeled ginger (with a spoon – which is a brilliant idea learned from one of the chefs), peeled Isle of White farmed garlic…oh so much garlic, and sorted apples. Around me were people who had spent the night cooking for the children, trying to take shelter to those who needed it (only to be initially refused by the militaire). Long term volunteers who had witnessed the destruction of so much of the camp including the church, and the arrest of innocent refugees who had not got on the bus to other places – but that was because the buses were not there, and the registration desk had turned them away.
Many of the people I have heard about who are (or were) in the camp are highly educated souls, seeking a chance to join their relatives in the UK, work hard, pay taxes and become part of a dream country for them. We have watched the French authorities shatter most of that dream today.
I leave the camp with my tears very close to the surface. Last time I joined the Eurostar I also met some deeply concerned members of the House of Lords to whom I vented my spleen, and they listened with interest. Tonight the only people I could find were the CNN crew on their way out of the area, ready to move to another war zone. Pleasant, but not needing anymore thoughts on this “packet”.
I return to my life of theatre, smelling of garlic (see pic) and I have two thoughts – a) I wish I could stay longer, do more, not need to earn a living and b) how can I continue to champion and make necessary theatre that helps to illuminate these issues and engenders change.
Now, like all those who remain in the camp and the warehouse, I will refashion my emotional shield so I don’t weep unnecessarily. Last time I was in the camp that took me a week to harden. This time I hope it will be quicker. But my weep-surface is thin. My experience with Anna and Jonny in Calais has been precious in my life. I wish more people got it.
Thank you Refugee Community Kitchen. It has been an honour to get to know you. I will be back to peel veg wherever you need it, whenever I can. [Please click through and read their daily updates which are real, true, on the ground, and tear-jerkingly sad at times]