Welcome to the New Jungle, Part 2: Peace begins with a smile

This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here: https://nicolamarven.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/a-day-in-the-new-jungle-1/


There are miles of new double-layered shiny silver fences with razor-sharp wires circling round the top to stop people entering the Channel Tunnel without authorisation. Around ten minutes’ drive away is the New Jungle, a camp of migrants of between 3000 – 5000 people, with no security, no electricity and no bathrooms. Despite this, when you get away from the main road and walk right through the camp to other side… it’s a very different view.

There is a fence here too, running along the very edge of the camp, but it’s green, rather than silver. On the other side, rather than the French police and UK border forces, are gardens, fields and – most disconcertedly – rural country homes. They are big, beautiful, and also strangely quiet and calm. Perhaps they are empty. There was a time that owners knew that their view of soft sand dunes and rolling sea waves would be left untouched and unbuilt upon, since there’s a huge industrial factory a little while away. That was, until the migrants who had been moved on from various settlements around Calais got desperate for a roof over their heads. They smashed a hole in the walls of the factory and started to camp inside. That camp, the original ‘Jungle’, has since been bulldozed and gated, and here they are now around me, as I walk through what is called the ‘New Jungle’ : tents and wooden shacks built on beautiful sand dunes and flood plains, with temporary rivers that ebb and flow, and a factory silhouetted against a sunset.

homeMyself and my fellow volunteers navigate the winding lanes, occasionally giving out kindling. Summer is fading and it will soon be cold. There are trees on the other side of the green fence, and when I look up, I see the last of the day’s sunlight touching the tops of the leaves, where the green is turning into soft yellow. After our intense morning of queues and fights and shouting over trainers, boots, jackets and sleeping bags, we feel dazed, but it seems that everyone we pass offers us a smile. We float past tents like slightly tipsy festival goers. Groups of men laugh pleasantly in rooms with walls made only of black bin liners, some with the odd prayer mat pinned up to act as a door. Pairs of men chuckle and giggle to each other as they push and pull shopping trolleys full of old jerrycans of water up and down bumpy paths. Every few minutes, a cyclist crashes gently into someone and then looks bemusedly around at the bicycle they just fell off; a big group of Oxford lads apparently cycled down here recently and left all their bikes; clearly not all the new residents have got the trick yet. We see three little bike crashes in about half an hour.


I see a young teen beaming as a colleague points out the drawings of flowers he has made around his ‘door’ – there are even some fake flowers pinned up from somewhere. A man called Alpha shows off the poetry he has painted outside his space, with the words ‘HO ME’ spelt out in giant letters. I see faces from the morning nodding and smiling to me. I seek out the Ethiopian with the dimples who told me that it was good I was Jamaican because the best music in the world comes from there. I am remembering already that when I said ‘Jamaica – Bob Marley?’ his face lit up, and I even managed to make him laugh when I said ‘Ethiopia – Haile Selassie?’ and we both said ‘Rasta!’

There is, unbelievably, a school here. It has paintings on its tiny wooden walls. There is also a church, with wooden panels banged into two triangle frames at either end and a cross at the top. Outside the church is a row of women sitting huddled together. In the whole day I am in the camp, I do not see more than 20 women. I cannot imagine the fear they must feel. I go over and offer them some of the tiny children’s wellies I have bought in a charity shop in Sydenham. They seem hesitant, reluctant, cautious. They do not smile like the men we have seen. Perhaps it is because each pair I’ve brought is wrapped in one of those handbags I never use, but eventually one woman takes them from me and starts handling and looking at them all. She clearly does not want to speak, and since I probably wouldn’t be able to handle listening to the stories she could tell me of what she’s been through to get here, I don’t push it.

live together

In English: ‘We should all learn to live together like brothers otherwise we will all die together like idiots’

Walking back round to the start, the men still seem remarkably chirpy as night settles. There is a big moon in the sky which I find out when I get back to the UK is rare. One man who I joked around with in the morning sees me and, after jubilantly shouting something to his friend, comes over and walks with me. He has changed his clothes and is wearing a slightly smarter t-shirt. We try to talk but he has no English, or French, or Spanish, and all I can say in Arabic is a badly pronounced ‘Asalamalayakum’. He smiles at my effort, and we part ways. I hear some more ‘Hello’s and ‘Bonjour’s as we pass. One Egyptian man is able to use his German to talk very effectively to our group leader. ‘How are the bathrooms?’ my colleague asks. ‘Scheise!’ comes the adamant answer. The bathrooms, of course, are those that belong to the Jules Ferry centre, where 100 women and children stay. They let the thousands of migrants use their bathroom for 3 hours a day. Scheise indeed.

As we keep walking we pass a makeshift library and even a wooden shack that says ‘CHICKEN AND CHIPS’ on the side. A white woman in her 20s stands in a doorway, dressed in a flowing long-sleeved green gown and an ankle-length yellow silk scarf. She is laughing as she drinks something hot out of a plastic cup. The Afghan man with the piercing blue eyes that desperately pleaded with me earlier for a cricket ball is over on a corner talking in a group. A little boy of 3 or 4 kicks a red and white football. As the sun sets, the street lights – the only sign that we are in somewhere with a government – switch on.



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