Tuesday morning started with finding some excellent panne chocolat for breakfast, but then descended into a combination of the two activities that I used to joke comprised 90% of activism – waiting around for something to be sorted, and moving heavy things from place to place. In this case, we had our massive bag of donations plus our own packs, and we were hoping to politely persuade some very busy people with a van to fit us into their morning plans. In the end, our bag went off with one group of people and we and our packs hitched a ride to camp with someone else. (Incidentally we have now figured out the buses and walking routes – the Jungle is only a half hour walk from the Calais ferry – so getting round without a car is much easier than we initially realised).
Walking the last bit of a long straight road amidst port-related factories, we arrived to the Jungle front door. Also along this road walked little groups of footsore people who had spent their night walking the 3 hours it takes to get to the Channel tunnel access, risking their lives to try and get through it in various ways, then walking the 3 hours back.
At the front gate are police, mud, and the beginning of a swathe of tattered tents as far as the eye can see, with a scattering of more sturdy plastic-covered boxes that look like some insulation has been incorporated – we think one of the shelter building projects are responsible for these. We are heading for the No Borders space, “just beyond the church” – and there really is a DIY church, where Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians are coming and going. The No Borders space has been built with the funds raised by Project Hummingbird, and people are still putting the inside of the roof together as we arrive. During the week it will be an info/advice centre, offering legal info to Jungle residents, and on alternate weekends, the other small room at the end will house a medical clinic, with a regular team from the UK staffing it.
We have some more waiting to do. Our donations bag has not yet arrived (it has gone off on all the other missions its van had to do around the place before getting here) and I have not yet had any reply from Dr H, our medic caravan contact back in the UK, to enable us to find out where our caravan is or how to access it. We sit on the No Borders steps and try to take in our surroundings. However, within minutes a young woman has asked us to lend our neighbour a hand. He has a shipping container next door with shoes and clothes to distribute, just delivered from the UK, and they want us to join them inside it to hunt down appropriate sizes while he fields the needs of the increasingly hectic and anxious line of Jungle folks forming a sort-of queue at the little door.
It is our first experience of the disturbing power undercurrents in this community of those who have almost nothing and those who try to address this, with the best will in the world. You cannot start from scratch and try to build equal relationships, the fact that refugee camps exist in the first place makes this impossible. For practical reasons, the distributors want a functioning queue to form. For cultural reasons, most of the people needing stuff totally don’t get queues. Because of the rising anxiety, which means there will be a time limit on how long everyone can keep calm, the system is that you get to say your shoe size or your trouser size or if you need a medium jacket, but you can’t change what you get.
So you are a bloke who gets pink shoes? That’s what you get, even if it embarrasses you to wear them, they keep your feet dry don’t they, come on. The shoes you say were your size don’t fit? But everyone can’t change, you will have to put up with it. That’s why so many people walk around with their feet squashing their shoe heels down. This is a camp of people with shoes that don’t fit, why should it be better for you? At least you’re better off than all the people in flip flips in the mud, right? There are some really good wellies, but no-one wants them, people always want sports shoes instead. I am stupid for 5 minutes – why don’t you want the wellies? Look at all this mud… Then I realise: walk 6 hours a night, climb fences, run from police dogs, in wellies? Of course no-one wants the wellies.
Nobody wants this relationship of giver and givee. The distributors (we are at least a mix of races) would much rather everyone get to take their time, to try on their clothes to be sure they fit, to have something they feel looks alright on them for their only outfit, for everyone to get a jacket that has the same warmth instead of the potluck of a thin cheap waterproof or something really decent. The distributees would no doubt like to be treated with some dignity, to not panic and grab but to have confidence and trust they will eventually get what they need. But there are no grounds for such confidence. And winter is coming.
I have a text. Dr H has had a hectic morning at work in the UK, he apologises for the delay in his reply and directs us to the medic caravans.