The three first aid caravans are opposite Medecins du Monde‘s base. They have been donated by Caravans for Calais, who have also been bringing donated caravans to house families, and folks with disabilities, in a little caravan enclave elsewhere in the jungle. Our caravan is (for some reason) named Maxine, and after spending the last hours wondering how this would all work, as soon as we step inside it all falls into place.
Healthcare spaces are about respect and kindness, treating people who living in inhumane situations with the humanity everyone deserves. I first experienced this when I was in Beit Jalah hospital in the West Bank during the 2002 Israeli army attacks. Later, in Lebanon in 2007, I learned the skills I will be using here, while volunteering in the clinic that had evacuated itself from Palestinian refugee camp Nahr El Bared, under attack by the Lebanese army, to the neighbouring Beddawi camp. (I am delighted to discover betadine in our caravan, which was our solution to everything there.)
In Gaza in 2009, the Israeli army bombed Al Quds hospital multiple times with white phosphorous and we had to evacuate not only the patients in their beds but all the civilians that had fled there for safety, just one of years of attacks breaching the Geneva convention that protects all medical sites, vehicles and staff. After the second evacuation in the one day, I still went back with a handful of staff, because giving up that space to those attacking felt unthinkable. Here in our caravan, in a small way, as in those other places in my history, we can offer sanity and kindness – as the government allegedly representing us is failing to do – in such a big way.
Our little caravan Maxine is packed with all sorts of donations. We spend the hours before dark unpacking and shelving our own bag, reading directions on things we are likely to use, tidying and re-stocking a pre-existing dressings table and a dispensing table. We figure we should try and look like we know what we’re doing once we’re open. We’ve all three (me, my partner P, and old friend C) had various basic training and are also reminding ourselves of the “first do no harm” principle and packing away items we are unqualified to dispense (however fun they look!)
C’s friend, who has been here before, then whisks us off to meet his Ethiopian mate in a pristine hut that is impossibly somehow much cleaner than we are, lit with little LEDs and decorated with several soft toys, where one of the women in his family offers us delicious chai. His friend then takes us onto one of the jungle’s restaurants where he orders a vegetarian dinner for us, not something we were not sure we could achieve alone. At some point in the evening we discover that all our time-telling items are in contradiction of each other. We know France is on a different time to England, but our adjustments have gone wrong somehow, with me and my watch believing it’s a quarter to eight when other gadgets and people are certain it’s a quarter to ten. No wonder I’m tired, that’s way past my bedtime.
Getting out our rollmats and eyeing the floor of our caravan, which infinite boots have trodden before our arrival, we come up with the idea of creating a clean floor for ourselves and a day’s clinic visitors with gaffer tapes and bin bags. It works a treat. And then we go to sleep.