The prefecture has recently closed off a number of key sites in the town where people had been managing to find somewhere to sleep, including the porch of a building and a small wood, also for prayer meetings. As in the UK, the cold weather has come as a bit of a shock, moving from warm Autumn one day to Winter the next.
We took the opportunities we could across both days to visit these boarded up or fenced off areas. With our new large map we also visited the site of the former Jungle camp two years after its closure, this time to mark the map’s arrival, the intense colours glowing in the dusk.
Thursday was a public holiday and there were at least 130 people using the space. People were tired and hungry, asking for food, and it was cold and grey outside. A number of individuals had injuries evidenced by the many bandages and crutches. There was a mix of cultures in the room. At times the atmosphere felt charged, though generally people cooperated with one another, chatting at tables, queuing up for a haircut, and drinking a lot of coffee. Indeed it was estimated that 100 litres of coffee were made across the afternoon, people perhaps needing to stay alert.
We sat for two and a half hours at the table - the tablecloth map working well alongside limited materials. Our reduced palette allowed people from across the cultural groups to join us. There were political discussions that were grounded by the map. People were kind to one another yet also vigilant; things can kick off quickly.
We joined the Medecins du Monde team at their roadside ambulance and were pleased to see books and wooden blocks being used in the shelter of a tent pitched close by. The same Iranian man who had sung in the day centre an hour earlier, now sang for the small group gathered to see the doctor, his voice at once mournful and appearing to bring some comfort to those around him.
Our new map glowed, the lack of routes allowing a sense of freedom for people to forge new paths, discuss mountain ranges and vast landlocked seas. Together we shared curiosity about the countries north of Afghanistan that none of us have been to; and we located the Channel Islands and different routes across the sea. We swapped stories about sprained ankles and managed collectively to hold onto humour while acknowledging the seriousness of these young men’s predicament, still stuck at this border, trying to find a way through.
At the Secours Catholique team meeting, there was discussion about the role of the service and whether or not any food should or could be offered. The urgent need for monthly training for volunteers in both self care and child protection was raised, and we agreed that we would discuss this with partners as a potential offer for the new year.
It was a delight to be back at the safe house after its closure due to a bug infestation; and it was fairly full. There was the usual activity of food being warmed up in the kitchen, newly washed clothes drying, young men preparing to go out to try for the lorries. Joined at the dining room table we looked at maps and postcards, and gently returned to familiar patterns.
We were once again struck by the importance of a place like this in Calais where it’s possible to pause, where you don’t have to be hyper-vigilante and where a large glass of warm milk is the preferred drink to coffee.