Sunday 2nd October 2016
I’m sitting up in bed listening to the sea wind whipping up the street and wondering what it must be like in the Jungle this morning. Autumn is here and I’m reaching for an extra eiderdown.
I’m feeling a stomach-gnawing nervousness. I’m going to France today to volunteer, alone, and am not sure what the hostel will be like. I’m not sure how I’ll get there from the boat or how I’ll get to work and back from the hostel. All is slightly uncertain and I’m not comfortable with uncertainty of this kind. People, I’m normally at ease with. It’s finding my way around that worries me. I’ve got a terrible sense of direction. But if I feel like this, how infinitely more dreadful must it be for the refugees, particularly the young and the elderly?
Arrive in Calais after a fascinating ferry journey with Mary, who I met in the departure lounge. She is interested in Buddhism and has travelled widely, volunteering in India and Tibet, where she met the Dalai Lama. She is tired from her journey from Cardiff and I suggest she has a doze, but my questions keep flowing and the doze doesn’t happen. Mary keeps saying how relieved she is to have met me. This is puzzling but leaves me feeling brave and confident.
We leave the shuttle bus in Calais and make our first mistake. The foot passenger exit is tucked behind an information caravan and, therefore, not visible from where the bus stops. I suggest a taxi but Mary is up for a walk. Fine. I can drag a case a kilometer or two – no problem.
The new confident me decides to use my initiative, and rather than ask for directions we follow the arrows for the car park exit. Half an hour later we have looped back on ourselves and struggle past the foot passenger entrance. Oh joy!
We stop and I ask two policemen whether we are actually heading for the centre of Calais, or not. Either they aren’t local or they are just unhelpful in a polite kind of way. English women/hostel = volunteers/Jungle.
I remain upbeat and lead the way chuntering on about the beautiful sunset and scenery. Mary is dragging behind me. By the time we reach the hostel it is dark and we discover they have not received Mary’s booking. They are fully booked. Mary is exhausted and nearly in tears. I ask the receptionist where else she might stay. He googles and says there is a room in a nearby hotel along the seafront. I walk her there but don’t feel so intrepid hurrying back along the sea front alone in the dark.
So, up to my room – a small box with two beds. My roommate is missing but there is a fascinating pile of belongings on the floor by her bed – clothes, boots, toiletries, food packets and books. I poke my nose in the wardrobe and discover a few slices of white bread, a salami sausage and a black Fedora hat.Two hangars hang from the radiator. A young adolescent on tour maybe? No.
A young Maltese girl knocks and enters. She has just walked her friend and previous roommate to the train station. She slumps down on the pile of blankets and rubs at her neck. She has been working for Care4Calais, another small charity, for three weeks and is exhausted. She has been in charge of their distribution trailer in camp.
She tells me a left wing political group led a peaceful protest yesterday against Hollande’s intention to close the camp, and the riot police, who hold fort at the entrance to the camp, showered the protesters with tear gas and water canons. It appears there was no media presence and I saw nothing on the news.
I have heard the hostel serves hot snacks till 10pm and go downstairs in search of food. A large group of German adolescents have arrived and the hall is filled with loud, ebullient voices. The bar is dark and quiet. A man lolling by the desk admits to working at the hostel, but tells me all the soup has gone. He does agree to sell me a Mars bar and a bottle of water. Gloria is horrified and rummages in the wardrobe for the bread and salami. I stick with the Mars bar.
The bed is surprisingly comfy but Gloria was right to suggest closing the window. The Channel wind is cold and seeps around the window frames. I wake early and search for bed socks and a jumper.
Upside – three o’clock is a good time to use the hostel Wi-Fi. At any other time it is impossible with everyone ringing home or fiddling with Facebook. It is harder for the refugees, of course. There is no WiFi on the dunes, and the refugees have to climb the highest dunes for any chance of a signal to phone family and loved ones.