“I love England.”
“London is my dream.”
These are the words that come back to me as I try to remember my day in the Calais Jungle. They were spray painted onto the sides of two tents in the sprawling camp. Simple words, and ones that make me ashamed. Ashamed of my country for closing its borders, ashamed of myself for my lack of gratitude for everything I have.
I’m ashamed, too, that just a few short weeks after visiting refugees in Calais the memories have so easily faded away. I’m not transformed. I feel sorry for the thousands of migrants and refugees living in the mud and fear of the Jungle – but my sympathy hasn’t moved me to action. There are so many people, my littleness in the face of such a struggle is paralysing. And so I find I choose to forget.
Yet, if I force myself to think about it, to go back there, there are moments that are etched into my memory. Sitting where Jude Law sat while eating a Syrian refugee’s Toblerone. Filming a contact perched on a hill outside the camp to stay away from those who are not fond of journalists. Being told the Afghans might stab me. Being afraid.
I sit and drink coffee with the pastor of the Jungle church, located next to the library – its name, Jungle Books, makes me smile. “My church is the most famous church in the world,” the pastor tells me. “It’s not big, but everybody knows about it.”
I’m feeling cold as we sit outside, and self-conscious about the smoke from the fire that’s getting on my coat, in my hair. And feeling bad about feeling self-conscious. The thick coffee warms my throat as I nod in agreement – yes, his church is quite spectacular. A tent of meeting. Jesus feels present as I try to say a prayer for the people living in this horrible place. For once, I am lost for words.
The pastor is from Ethiopia. He apologises for the coffee he has served my friends and I. “When I am in England I will serve you from golden cups,” he says. We laugh, but he means it.
The camp is divided into sections – countrymen settle together, side by side. Their tents pitched and settlements dug into the seemingly never-ending mud. It’s not a cliché – people haven’t suddenly all become the same. The borders have just got a lot closer, tighter, less well-defined. Refugees have started shops, cafes, hairdressers; there are entrepreneurs here. I didn’t expect it to be so organised, so permanent. And yet a few days earlier hundreds of these people weren’t here, they were further out on land that is now empty – bulldozed – apart from some scattered rubbish. A doll stares up at me, crushed into the dirt. Looking for the little girl who loved her, before she had to run away. Again.
I pass through Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq. I’ve only walked a few hundred metres.
A man keeps a notebook of every Syrian in the camp. He’s trying to make sure there’s a record of the children. Trying to make sure they can get out – to safety. To the UK. We sit in his hut and he makes us tea. Gives us lunch. Shares his Toblerone with us. I feel bad to eat it, but he breaks a bit off and hands it to me. He looks me in the eye and tells me to eat it. It’s a taste of heaven in the middle of this dark, infinitely complex maze – a nightmare to get in, a nightmare to get out.
He doesn’t speak much. Very used, it seems, to foreign visitors coming in and out of his home. It feels strange, sitting there, making small talk that he chooses not to be a part of. I try to hold back my excitement when I’m told Jude Law sat in the very place I am sitting now.
Jude. Law. I know it’s not important. It’s the Syrian who has opened his home to me who is important. Thanks to his meticulous records, some children have already got to the UK. He seems proud of his work, although he gives very little away. He’s an educated man – an accountant. The refugee lifestyle doesn’t suit him, he was made to be in control – I picture him in an office somewhere, running things with a nod of his head. The constant stream of people knocking on his door, snatching answers to their questions and dashing away, shows that here he is an important man. Well respected.
Outside the safety of his shelter, my filming doesn’t last long. It feels like it goes on forever as I ask the English woman who has kindly agreed to help us to do just one more take, and then another. When we’re done she leaves us, and suddenly I feel exposed. I take some connecting shots until someone we met earlier tells us that some people don’t take too kindly to video cameras. “They stab.” He gestures plunging a knife into my friend’s stomach.
I have never packed away my camera so quickly.
I came to Calais with to film an intro to a video for work. I left feeling like the world had landed on my doorstep and I would do something to help.
And then I forgot and I am sorry.
“London is my dream.”
“I love England.”