Welcome to Calais!

Wednesday October 19th:

We arrived in Calais in gathering darkness. The sky was filled with storm clouds, instantly dispelling any romantic notion of a short holiday break.

Bleak landscape around the Jungle showing the razor wire capped fencing. Photo: Nicola Renovich

Calais Port is encased in a vast, steel cage. It’s an eerie place, the dull yellow of a sodium-lit expanse lightens the sky from miles away. But what really made your heart beat a little faster was the sea of flashing blue lights. If someone had told me how many CRS (riot police) vans we’d see that night I’d have been skeptical. But there they were, hundreds of vans. A sea of vans flashing blue like some crazy outdoor dance spectacular. Huge floodlights were concentrated on the expanses of flat ground leading up to the accessible roads used by Lorries travelling to the UK. These points are manned by groups of CRS police who watched the floodlit fields for any signs of movement. Every bridge provided a high point from which to survey the landscape around. Though it was night there was little darkness.

I’d given another volunteer a lift from the edge of London to the edge of the Jungle. As we approached the camp the atmosphere became more oppressive. The CRS marched in black clad columns along the approach roads.Were they practising drills for the eviction? It was intimidating. We stopped by the bridge bearing the well known graffitti. The police were massed a few metres away. The volunteer called her Syrian minder to come out from the camp and meet her, and hid her long hair under a headscarf while we waited. She slipped away into the darkness as he appeared. Then, an anxious wait as they were stopped and questioned by the CRS. Later on she let me know she had got into the camp.
By day things appear much less threatening. But the shadows that night seemed full of danger.
Stories of British cars being broken into were circulating. My van was laden with generously donated rucksacks, cases, tents clothes and food. What would I say to all those generous souls back home who’d donated so much if it got stolen? Over dinner I decided that I would forgo the comforts of my little airbnb room. By now it was nearly 2200h and my host was texting me asking what time I would arrive. I explained I that I wouldn’t be arriving until the following night. I drove to a campsite and slept across the front seats, guarding the precious cargo. I slept well,  finally able to relax about the van.
The next day I drove to the warehouse early to try to unload. Nicola, who’d just returned from Calais, had told me not to expect that people would rush to unload the van. She was right about that. The sprawling, industrial building was alive with volunteers, some old hands, some very recent arrivals. I asked a busy person: “Ask someone in orange!” But there were none to be seen. After a few minutes, Simon, from Launceston, appeared. He  found a place by the busy kitchens to unload our cargo of apples. More people appeared to help unload. The van was empty. So now to work.

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