Projects in France

What I felt as Calais burned

By Rowena Harding

I only spent a few days in Calais each time, but what struck me as I walked the camp, alone or with a resident or with a fellow volunteer, was the civility of it.

Yes there were reports of bad people, there always are in a group of 10,000 people but as I was only there a short time, I saw none of this. No one leered at me, jeered at me, hassled me or begged. No one demanded, shouted or made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t get that on my walk to work this morning or even on my jog this evening.

What I got instead was offers of tea, coffee, warm milk, food, a chat, a tour, someone to make sure I was safe, not lost, a story, a photo of a child, a drawing.

I didn’t see tribal factions, or bludgers. What I saw was combined industry of Afghans, the hospitality of the Sudanese, the humility of Eritreans, combined with what must be what they describe as blitz spirit of the British, the indefatigable energy of volunteers, the resourcefulness of people who live in a less consumerist, less disposable culture than ours who made gardens, grew tomatoes, planted marigolds in empty tin cans, made raised beds, planted herbs, created stoves, constructed shops, created economies selling one cigarette, a bit of sugar. And despite at times being in muck so foul I gaged, it was the flowers in tin cans, the beautiful paintings on chipboard, the attention in making you a decent cup of tea that stood in my mind. So much so that I couldn’t help but think wouldn’t it be amazing if the world could live more like this. (More toilets and taps) but the same communal sharing, caring, giving, not taking more than we need, sense of community.

May be I am naive. May be I saw something in that camp or the people in it that was unique to me. But I feel like what we (society) have razed this week was more than just a collection of tents, caravans and chipboard, but a symbol of the rich potential of humanity, a symbol of people’s determination that even when everything around them has been reduced to so little, they will always strive for something better.

I can only hope that the people who are now dispersed across France find the spirit to continue spreading their humanity and determination into where ever they now are. I know they have spread it in my heart and it will forever change the way I look at my lot in life.

After spending time in Calais, I will always seek to plant flowers in what other people think is rubbish.