Calais: A Weekend in the Jungle

The phrase “it’s like a town, like a little city” is often used to describe the Calais Jungle. Located across an expanse of black dirt, littered with debris from homes levelled in the eviction, Jungle town is not just like a town, it is a town. With a school/ library, church, mosque, shops, restaurants and pickup soccer games, Calais’ Jungle is a community within a city, teaming with life, purpose, positivity and above all, hope- even in the face of constant, daily challenges.

To see only the tarps of Calais, is to only understand half of the story. As with people, in the Jungle, it’s not what’s on the outside that counts.  The jungle’s main street comes alive at night with markets and small neon opens signs, and it is on this street that we eat dinner the first night. From the outside, the café is fairly non-descript affair- blue tarps expertly graffitied with the business’ name. Inside however, crowded with residents and volunteers, decorated with stuffed animals, colourful balloons and ropes dangling from the ceiling, the atmosphere is borderline festive. A television blasts Bollywood movies and one of the owners seats us, with a flourish of practiced showmanship, on a raised carpeted platform. We are told with pride that it took several months to get the carpet in, with the help of friends in a neighbouring country, but it finally came. Dinner is a delicious mix of samosa, rice, spiced chicken, cooked spinach and some of the most delicious beans I’ve ever been treated to.

Our days are spent in the warehouse- a hive of neon clad volunteers passionately and purposefully sorting, packing and shipping the mountain of donations that comes in. The warehouse is also the home to the industrial and industrious Calais kitchen, which feeds residents and volunteers alike, producing tons of amazing vegetarian food, for thousands of hungry mouths. None of these jobs are glamorous, but all volunteers approach them with zest and positivity that is infectious.

Sorting the endless mountain of donations is a monstrous task for everyone, that can often be incredibly frustrating. Across volunteer operations, people with the best of intentions, donate everything. However everything, is not always what’s needed. The rule of thumb is always throw away the dirty, the used. If you are about to throw it out, or wouldn’t stand having it against your own body, then why should someone else? Donation bins are not equivalent to rubbish bins. Like us, the people living in camp are often of relatively middle class backgrounds, and take pride in their appearance. Indeed, strolling down the main road, a guy coiffing his hair in the side mirror of a delivery van catches my eye and I can’t help but chuckle to myself- we are the same.

The second night, we are invited for dinner to a friend’s home in camp. He, a resident of the camp, asks us only to bring flour. The generosity and kindness is nothing short of remarkable and its weight is felt by all at the table. Before dinner we play cheat- a universal favourite. Then, we are treated to chicken, fried sausage and more delicious beans to eat with chapatti and asida, a glutinous boiled flour dish. This wonderful meal is followed by music and chatting with our friend and his found family. Their stories, which are not mine to share, are both heartbreaking and incredibly inspiring, stories of great perseverance. The men we spoke with had often tried multiple times to leave their respective war-torn countries, only to be imprisoned, or returned by governments and impassable borders.  Tired eyes, tell us the story of the previous’ night’s attempts to get to the UK- no success yet, but hopefully, soon.

a9fdbacd-9814-47ae-921a-9a019f575c33.jpgJungle town from the road.

Police guard Calais from the camp’s volunteers and residents.


A water point in Jungle Town.
A view from cellphone reception hill. The containers (right) stand largely vacant. To live in container homes, one must register- a process which leaves residents vulnerable and at risk of getting sent back.

Looking to help? Get in touch with the L’Auberge des Migrants:

More donations, specifically donations of  men’s underwear, long-sleeved t-shirts and gloves, are needed.