Arriving in Calais Jungle

Today we learned how to say thank you in Pashtun, Arabic and Tigrini. How the eyes of these men shimmered when we…

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Today we learned how to say hello in Pashtun, Arabic and Tigrini. How the eyes of these young men shimmer when they hear us speak their langauge.

At the entrance to Calais Jungle, Banksy’s mural of Steve Jobs graces a concrete wall of graffiti. Here, Expressive Arts Refuge director Betsy Blakeslee and EAR member / summer camp director Judy Kranzler pose with Syrian Steve Jobs. Graffiti abounds here, as anywhere young people lack structured creative activities.

Calais Jungle is an impromptu town, shantytown, tent city. It functions with few formal services. A couple dozen French and English charities run it with the help of refugees and hundreds of volunteers. Each day, about 200 mostly western volunteers teach children, offer non-stop language classes to adults, cook and serve meals, run distribution points first aid stations, legal and arts programs.

On our first day, we jumped in too quickly. We walked into a youth center, and with the reticent blessing of its director, started teaching a song. But the teenage boys didn’t want to sing. Some wanted to tell the story of soldiers threatening their parents’ lives if they, the sons, didn’t join the Taliban. They wanted to tell us which countries they walked through, how long they’d been waiting to reunite with family in the UK. So we abandoned our agenda, and listened. It’s Ramadan, when devout Muslims won’t sing anyway.

A young Sudanese man came to our adult singing class today. He made his way 1300 miles to Calais, France where he sang in our class with Eritreans and a Pakistani. His openness and trust impress me. His English is excellent. He could earn money translating.

Author: earefuge

I direct EAR (Expressive Arts Refuge) whose work focuses on refugee youth in France and Greece. At home in Oakland, California, I direct World Harmony Chorus and World Harmony Ensemble.

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