Music in Calais Jungle

Every morning, this gull visits our kitchen window overlooking Calais port. We pour drinkable yogurt over bio muesli, then drive ten minutes to Calais Jungle. I’m enjoying teaching with the first part of the EAR team. Judy, an educator and former summer camp director, cut bamboo into rhythm sticks and leads games with them – a favorite in our youth music class.


As the refugee children of the Jungle wait outside their makeshift school to transform into angels, the tension in their faces softens. Below are their caravans in the family section of the camp. The older girl watches Harry Potter movies, so I ask the part of my team who arrive in a couple weeks to bring JK Rowling books.


Near the child angels, a small circle of Sudanese refugees sits on wobbly chairs and sings traditional songs. One of them had described fierce winds between Egypt and Italy that toppled his boat of 700 smuggled refugees. Five hundred fifty drowned. The water was so thick with bodies that he couldn’t swim. Drowning passengers had tugged on his legs to pull themselves to the surface. A Russian boat picked up 150 survivors and delivered them to shore where they were beaten by Italian police. ‘It happened on June 3rd, a month ago,’ he’d said. I’d asked him to find a singer to teach music with me. He’d said, ‘There is one guy who was ‘sinking in the water with me.’ Now, we’re sitting in the singing circle on the wobbly chairs and a riveting voice purls over us. Songs he wrote flow forth, songs that stir the group of young men to sing and clap, songs from under the sea. His face is open and beautiful, pained and vulnerable, this mid-twenties man by the name of Omer, wearing a worn T-shirt, whose molten voice the world almost lost.

His career as a music teacher in Europe begins Monday.

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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