This place grows on you – the friendliness of the refugees, their hardiness, the smiles that erupt when you say hello, bon jour, salaam. Volunteers work long hours without familiar comforts. All day, refugees and migrants ask for help: Can I find a saw for a 16-yr-old who’s fortifying his tent with a tree limb? Can I help the extremely thin Sudanese guy, Sahlee, learn guitar? Soon there are seven young men strumming the chords to Jimmy, won’t you please come home.
For a couple days, I’ve looked for the Sudanese singer and translator I’d hoped would teach with me. They didn’t pick up the bike I found for them. They didn’t come to music class.
Today’s youth class nearly finished me off. Doctors Without Borders was drilling and pounding in a new fence to protect the Youth Safe Zone. Boys popped in and left when they heard that the distribution center was handing out jackets. Two were hungry and the prospect of a hot meal trumped. One left to get his friends, leaving me to teach a private lesson to a boy who can’t carry a tune. He loves English so the lesson morphs into an English class. He traces on a map his journey from Eritrea to Calais, France. Then the boy who promised to return with friends hops over the threshold into Hummingbird Art Center’s shack, full of excitement, with three friends, and the singing and body music come to life.
It’s not long before two Afghan teens run around disrupting the class. I throw them out. Someone fetches one of the singing boys who then leaves. I have no idea why; someone is always searching for someone else. Finally, as I’m packing up, a boy arrives. The twenty flyers we posted around camp apparently failed to hammer home the start time. There is no central bulletin board, and French police are not letting in building supplies with which we might erect one.
An hour later, Gaetane, a talented French singer, co-teaches the adult music class. It’s lively and productive. I see the nervous systems of participants rebalance with body percussion.
This is why I’ve come.