Mohammed sent a recording of himself singing Bring Me Little Water, Sylvy. His voice sounded sweet, his phrasing African, his Sudanese accent strong. He’d sung it at our youth music class in Calais Jungle, France, asked for a link to a recording. I’d sent a youtube video of Moira Smiley with whom he’d performed it in Calais Jungle.
He rewarded me with a call. Soon we were video-chatting — he in the UK, me in California – about technology, his English classes, friends from the Jungle who’d been relocated to Accommodation Centers in France, and the kind man who was providing housing for Mohammed and another underage migrant. Despite videochat jerking the images of our faces, I could see the childish movement of his head, not altogether western, his tongue occasionally protruding, the sadness and joy coming into and leaving his eyes.
On my desktop, I cranked up the volume of Nina Simone on youtube. She was singing I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free. We chair-danced, arms waving in and out of our screens, laughing.
It was two am in the UK. I asked what he would do the following day. His mind wandered. I took that to mean, nothing. I suggested going to sleep, waking early, walking around his neighborhood to enjoy England, and if he happened upon strangers who weren’t rushing, practicing English.
I don’t know who he will become, this boy adapting to his new home. The terror of sneaking across the Chunnel on a truck is beginning to slip away from him. He will be pigeonholed by those who see him as an intruder. But it is too soon to define him. I want to see how he uses the language he’s learning. It will connect him with Englishmen in his new land, enable him to learn about them, to share about his native Sudan, to sing songs in Arabic for someone as he did for me and my team of Americans.
I hope people give him time to find his footing in this oh-so-new world, the country he targeted on a map. One day, he would slip in, under cold hard metal of a truck or in its refrigerated cabin. Each time he failed, police tear-gassed him, or he crashed on the pavement and got patched up in the Jungle’s first aid center.
Should we not reward his determination and openness to a new culture, this teen making a go of it in the absence of his family?