As we sat around the Louise’s family table we learned that in Calais the refugee camps have all been moved out to the outskirts of the city, a good hour and half walk from the port. Out of sight out of mind, the age old tactic. This means it is much more difficult to bring supplies to the camps, although local charities and activists continue to do so. Nevertheless, a thriving black market has developed inside the camps. People are now a lot further from the ports, a good hour and a half walk away. There are over 5,000 people living in the Jungle, and more arrive everyday. Some have been there for as long as two years.
On the evening of Eid we piled into the car with Louise and family and drove out to the Sudanese camp in the Jungle. As we pulled up we were met with the striking sight of three or four men silhouetted against the setting sun, standing on the sand dunes which blocked our view of the jungles. For a moment we paused, apprehensively and excitedly assessing our surroundings. The moment was broken by the sound of Louise’s father playing the French horn, and all faces broke out into smiles, the air filled with laughter, and the music had instantaneously and incredibly broken down the barriers between us, we proceeded with ease.
We climbed over the sand dunes and in the fading light saw a man facing Mecca on his prayer mat, next to a large tarpaulin structure which we made our way towards. Soft voices and drum beats paused as we slipped out of our shoes and into the dimly lit tent. We were met by a group of men sat on sofas and beds; it was a large space which served as a communal area and a home for three men. Exchanging greetings, ‘salaam alaykum’, ‘wa-alaikum salaam’ we settled on a spare bed. Gently, as if without interruption, the music started up again. First, the beat of a drum followed by the tinny tone of the guitar. One man, Wahed, would start singing, smiling, his head tilted upwards, his eyes closed and then, as if these songs were part of every man’s memories, the others would join in, clapping, singing in harmony, rising to dance. We sipped sweet tea, passed around cigarettes and sweets, and tried to imagine the memories and places evoked by the music. Far from home and family, they sang, and sang, and sang.