See You Tomorrow Eleftheria
The Calais Jungle’s school, ‘Jungle Books’, consisted of three large wood and tarpaulin structures that served as classrooms and a small library with an impressive collection of donated books. On my first afternoon teaching French there, I had just one student, a smart and polite young Afghan man called Samir. Already fluent in four languages, he said to me, “now I am in France, so I must learn French.” People were free to drop into the class and by the end of the afternoon around twenty more students had joined us. While the general consensus was: “France language no good, very difficult!” they were eager to learn and the lesson ran late into the afternoon, with another one organised for the next day.
After class, we all went to the Café Car, a small volunteer-run caravan that served tea and coffee outside the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Locals gathered there to play board games and socialise and before I knew it I found myself in the middle of a heated Connect-4 contest. One of my competitors was Abass, a young, charismatic Sudanese guy who speaks impeccable English and has an impressive knowledge of American hip-hop. I took a liking to him instantly. After our game, he introduced me to his friend.
“Hey, I’m Tupac.”
With a burst of laughter, I shook his friend’s hand, “Hi, I’m Eleftheria.”
“Why are you laughing?” he asked, his face serious. Then, amused by my evident embarrassment, broke into a cheeky smile, “I joke sista, my name is Sadeeg Adam, but all my friends call me Tupac. You can call me Tupac.”
Abass and Tupac suggested we go for some shai at the Afghan café. As we walked there, I was surprised by what I saw: a lively strip of restaurants and cafés each emitting enticing smells and sounds. We were warmly greeted by the owners and promptly had small glasses of steaming tea served to us. Registering my alarm as he casually dropped four sugar cubes into his, Tupac reassured me, “Don’t worry, my friend, is good!” he paused, “normally, I put six.” As we sat chatting and joking, I was struck by how strangely normal this scene felt. We could have been three friends sitting in the café round the corner back home.
I was invited to join them for dinner at Tupac’s “crib”. This turned out to be a small 3-man tent that he kept clean and cosy. They whipped up a delicious Sudanese dish of oniony chicken and beans that was by far the best meal I ate in Calais, which was naturally followed by another round of sweet milky shai. After we ate, Abass spoke of his dreams to become a journalist and one day own his own media company. Tupac, true to his namesake, sang beautiful Sudanese songs to us. As I listened to them, I reflected: there we were, three young people whose lives and upbringings couldn’t be more different, and yet who shared such a kinship. The same sense of humour. The same sense of ambition.
I don’t know what I was expecting to see in the Jungle. Dirt, yes. Desperation, yes. But it wasn’t these things that overwhelmed me. It was the humble dignity and generosity of these people in the face of their adversity. They had built communities out of mud and wanted to welcome me into it. They are people I would be lucky to call my neighbours. I believe it is us who have a lot to learn from them.
With full stomachs and full hearts, I said goodnight to the boys.
“See you tomorrow?”
“See you tomorrow.”