On Sunday lunchtime, 23rd October 2016, my fellow volunteers Helen John Liz and I followed our incredible, compassionate and inspiring host, Sylvie into the infamous "Jungle" Refugee Camp. Within minutes we had met people from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia who had wound up here in search of asylum. Their kindness and warmth shone through despite their shocking living conditions and trepidation at their impending eviction from the site.
Wondering past the mostly closed, broken down shops of a thrown together main street, we entered the main living areas. Hundreds of sad, battered tents sat defeated on the dunes. There was a sense of calm before the storm as we continued on our way past the many smiles offering tea and conversation.
Obtrusive TV crews hung around like bad smells, waiting, it seemed, for their chance to film the animals in the zoo. Disturbing, voyeuristic and uncomfortable.
We walked on until we reached a space no bigger than 8 metres squared by the side of a flooded road. This was the spot!
I plonked my jumpers down and, after a bit of cajoling, a game broke out on this postage stamp of a pitch in the heart of the camp, with John, Liz and I joining in. After 10 minutes, a 4 v 4 became a 3 v 3, as one player wondered off and Liz took herself and her danger-wellies off before she could be red carded ! Never seen tackles like it ! 😱😀Elias (Eritrea) and Ahmadullah (Afghanistan ) joined my team and Suleyman (Sudan ) and Ibrahim (Iraq) joined John.
The lively Elias played second division football in Eritrea and "nutmegged" players at will. Ahmadullah was our Zidane, strong and wise with an eye for goal. Together we raced into a 2-0 lead, only to be pegged back when a passing cyclist nudged one of their shots over the line ! Still can't believe they claimed it !! Game on !
Ibrahim was a rock at the back for them, doing the work of 2 men and allowing Suleyman space to break forward. Me and John were more like knackered goats than teenage jaguars in our respective nets!
Groups of people, aid vans and bikes invaded the pitch at different times, but on we played ! I lost count of the amount of times one of our goalposts ( a high vis jacket ) was picked up and taken by an unaware passer by😀
We played first to 10. At 9-7 to us we scored what we thought was the winner , only for Suleyman to claim he'd been fouled in the build up! What an actor ! I'm still not having it. Anyway, it was all over seconds later as Elias slotted home from our next attack.
A wonderful moment in time in the midst of a humanitarian calamity. We'll never forget the smiles, warmth and friendship shown towards us by everyone we met today and we can only hope they find peace, safety, love and direction in their young lives soon. One love ❤️