As we are waiting for Amy from Good Chance Theatre to pick us up near the entrance of the Calais refugee camp aka 'The Jungle', me and my friend Natascia, a dance therapist from Italy, are feeling quite on edge. Surrounded by police cars, we can feel the tension. One cop starts shouting at us as we are parked behind him. Natascia gets out to ask where we can park, and from the car I see him put his hand on his gun as she approaches him. 'oh fuck, great start' I think... He shouts at her for a bit, she returns while giving me a silent look and moves the car a bit further along. A couple of minutes later, 6 policemen appear out of the woods. They look at us very aggressively, I keep my gaze down and I hope they will walk past. They look inside our car and eventually they leave. I feel my heart racing. 2 minutes later, a smiling Amy welcomes us and walks us to the entrance of the camp. I'm quite apprehensive, given our first impression of the place, but her warm smile makes me feel more at ease.
As we walk inside the camp, everything changes. Music is playing from different pop up cafe's and shops. I recognise some Egyptian tunes and some Afghan music. I let my eyes glide over the different slogans that are written on the walls of the structures that are built near the entrance. 'everyone deserves peace' , 'welcome' , 'language school, this way' , ... A very different vibe than the one on the outskirts on the camp.
The Good Chance dome is incredible. A structure built in the centre of the Afghan area of the camp, its walls covered by artwork made by the camp's inhabitants. As we enter the main area, a circus skills workshop is taking place in which some of the guys are participating. They seem to be having a great time. Then, the Egyptian guys start playing their tunes and show off some of their dance moves to each other. It felt wonderfully familiar to hear some Shaabi blasting out of the speakers and I felt right at home.
After the workshop, the Good Chance volunteers invited us out for some food. I presumed they meant a restaurant inside Calais town, but I learnt quickly that inside 'The Jungle', there are some of the finest restaurants in town and we feasted on delicious chai tea and a lovely rice and bean dish. The portions were huge at a bargain price! With the Egyptian music playing in the background, it felt like I was in one of Cairo's backstreets, eating local street food with some of my friends. When we went back to the hotel that night, Natascia and I started preparing our workshop for the next day... Little did we know whatever class plan we made could go straight out of the window.
The next day we start our class with some of the music that we selected the day before. Natascia starts with a nice rhythmic warm up. Issue number one: the music keeps cutting out! Not so helpful during a dance workshop, but I believe there were issues with the generator, because the night before there was some heavy rain. 'Don't worry, we are prepared!' Natascia goes to the car to get our portable battery run speakers while I teach a bit of body drumming I learnt during a workshop with Stomp. The guys seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly and when our music was up and running again, I taught some waving and isolations. The guys enjoyed it, but as different groups joined in while others left I noticed soon enough that we had to rethink the whole structure of the class! They were also keen to play their own tunes. With a slight fear of losing complete control of the class structure, eventually I decided to go with the flow and let them pick their own tunes.
That's when the magic started happening. As the speakers blasted some great Afghan music, some of the guys started dancing some traditional steps and teaching us some of their favourite moves. After that we formed a circle so different people get the chance to dance in the centre, each of them bringing their own flavour and culture to the group.
We started mimicking each other and as the music played, more and more people joined the circle. I believe at one point there were about 70-80 people inside the dome, everyone cheering as someone showed off a good move.
At the end of the workshop everyone stayed in the theatre dancing for hours after, playing their tunes and getting involved! It was exhilarating and yet again I was amazed by how dance just brings people together from all cultures.
I approached a Sudanese guy who was silently observing the whole happening. He was drawing in his sketchbook and I asked him what his name was and if I could see his artwork. After he showed and signed his drawing, he gave it to me to keep. He told me that he felt inspired drawing the class while we were dancing and I thought it was such a wonderful gift.
We talked for a bit and he invited me to come for some tea at his side of the camp. I don't know so much about Sudanese culture, but I know now that they make great tea! I met some of his friends, and I spoke some of my very broken Arabic with them. Me and my new friend ended up talking while he shared his tea and I shared the snickers bar that I had bought earlier that day in one of the shops inside the camp. When I asked him how long he has been at the camp, he told me: '7 months. And 10 days.' I was quiet for a bit and after some time I asked him if I could draw him. I don't know why I asked that, I have no idea how to draw. But I found him so generous that I wanted to give him a gift in return and I couldn't come up with anything better than that. So as I started my 'masterpiece', he played some Bob Marley and we sat there for about 10 minutes screaming on top of our lungs to 'No Woman, No Cry' followed by 'One Love'. 'EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT! EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT!'
I once again was reminded of the universal power of Bob Marley's tunes. We high fived each other after our incredible singing skills and we had a good laugh about it. Then I noticed this beautiful picture on his phone. She's this Sudanese goddess in a beautiful pink scarf. 'Who is this?' I asked, and he goes quiet. 'My mother...' he says. I tell him how beautiful she looks. He kisses the screen and says 'It has been two years since I have seen her...' 'you must miss her very much...' I tell him. I can feel his loneliness at this moment in time. He tells me that she became very ill recently and he is so worried. He tells me that every time he speaks to her she is so worried about him, and he always replies to her with: 'I am doing very well, mother.' I tell him my mother passed away a long time ago and I miss her very much also. We look at each other and he says 'I am sorry for your loss', I tell him it's ok as she is with me all the time in my heart. We finish our tea and watch a perfect sunset over the Calais camp.
In Belgium we have this saying 'De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig...' which we say as a bit of a joke when younger people do something very different from what us older guys do. It is a saying that is usually used by people in their 70s or 80s as a judgement towards the young folks and our running joke is that it makes us sound so old by using that phrase. It literally translates as 'The Youth Of Nowadays...' . Most of the volunteers I met that are in various grassroots organisations at the camp seem quite young: late teens, early twenties maybe? Some of them have been there for months and their positive mindset and altruistic nature is so inspiring.
The Youth Of Nowadays is doing just fine...
Keep up the amazing work, Good Chance! Until we meet again...
For more information on the Good Chance theatre, please visit their facebook page