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Saturday, 13 August 2016

TODAY IS MY #CALAISVERSARY By Renke Pieter Meuwese 13th August 2016

Exactly one year ago, I arrived in Calais, wide-eyed and without Jungle lung. So today is my ‪#‎Calaisversary‬. And is it a happy one? Well, kind of, surprisingly. Yesterday the judge blocked the destruction of the restaurants and shops - for now. And we had a beautiful evening with an open mike night, featuring our own superstar Sylvain de Saturne among many others.
In my first trip I met: Georges Gilles, Claudine MoineJulia Schmidt, James Fisher, Virginie Tiberghien, Zimako Jones, Matthew WrightDaniel Mark TomlinsonMartin NolanMaya KonfortiToby CaruanaClaire Wilson and of course Liz Clegg. These were the bad old days, the seriously pioneering times. As much as we may rightfully ask for food and clothes, for volunteers and money, the situation is still nowhere near as dire as it was in early August 2015.
Next I went out again, this time accompanied by Sytse Tjallingii, but not before meeting Wendy Van Der Zijden Doula and Sebastiaan Gamelkoorn and informing them on how Calais worked. See, I was an expert, because I had been there before, for a whole two weeks! This was a pattern that would continue on this trip. I was a tourguide for Tom Radcliffe and Shizuka, forHannah Slater and Rachael Heaven, and for Phi Lli BJosephine Naughtonand friends (those last two groups on the same day) as well as many people who just drove into the camp and really needed someone to show them the ropes. I particularly remember a group from Ireland who had a van full of tents and sleeping bags, but no plan to distribute them. I insisted the van be parked outside and we walked in with as many as we could comfortably carry, and brought them to the Sudan marquee where we handed them out, keeping a neat "line", even inside the marquee. Meanwhile the rain was pouring down like a new flood. In these same weeks I met Liz Hulse Gall,Terry NorwickMarcie ClarkeSamer MaxWilliam BurnsRachel Arundel,Hana Denton, Advia Ahmed and so many more people! Suddenly there seemed to be a real change possible in the camp. I gave my bike away as I was leaving this time, thinking it would be many months before I'd come back, if at all.
Well, that didn't happen. Less than a month later I was back. And this time there was an actual warehouse! Run by Help Refugees and Auberge des Migrants. Where I met John SloanDebs BennettAnnie Patricia GavrilescuOlivia LongSidonie FlahautSylvain de SaturneClare MoseleyMegan SaliuCaroline GregoryAnton ZhyzhynAmelia Iraheta and so many others. A bustling zone of activity which became my new place of working. In particular, I was organizing the boxes of sorted clothes.
And it stayed my place, even when the warehouse moved. 

As winter was setting in, the warehouse became more professional. We got the famous high vis gilets, including orange ones for team leaders. We had yellow trolleys in which the distributions for the next days were prepared. Daniel Martin led us with a clear vision. Johanna Verpoort dealt with stuff coming in and going out. The boxing was led by Will, the sort by Deb (yes, a second Deb on clothes sorting), and by late December by Simone Day and me. James "Robin Hood" helped out explaining the work to various sections.
Then followed the longest period of absence for me: January-early February, because I was in Peru. Important changes happened during this time: the first eviction happened, a strip of 100 m from the motorway. A clearance that most of the refugees and most of the volunteers cooperated with, reluctantly.
Also, Hettie Sashenka Colquhoun and Emma Weinstein Sheffield became the new team leading and coordinating the volunteers. Sarah Jane Corvidae was around, organizing a whole host of things. By this time the RCK was delivering meals to the camp, and CCK was providing food packs. And the prefecture was amping up the pressure: the entire southern half of the camp was going to be evicted. After a complex verdict from the judge in Lille, that indeed happened, and we're still feeling the effects.
It's much harder to try and remember exactly who was where when. A few people should have been in the last one already: Si Mon and Riaz Ahmad for example. And by early 2016, people like Robin LickerBear SmithEvie StewartJen McGlone and Bronwen James were essential. Johanna's role at the door was taken over by the incomparable Alexandra Becker. Two daughters of other volunteers in the camp became important pillars of the operations in their own right: Sophie Alexandria Radcliffe and Inca Sorrell.
Lucy Oliver-Harrison took over from me what was by this time my default role: leading the "main sort", i.e. the sorting of the adult clothes.
A few other people that need to be mentioned from this period: Graham FrostCharlotte HeadHamish HamishHarry Duncan Smith. Dear friends and very valued colleagues.
I'm going to leave the story here for now.  I need some rest, and the most recent months are too fresh still to clearly summarize. Also, the number of people to mention becomes almost impossibly large. It's been quite a ride. For those of you who were not at the warehouse this morning: I brought cake and got wished a happy birthday by some lovely volunteers who did not entirely grasp the reason for the cake... but that's fine. Let them eat cake.

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