Calais Tour 2015 – Day Three, Kim McCafferty

Day Three
Thursday Dec 17th 2015

“When are the cartoons coming?!”

Our third and final day of this rapid fire emergency laughter tour was our longest and most fruitful day in The Jungle. While Christmas songs played and merry go rounds went round last night in the square in Calais town, we four were making big plans to spread smiles further throughout the camp. Our morning trudge through the mud brought us in to the heart of the camp, the Good Chance Dome – the village hall of the camp full of peace and freedom of artistic expression – where we were welcomed with smiles and hugs, which is a good reminder that the nature of this tour – coming back to the same camp each day – has some lovely benefits. We really get to know the people, and excited morning hugs from two beautiful little sisters from Afghanistan, Yanna, 8, and Yarra, 5, are a beautiful start to any day that few other jobs in the world could offer. One of the lovely ladies volunteering there told us some of the young men of the camp had come to her very early that morning to inquire when “the cartoons” were arriving (us!) which gave us a sweet giggle.

The Jungle in Calais
The Jungle in Calais

We loaded up with a handful of juggling clubs and fliers for that evenings show and took off around the camp to new areas we hadn’t yet visited, stopping every minute to juggle, pass clubs, let passers by try their hand at juggling, and generally spread some silliness and smiles along the main muddy thoroughfares of this ramshackle camp. Walking around we were continually invited inside little shacks for steamy hot milky tea, hearty handshakes and warm smiles. This walk-about gave a clearer picture of the demographic – it really is mostly young men, the youngest I met was 14 (there on his own) and the eldest in his early 30’s.

Quite suddenly a heavy flow of fast paced walkers appeared, heading towards the main entrance of the camp, no bags, nothing, just coats wrapped around them. Tory, our friend from the Good Chance theatre dome explains that this means “traffic” – when a traffic jam materialises on the motorway flyover alongside the camp word goes round like wild fire and many of the young men make their way up quickly to try and climb and clamber onto the trucks headed for England. We made our way back to the other end of the camp, through knee deep mud and puddles and tiny tents towards the women and children’s area. Here we see the young women line up at a collection point where clothes are being given out, while the little children from many different countries play together in the mud, amazingly happy and carefree as only little children can be in such harrowing circumstances.

“We usually come here to recharge our phones, but today we come to recharge our humanity”

Our workshop that afternoon got the young guys really excited as we taught tricks with clubs, multiple person acrobatic moves and trust games and exercises. As usual there was a group of young men around the edge just watching who wanted to take part but couldn’t because of injuries they had, pretty serious injuries inflicted from attempts to escape on trucks. They watched intently nonetheless and clapped when participants figured out new tricks and displayed their new skills. One young man told us he had come to see our show the first evening and enjoyed being immersed in laughter and temporarily forgetting where he was and what lay outside the dome so much that he insisted all his friends join him the following evening – “ Don’t ask what it is I’m bringing you to, just come and I promise you will feel better”, he told them. They trusted him, came, laughed and shook our hands warmly after the show. The same young man told us “Usually we come to places like this to recharge our phones, but today we come to recharge our humanity”.

Tents in 'The Jungle' in Calais
Tents in ‘The Jungle’ in Calais

Naturally, when we hear things like this it helps us a lot and reminds us of the importance of the Clowns Without Borders tours and the real difference they make to peoples lives at trying times. Particularly in the Jungle, where I was asked at least 5 times a day “House please?”, which meant please can you get us a shack made of wood, a caravan, anything to get out of these tiny wet tents. In these moments I would mime juggling and prat falls, point at the clown logo on my hoody and do a big belly laugh, trying to explain that construction was not my best skill and that we were there to make laughter. People always miraculously understood what I was trying to say and give me a hand shake and a parting “good luck”.

The 'Good Chance' geodesic dome .
The ‘Good Chance’ geodesic dome .

That evening after the sun set the Good Chance Dome was heaving, packed to capacity. There was a concert of classical arabic music on before us. During the concert I had whispered chats down the back with young boys, 14 and 16 years old who told me how they had made there way to Calais from Afghanistan on their own. One boy was deaf and wrote his story for me in a little copybook, explaining how he had played on the national cricket team at home, another was anxiously waiting for news from his best “Jungle friend”, an Iranian Kung foo master who had made his way onto a truck the previous night. While he checked his phone constantly he asked me how could it be possible that he had made it all the way from Afghanistan to Calais alone but now he couldn’t make it just the short distance to England, where his sister was living with her husband for several years already and waiting for him. There was a strong sense of desperation when the boys asked were Ireland taking many refugees or when they asked where could they go. They felt they were not safe or welcome, unable to go backwards nor forwards…

We played our show to a packed tent full of laughter, cheering and clapping and as we took our final bows of the tour in front of hundreds of smiling faces, far from their families and loved ones, living in woeful conditions, it was clear that these people are the real deservers of rapturous rounds of applause for how they manage to continue to laugh and smile and appreciate silliness through very tough times as they face their own uncertain futures.

Footage of the show presented in the Good Chance Dome in Calais by clowns Kim, Will, Con and Michaela

Written by Kim Mc Cafferty

Calais Tour 2015 – Day Three, Kim McCafferty