Getting around my unemployment addiction

I know I’m anxious because in my dream last night all my teeth fell out. I’ve always been sensitive about my teeth because I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth. It’s riddled with decay but I’m afraid to go to the dentist in case he insists on removing it. In the dream I ran around chasing after all the teeth and caught them all in a tiny bucket. I don’t know what I thought that would achieve, but dreams are fucking bullshit anyway and I’ve already given up on most of mine.

So many people ask “are you okay?” as I approach them that it’s becoming my new theme song. Being unemployed for the last 6 months, they want to know what I’m doing with all my time. I tell them that last week my elderly cat vomited over the top of the radiator in my house, and I had to clean steamy hot sick rising like steam from the inside of my radiator with a toothbrush and some of it flicked up in my face. I am swamped.

Yep, there’s no two ways about it; I love being unemployed. I am Kat, I’m 22, female, and an unemployment addict. I guess it all started when I began life and realised that working is hard.

I think my mum fantasises about returning me to whatever sewer I climbed out from, complaining “it’s not working”. I blame the language of a capitalist society that ‘working’ means ‘functional’ and ‘not working’ means broken and obsolete. Even though I am both of those things.

But I am working. I have very important things to do, like performing covers of classic pop songs with an imaginary band of wooden spoons.

Unemployment is my heroin. God, give me some more of that sweet unemployment. Hook it up to my veins. I belong in the corner of a squat, crouched and scrolling through Indeed, not applying for things.

Unfortunately I need money to fund my unemployment addiction, which is a sad paradox I don’t think I can sell to buy more unemployment. But on this delicious trip I think I’ve lost touch with the real world. In job interviews I have this smirk on my face that potential employers find unsettling; like I think I’m too good for the job. In reality I’m smirking at the thought of me being taken seriously – the notion is absurd.

I think I’m happiest when I’m lying in my bed in the dark at midday, staring at the ceiling. Although that’s definitely what an addict would say, isn’t it?

in-bed-at-midday

“A toast to myself!” I say, at midday in the dark, clinking two pieces of toast together before eating ruined toast alone in my bed and spooning the crumbs .

I don’t know what it is about delicious unemployment that means I have become its cruel mistress. I like the routine. I look forward to my scheduled ‘sit on the neighbour’s fence and cry into a bit of dusty loo roll’. Even if I do remember, moments after burying my face into it, that it’s a little bit splattered with elderly cat vomit.

Nightmares, Right Mares

One day in primary school I was off sick and ended up watching the television channel Living, presumably an ironic jibe at the viewers watching its content at 11am on a Tuesday.

“She’s FAKING” My sister shouted as mum closed the front door. I have always been the runt of the litter, despite being the older and larger sibling.

Alone, holding the remote in one hand and fishing a particularly crisp bogey out of my nostril with the other, I stumbled upon a documentary on the paranormal. Its target audience was not a nine year old with an imagination as massive and capable of expansion as her front teeth.

In the show they investigate rumours of the paranormal. A man claimed he had seen Anne Boleyn wandering around Hampton Court. The show recreated a CGI version of a ghostly old-timey woman floating through walls.  Her head was still attached, but mine had just exploded clean off my surprisingly broad shoulders.

bROAD SHOULDERS.png

I watched that show, fascinated, for an hour. And then the credits ran, I wiped that bogey down the side of my mattress, and kissed goodbye to my childhood.

I sat bolt upright that night for four hours, with three cushions propping up the weight of 200 years worth of ghostly history. I didn’t even play ‘Hey Ya’ on my Walkman, which previously I had been listening to every night, pausing between lines and writing all the words down in my notebook. Learning the words to a songs in the 90s was an arduous task without the internet, but thankfully Hey Ya has proved a fruitful investment that just keeps on giving in clubs up and down the country.

I wasn’t rehearsing that night though and none after that either. I was busy waiting for the paranormal to emerge through my bedroom wall and give me the fright of my life. They were on their way. I could hear the sound of a tiny little dead ghost army marching up the stairs to my bedroom, which sounded almost exactly like my heartbeat.

‘It’s okay, I’m nice’ I whispered into the room, which didn’t make any difference. I lay there with the main light on and both eyes open, Big Bird poised on the pillow next to me, ready for battle. What good could one girl and her trusty stuffed duck companion do if the paranormal came through the wall and did paranormal stuff though? Nothing. We were sitting ducks. Well one of us was, and the other one was just an inanimate stuffed animal.

I clambered into bed with my mum and dad at about 11pm. Unfortunately that’s where they both sleep, and I’m a thrasher, so moments later my dad marched, completely naked, into the spare room. Interestingly this is where he spent the rest of my adolescence, too.

“I can’t sleep because of the paranormal” I try to explain to my mum.

“They don’t exist” she snapped, trying to negotiate a spoon and a half’s worth of Calpol past my front teeth. We didn’t have sky plus at the time so I couldn’t show her the cold hard facts of life on the Living channel.

“When was this house built?” I ask my dad as he leant out of the back door, smoking.

“It’s brand new” He said dismissively, before stubbing his cigarette out on the Oriental garden rockery I lovingly built over the weekend. He was just trying to help but I knew he was lying.

I learnt to sleep upright until further notice and I lived in fear of anything ghost related.  I can’t sit through anything resembling a scary movie. I still terrified now if I’m honest, but quite recently I watched The Ring and realised that my TV is quite high up on the wall and if any paranormal creature did climb out if it, the impending fall would be pretty silly.

Carpet Diem

I’m coping pretty well at the moment if by coping you mean playing Christina Aguilera’s ‘Fighter’ on full volume every hour of the day or I’ll have a full mental breakdown.

“Get ready for the apocalypse” A friend said yesterday. We’re all terrified. I don’t know how we’re going to break it to our kids that Donald Trump is now president of the United States.

nellie the elephant.png

I sat nodding pensively for a little bit too long and started to panic that she was expecting some sort of pithy response to ejaculate from my mouth. Pithy responses rarely do, but food often does. I’m very worried about making crunching noises in public too loudly, so often to bypass the chewing process I just wait for food to dissolve inside my mouth. This method is fundamentally flawed and can take hours because unfortunately its not socially acceptable to puke on it a bit first like a hungry fly.

The idea of an apocalypse isn’t too stressful for me. It’s more of a red-letter day on the social anxiety calendar, because after it happens I’ll be dead and then I don’t have to worry about any more plans being made. Better still, everyone will be dead so I won’t have to worry about missing out on any lifelong memories or inside jokes being made without me. These are two very real nightmares that very well could happen in my absence at any social gathering, and often specifically do. My friends love inside jokes. I think that’s why they all went camping without me.

The worst part about inside jokes it the fact that someone will have to explain them to me later. I have to pretend to laugh like I was there when I wasn’t – and even if I was, was I ever really there? – and smile jovially through an existential implosion that feels so physically real I am surprised blood doesn’t seep out of my ear.

But if the end of the world is nigh, I’m not too bothered because I have a feeling that I reached the peak of my potential at university; I think that’s why I can only afford off-peak train tickets. I’ve got nothing left. If I ever have a kid I’m going to get her one of those little road map carpets, but turn it over to show her how life is an unending black abyss.

roger and his plans.png

I’ve regressed back into a childlike state living at home. I’ve started acting sicker than I actually around my mum just in case she things I’m faking and makes me go to school despite the fact I’m 22 and unemployed. I like to think it’s because I’m young at heart. But I also like to think have wisdom beyond my years, and I reckon they cancel each other out so I experience neither. I just can’t seem to grow up. I’m so incompetent my mum still has to cut my nails, which I think explains why she always makes them so short and bloody.

I don’t know what my calling is in life. Even if it did call I’m too anxious to answer the phone, and I’ve got a feeling ambition doesn’t leave a voicemail. I’ve been considering getting into politics, it seems like the cusp of the apocalypse might be the right time. I’ve got lots of experience in the cabinet office, and by that I mean sometimes I get inside my cupboard to do admin and cry.

An uplifting note to end on about seizing the day. I was saving my FULL café stamp card in the British library for a rainy day, but I left it to long and the café changed hands and now my card is invalid, as are my reasons for living. So, reader, use your full stamp card when you get the chance. Turn over that children’s carpet. Carpet diem. And buy yourself a clock, because there’s no present like the time.

Making Up Myself

One of the ways I can tell I’m really sad is that I’ll go onto my Facebook photos, press the left arrow and then end up on a three hour long montage of my life as though I’ve died. It’s kind of like watching your life flash before your eyes, but with a lot more comments from people who then went on to unfriend you.

I’m trying to make myself more attractive at the moment, and become more of a ‘woman’. I’m not fussed about the idea, but I must admit it is quite nice when someone correctly identifies my gender first time, a skill that was touch and go in high school.

me-as-justin-bieber

I go through phases of hating my stupid ugly body and face and hair, and other times where I really just can’t stand it at all. I’m trying to avoid wearing underwear that comes in a five pack from Primark. Okay, I’m wearing some right now, but that’s because it’s fucking comfy and you know what if that’s how I want to live my life then I bloody will, and you can take your lacy thongs and shove them right up inside your arsehole, because that’s where they’ll end up anyway.

Going back through the old pictures on my Facebook makes realise that I’ve never really been destined to be good at being a ‘woman’. I never really invested in it, and in year nine I think the fanciest makeup I had was a purple eyeliner that came free with Shout magazine. I woke up early to put it on before school, but I didn’t know how to put on eyeliner at all so just sort of free-styled it, and then got into class late for maths but feeling fierce, and then one girl peered really closely at me and said “EURGH Katie’s got an eye infection” and then other girls crowded around to look at me and I’d been kind of maybe excited about school that day because I thought I looked really pretty with my new purple eyes, and now they were just holding back tears. Later on, a kind soul in maths class leaned in really close to me and said “it’s okay, its just sleep dust, sometimes I get purple sleep dust in my eyes too”.

That was the same year I left my bag open on my desk and went to the bathroom, but whilst I was gone a couple of girls went through it all, getting out the two balled up pairs of skin coloured tights I had in my bag, an extra pair of Primark underwear and several seemingly industrial sized panty liners. In those days I barely had nipples but when I got my period I bled so much I began to worry that I was doing it wrong and perhaps every month I was accidentally birthing an ovary.

Possibly most embarrassing in high school was in about year ten when I went to the toilet and forgot to lift up my school skirt all the way. Lifting up my skirt to pee was new to me. Before that, I thought you had to pull them down like trousers. I got the mechanics wrong and accidentally peed all over my school skirt. My own body was rebelling against dressing femininely.

Earlier in the term I heard a rumour that a couple of girls in my year had gotten high in the girls toilets. I secretly hoped one day they might invite me. Holding the back of my skirt under the pitiful hand dryers, I suppose I had weed – and at least mine didn’t get me suspended. I guess they were the real losers.

 

 

Shopping, Sadness, and a Third Thing Beginning With S

“Are you okay?” The concerned man behind the counter at Pret asks me, as I order a miniature birthday cake and eat it in two bites like a sandwich. What flavour was it? Was it nice? I don’t know, because I was too busy trying to stuff it inside my body like a nice cake-based clog in my sadness.

For me there are two default ways I try to cheer myself up during depression. One of the ways I try to cheer myself up is eating. The other is shopping for clothes. I know. You couldn’t tell looking at me, lumbering around with a baggy baseball sweater more snot than sleeve, spackled with cat hair over a sports bra that I’ve worn since I bought it last November because I can’t bring myself to put on a real bra.

The problem with this is that when I’m depressed, my face looks like this, especially if I’m eating particularly poor imitation-brand cereal:

me sad eating cereal.png

Therefore I know that when I try clothes on, I feel like I don’t get a very accurate representation of how they might actually look.

me sad clothes 1.png

For example, this top seemed okay when I plucked it off a shelf as I wandered aimlessly around Forever 21 on Oxford Street.

me sad clothing 2.png

Holding it up to my body, I don’t need a first from the school of Gok Wan to see that it’s not my colour. Or my shape, probably because I don’t know how it goes on. I’m not going to take it into the changing rooms to try it on either, as then I’ll definitely have to buy it because I’m too embarrassed to hand it back to the attendant.

I’m refusing to go into Topshop anymore because their leotards remind me of one swimming lesson in primary school where I executed the Knicker Trick poorly and ended up with one of my lips poking out from my swimming costume and a teacher had to tell me.

I managed to burn my forehead. I’ve had to walk around this whole week with a big burn on my face like a shit Harry Potter, if Voldemort had tried to attack my mother with a Babyliss Curling Wand Pro 2285CU. If I’ve learnt anything from this, it’s that you can easily scratch the skin flakes off a scar if you’re determined enough. Rendering the whole of the Potter series complete and utter bollocks.

I want to explain to the security men working the doors that I’m not homeless, just sad today, before shakily holding up floaty flowery clothes to my droopy body, thinking that they might look nice on me if charred skin wasn’t peeling off my forehead. The shop assistant in Forever 21 looks at me with pity as I try to pay for some cat socks I genuinely believe might be the one thing I was missing in my life, whilst attempting to subtly lick the weeping pus from a leaking spot on my lip.

This morning I put the same jeans back on that I wore yesterday and realised that an entire egg yolk is smeared across the front. I had an egg for breakfast yesterday, which means that I’d been at work for a full day with an egg yolk attached to my thigh. Not even like a little bit of egg, a big bit of egg speckled with orange and white, and my jeans are black and I watched the entirety of Carshalton Carnival parade down the high street, and now they all know I can’t eat an egg properly.

Also, we’ve hit the season where a lot of people have finished their final year and are celebrating. Many jubilations for you. It’s great. The real world is absolutely great. Honestly.

graduating 2

“If you’re cold, you should dance.”

Standing alone in the train station at midnight, as if from the depths of my paranoia, a scary man in a hood with comes right up to me and says the following words:

“Are you cold?”

I nod.

He pauses whilst he considers my conundrum for a while, before offering:

“If you’re cold, you should dance.”

The solution.

I really wish I could dance. I wish I could dance so well that in clubs, boys look at me and think that I’m skilled at sex. Much like the phrase, “behind every lie there’s a kernel of truth”, behind every dance move I attempt to pull off is the fact I didn’t have my first kiss until I was eighteen.

For practice, I dance sometimes at a club in Stoke Newington.

I like eating a really massive portion of chips just before I go out because I like to think that if boys don’t come up to me in the club at least I’ve had some nice dinner. Unfortunately, equipped with the blind optimism of every girl who has ever tried to wrangle themselves into too-small white skinny jeans from the Joni section in Topshop, I look like a drunken kangaroo attempting to strangle a chip-based baby kangaroo inside its pouch.

My dancing. I know for a fact that I look good sometimes in my room when I dance, especially when the right music is on;  inexplicably aggressive hip-hop. Sometimes I point at myself in the mirror and whisper assorted encouraging words from the song as well, because it makes me feel sexy and also less alone.

I do this sort of body-pop flowy sensual motion, but my bedroom has a lot of creaky floorboards, so I’ve had to incorporate minimal movement from the waist down so as to keep my dignity in tact. This restricts pop and flow to my arms and eyebrows, mostly.

It’s not hot. But he’s right – I do get pretty sweaty. Well, the top half of me does, anyway.

group chat dance

‘April is the cruellest month’ said TS Eliot, and I reckon he was talking about trying to eat a Cadbury Creme egg with a regular sized spoon

We don’t really do Easter egg hunts in my family anymore now that I’m old enough to hunt and kill an animal in most states in America. I probably wouldn’t, but it’s nice to know that if society reached a stage where it was necessary for me to hunt and kill an animal, I’d possess the legal level of maturity required to watch it die in front of my own eyes as a result of my actions.

When we were kids, my mum used to hide Easter eggs around the garden. My sister, me, and our cousin Alex would wait eagerly in my bedroom, until we were told we could come out and find them. That’s a nice image, but at 10, 13 and 16, we were mentally preparing ourselves for a low budget version of The Hunger Games.

It felt like we were waiting for ages, but considering she also had to hide the moral implications of an arrogant middle class tradition in actively hiding food to forge a sense of joy once it’s been found again, it was bound to be a pretty lengthy procedure.

the dying rabbit.png

The above is an actual dead rabbit from La Regle Du Jeu, Jean Renoir’s 1939 rom-com. If you watch the clip online, you can literally see this rabbit get shot and die. He also makes a similar point about the bourgeoisie, but in French.

My sister and I bumbled around, often mistaking slightly rounded pebbles for eggs, suspiciously digging a bit into the ground in case mum was cunning enough to plant the eggs for next year, blissfully ignorant in a garden that now housed the scene of a national dystopian jibe at the third world.

Meanwhile, mum had to physically tie our cousin Alex’s hands together, so we had some chance before he was unleashed into the wasteland and remorselessly stripped it for goods, shovelling eggs into a children’s wicker basket.

Nowadays, sometimes at like 5pm on a Sunday my mum takes us to M&S to find all the reduced yellow label food. That’s sort of like an Easter egg hunt, if you pretend an Easter egg is the same thing as reduced garlic mashed potato.

Calais Girl; an interview with Bronwen volunteering in The Jungle

refugee jungle“I just don’t want to stop doing things because I will just cry if I do”

When Bronwen told me the news she was going out to Calais, I made a face like this:

=_=

because firstly, I wish I was brave enough to go myself, and secondly because I am ever-jealous of Bronwen’s borderline irritating do-gooding. It’s sickeningly incessant. Fucking stop. I hate you, Bronwen. Okay, I don’t. But I do.

Three days in, and I wake up to several messages on my phone, one reading:

“I’m fine, I’ve been moderately teargassed, but I’m fine”

Anyway, since then I’ve been desperate to get an interview with her. Turns out, it’s quite interesting. Read on if you’d like to hear more about her experience.

 

What’s it like out there?

It’s a bit like a sad Glastonbury, if everyone had been there for three, four, five or more months. Living conditions are appalling and everything is temporary here, but there is community and a real spirit to the place.

It’s difficult to describe what it’s like here, because it’s miserable, and everyone volunteering here is spending their time fighting against this massive, seemingly impenetrable government monolith. It’s hard, repetitive work. You might be making a thousand packs of toothbrushes and toothpastes over a few days, and it’s difficult to see immediately how that helps, but everything we do here has a massive effect. Everything we do here matters.

 

Why is this happening?

These are people coming from countries that they just cannot survive in. These people just want to escape countries where they’re being arrested for arson for just standing near a fire, or being hounded out of their homes for being found in possession of wine. Kurds are being slaughtered fighting against Isis. A family from Afghanistan lent their truck to British forces fighting out there. For that reason, half of them were slaughtered by the Taliban. This was simply because they had aligned themselves with the British, and now they’re on our doorstep, and we’re acting like we don’t care.

People have been extricated or have had to leave their countries because they’ve had no other choice. They come to countries like Greece or Italy. They should claim asylum in the first safe country they come to, but they want to live with their families, or they’ve seen the British and they like them or admire them, and want to live with us. Some of them have studied in the UK. So they work their way to France- they’ve made it so far- and can’t get over or under the channel.

The refugees in the camp are saying that they hope Britain is like Heaven on Earth. I say it’s what you make of it. I don’t want to say it’s not. I don’t want to crush what hope they have.

 

What’s the structure of the camp like?

Calais is a big camp loosely split into two- the north and south. The South is months and months old, it was the original camp. It’s got the most communal structures. It’s where the main volunteer group is, a library, a youth centre. It’s sort of got a high street with restaurants. People who live there run them. But the police are moving people northward- driving slowly through the camp and bulldozing everything from the Southernmost parts and upwards.

The French government also say that 3000 people live in The Jungle and that there are 1000 in the South. This is wrong – there are many more – but they’re basing all their plans for housing the refugees on this wildly inaccurate estimate. There are “heated containers” provided as an alternative form of shelter, and those have taken many people in, but there are few spaces left (less than 40), and it’s a prison-like environment.

Authorities are also trying to move people to immigration detention centres, but there’s only something like 1000 places across the whole of France. Refugees aren’t using the containers because they believe The Jungle is the best situation France is offering. I think that says a lot.

The Jungle has cafes and meeting spaces and first aid and even its own radio station (Jungala Radio – worth a listen!). It’s a testament to human resilience in times of crisis, and the innovation that follows necessity.

There’s also another camp at Dunkirk. Over the next few days, 1200-1800 (there’s no accurate census) people will be evicted from that camp and moved to a new camp near Grande-Synthe. These refugees are having to leave their entire livelihoods behind. We have to provide everything for them all over again. I will go there over the next few days to help.

 

How many people are there?

In the most recent census that I’m aware of, there were 5497 people living in the whole camp. 3455 of them were in the South to be cleared. They’re clearing the south part of the camp because its “unsuitable” for “humanitarian reasons” for the refugees. If that’s the reason, they’ve failed in their aims because the methods they are using are completely dehumanising.

I’ve seen the CRS, the Riot Police, using enough tear gas to choke everyone within several hundred metres. They’ve used bulldozers and rubber bullets and fire to destroy a hard-won place of relative safety. The school had to be moved. They burned the Pink Caravan, which used to give out tents and sleeping bags. It’s just a shell now. Large swathes of land that used to be a sheltered community are now fields of rubble and mud.

 

How do you get into the camp, and where is it?

It’s just sort of like this weird, sad, industrial wasteland on the outskirts of Calais, about 15 minutes from the town itself. It’s on sand dunes, which I guess is good for drainage, but not suitable for permanent living. If you took a photograph of it out of context it could be anywhere in North Africa or the Middle East.

You walk in under a bridge, a huge overpass going towards the channel tunnel, right next to the road going to the crossing. Mostly lorries go past. The idea behind living there is that you hop in a lorry and sneak across, praying you don’t get caught by the police. But that’s really difficult. They’ve even brought in a heat scanner to check for bodies. There’s a rumour going around that someone got inside a refrigerated lorry that had a polar bear inside it, though “Jungle Rumours” like that are common. Every now and then you hear that a friend has got across and everyone quietly rejoices.

It’s a community. A valued community- and there are many smaller individual communities within it as well. People are upset that their shelters are being demolished, not grateful for the opportunity to move. The refugees themselves named this place The Jungle, and they stand up for their right to peacefully inhabit the land.

 

How does it feel going there?

Most residents of the camp are really gentle people, quick-humoured and smart as hell. I got really angry at some girls volunteering in the camp who said the refugees are “so threatening, like a pack of wolves”. It’s not dangerous at all. I can walk through there in the dark, on my own, and not fear for my safety any more than in South London.

I have only ever been welcomed in The Jungle. Working there, I spend all day being plied with cups of coffee and chai. The guys in the Kabul Café banter about my inability to eat neatly with a flatbread, and jokingly supply me with kitchen roll for my lentil-covered face. I spend much of my time hand-shaking, cheek-kissing, and being laughed at or with.

 

Is there any racial tension?

90% of the population are young men, wasting the prime of their lives trapped in a desperate situation. If this was British people, I think we’d be at each other’s throats. There are skirmishes. There’s no sort of gang warfare though. Everyone shuffles along. They don’t want to make it any worse for each other.

 

What sort of things have you been doing to help?

Warehouse operating for L’Auberge de Migrants- that’s the charity I work for. I get there at about 9. Then we split into people who run the Calais kitchen- prepare the food that’s distributed- a hot meal, and also cold food packages. It’s important to make sure that people feel like that can feed themselves if they want to- and give them some independence.

We receive donations of food and clothes, which we sort and put into boxes. We also get some medical supplies, which I was organising last week.

More recently, though, I’ve been in charge of sorting out the clothes. This might sound menial, but if you don’t thoroughly sort it, it can be the difference between someone getting a thin jumper and a fleece- so someone will be cold because of your mistake. When you’re working in the warehouse and not the camp you can’t see anyone, but it’s important to feel the urgency of the situation even when there isn’t a visible need before you.

After being here for a week, you start to feel desperately responsible. Two nations, Britain and France, don’t want anything to do with these people and have abandoned them. Everyone there has already been mistreated by his or her nation of origin, and are fleeing war. The only ones on their side are us volunteers. We are students, retired people and weird hippies. We’re not lawyers, doctors, or politicians, we’re just people that feel like we can’t do what our governments have done and let human beings down in this way- it feels like a huge responsibility.

 

How do you feel?

I feel motivated. It’s motivation like you’ve never known it before. I have over 5000 people counting on me and my friends. I don’t know what would happen if the volunteers packed up and left.

I sat on the toilet the other day – this was the first rest I’d had in hours – and I just started crying. It’s very hard to process, and it comes out for me in random bursts. It was just real frustration at the situation. It’s a deep, innate knowledge that everything that’s happening is unfair. It seems like this is the worst place on Earth.

Emotionally, you’re inspired, motivated, proactive, protective, fulfilled and engaged. But it’s also incredibly sad. I feel so angry all the time. I want to buy a lorry and put 5000 people in it and run over the border police and only then will it feel fair. They’re complex people. We just can’t leave them there in a pile of rubbish and sand and human waste.

Some of them have even gone back to their own countries. They would rather go back to a war-torn Syria than stay in France. Not a lot of them, but some of them. Isn’t that disgusting?

 

What’s the hardest thing about being out there?

Managing to act in a way that is sensitive to the situation. It’s very hard to make sure you’re not being a tourist. A lot of people want to see the camp, take pictures or just stare. People notice that stuff. It’s not right to go and take a picture of a refugee washing. You don’t go into someone’s bathroom and take pictures. It’s hard to know what’s going to be the most sensitive and respectful way of doing things.

Everything we do as volunteers is approved by community leaders inside the Jungle. We don’t do anything unless they want us to. But it’s hard to make sure everyone’s represented and isn’t left feeling worthless. How do you provide everything for someone and not make them feel completely useless? The means they have of providing for themselves are taken away over and over again. It’s not hard to see them as people, but its hard to figure out how they want you to treat them- how do you ask someone how to best make them feel happy and safe?

You get undercover journalists, and a lot of misery tourists- people who show up and take sad pictures of teddy bears in rubble. They see how awful it is, spend the day milling around, and satisfy their curiosity. I’m glad people are curious, but treating it as though it’s a spectacle, a historical event that just happens to be happening now, is not necessarily helpful.

Another hard thing is how much love you find you have for everyone in the camps. The empathy is overwhelming. I would do anything for these people. It’s humbling and amazing.

 

What’s the most rewarding this about it?

The Afghan rice- it’s delicious! [laughs].

The most rewarding thing hasn’t happened yet. It will be ten years down the line when we look back on this, and view the people who were anti-immigration as backward and unfeeling. When we know that we were on the right side of history. When, hopefully, some of these young men have families, and there’s a whole new wave of second-generation immigrant people who are contributing to society in Britain and our lives there.

Everything that we’ve done here probably won’t be remembered, but I hope someday I’ll be a footnote in a man’s story to his children – the lady who woefully failed at traditional Syrian dancing, or helped clean out some tents.

 

What do you want people back home to know?

We need men’s pants! New ones, please! And warm men’s clothes in sizes small and medium, and most importantly we need volunteers!

We received two massive boxes full of men’s underwear the other day. We hadn’t had any donations of pants in weeks. We were screaming and laughing and crying and wearing them on our heads – the brand new volunteers thought we’d gone mental. We were so excited to give them out. It was the best thing. It mattered so, so much to us.

I want people to know that it’s not scary here. People in the camp are gentle, but stressed. And the only thing keeping them there is hope that Britain will be amazing – and we should prove it to them. Let’s all be humanitarian and pro-immigration and prove that the UK can be the haven that these people think it will be.

I’ve been working nine days straight and tomorrow will be my tenth. It’s hard to stop once you start. It’s going to be so weird coming back to England. I can’t not come back to the people of The Jungle. There’s a reason people stay here for months on end. It feels like we live at the end of the World, but there’s no place I’d rather be, because it’s the place that needs me the most.