It was approaching 7pm and some among the crowd at the entrance to “the Jungle” in Calais were growing tired of the spectacle.
For three hours riot police had fired tear gas down onto them from a motorway bridge to keep them inside Europe’s most notorious migrant camp on the north coast of France. Stones whizzed back in response.
For once, the residents of what Doctors Without Borders calls this “shameful ... squalid, state-sanctioned shanty town” were grateful for the fierce wind whipping in from the English Channel.
Time to go to the theater.
A small group of Afghans peels off to walk arm-in-arm back through the second-hand clothes market at the crossroads between “Afghanistan” and the Sudanese section, past “Eritrea,” with its large plywood Orthodox church, to the big white domed tent rising from the mud of this former rubbish dump.
Their beacon in the darkness is the Good Chance Theatre, set up in September by two young British playwrights known as “Joe and Joe.”
There is some kind of performance every night, and Wednesday’s was a two-hour variety show. A cheeky version of Clandestino, Manu Chao’s song about illegal immigrants in the US — “Africano clandestino, Afghani clandestino, Pakistani clandestino” — was met with cheers and howls of laughter.
Every night the migrants wait for the traffic to slow as it backs up from the ferry terminal before trying to clamber into moving trucks.
A young Kurdish man nurses a wound on his hand where he claims a lorry driver slashed him with a knife as he clung onto his cab earlier in the day.
“He was afraid. I was afraid, he wanted to kill me,” he said.
Others walk the 15km to try their luck at the heavily guarded entrance to the Channel Tunnel.
After two hours of non-stop singing, the night’s show ends with a frenzied Pashtun drummer who gets most of the 200 or so people inside up dancing.
Baraa, a 31-year-old English teacher from the Syrian city of Hama, has spent the day photographing the camp and the clashes with police to make “postcards” of life at the site.
“I will try to get to England tonight,” he said. “You cannot hold back humanity with a fence.”
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