CALAIS, France – Residents of France's biggest refugee camp near the English Channel port of Calais must combat hunger, filth and illness in a tent village as they scramble to build hard roofs for the winter.
Many of the estimated 6,000 residents spend hours queuing for six-minute showers and one daily meal at a government-funded facility on the camp's Atlantic-facing edge. Elsewhere, campers stand in mud to collect cold water from batteries of hose-fed taps and burn tree branches to cook and boil water, turning the air acrid with smoke.
Dozens of wooden-framed shops and restaurants, mostly Afghan, stock shelves with supplies bought at Calais supermarkets. Aromas of cardamom and aniseed, cumin and ginger waft from the tarpaulin-covered shacks advertising fire-blackened chicken. Diesel generators and gas canisters keep lights burning and curries sizzling.
More are built daily as aid workers and migrants work together, hammers and saws in hand, constructing hard roofs with tarps and insulation over tents.
Shops offer power top-ups from extension cords overloaded with smartphones. Some campers use stationary bikes to charge phones, taking turns pedaling for two hours or more per device. A new WiFi signal boosts campers' connections.
Piles of garbage are omnipresent despite valiant efforts of Doctors Without Borders collection crews. Most of the approximately 50 portable toilets are unspeakably foul. A French court this month ordered Calais to double the toilets and taps and take command of garbage collection, but little has changed.
A visit inside a small tent shared by three Eritrean women reveals how dignity and hospitality survive. Their side-by-side beds, topped by perfectly folded duvets, are firm and comfy. Devotion to hygiene ensures not a fleck of mud invades their home. Coffee, presented after 10 minutes hunched over a fire, comes in white china alongside homemade dabo bread on an ankle-high candlelit table.
They have lived here together since spring and must find space in the new year for another soul. One of them, Mimi, expects a January baby.