Migrants in France shantytown sharpen skills and socialize at school, library, bars in shacks

Jennifer Wilson wrote "hot" and "cold" on the chalkboard and invited her students — a dozen men from Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia and Sudan — to say other English words for temperature. "Freezing," one student declared jovially.

Many will learn that word intimately as Calais' migrants gird for winter camping on the French side of the English Channel.

To combat boredom and sharpen language skills, hundreds come daily to Wilson's classes and a library housed in neighboring weatherproofed shacks. Shoes are left at the door to keep mud at bay.

Wilson, a native of Zimbabwe, teaches three English classes to campers in hour-long sessions of increasing difficulty. She also teaches French and expects demand to grow as Calais' asylum-seekers shift ambitions from England to their current host nation.

At the bookshop, a Sudanese man returns a copy of Ernest Hemingway short stories, thumbs through volumes of Harry Potter and departs with a Sherlock Holmes collection. Beside a wall map of Europe, men from Afghanistan and Eritrea debate distinctions between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland — and which might offer the best opportunity for refugee status and employment.

Rowan Farrell, an English photographer who helps run the library, including its laptops with English-language software lessons, says the library promotes "a calming atmosphere in a very chaotic place."

Nearby, charity workers help organize film, dance and music events in the Good Chance Theatre, a canvas geodesic dome erected by English arts activists last month. Children tour the camp's puddled paths on ramshackle bicycles, some bouncing along on rims with no tires. Men sit in folding chairs by their shacks and take turns strumming folk tunes on a guitar that's missing a string.

At night, many socialize by battery-operated lantern or candle in their own tents or gather at five restaurants run by Christian Africans that transform with the flick of a mini-disco ball switch into spartan nightclubs offering cool beer for 1 euro ($1.10) a can.

The camp's Muslim majority prefers to huddle together, smoking and snacking, on floor cushions in Afghan restaurants with generator-run TVs showing Bollywood films on DVD.