Calais Chronicles #3: The Indo-Afghan Girls

“The girls send you a big hello from the Jungle.”

During my last visit to the Jungle in November, I got acquainted with a beautiful Indo-Afghan family of a mother and four lovely children–2 girls and 2 boys. The father, an Indonesian, had made it into the UK and was trying to get papers to then get his children to come to him. The mother and girls were delighted to meet me –an Indonesian– in the Jungle because, what are the odds?!

I instantly fell in love with the family, especially the girls. The oldest daughter is 12, a beautiful, intelligent girl with a shy, flashing smile and a lilting laughter. The younger one is 8, cheekier and more outspoken than her sister, but equally lovely. Their English is perfect and every day they would go to do the daily salah (prayers)  and recite Quran in the makeshift mosques in the camp. The mother told me that the older daughter is very good at Mathematics, and she herself told me she wants to be a scientist.

They both looked more Malay than Afghan, and it really broke my heart to see them there as they reminded me so much of home. They could’ve been my own nieces or relatives.

After I left the camp, I lost in touch with them but managed to get some updates, although few and far between, by way of my refugee and volunteer friends who are also acquainted with the family.

Jamal, a Sudanese refugee who’s also my best friend in the Jungle, told me that they were getting their case processed in court with the help of some volunteer lawyers. That was back in November.

Last month, a Belgian volunteer who introduced me to them, informed me that they are STILL waiting for the result of their case, whilst trying to cross with the “help” of smugglers. I pleaded her to keep me updated if she hears anything new about them, to which she said she would.

Yesterday, another volunteer friend, a lovely woman called Cathy, posted a podcast of the “Jungala Radio” on Facebook. Apparently this is a new radio programme set up by amazing volunteers, airing interviews with the refugees.

Intrigued, I listened to the podcast, an interview with an Afghan man about his hard life in the Jungle, his hopes for a better future, and his new year (which he refers to “a new year but not happy new year”). I listened intently, taken by the accented English which was a common characteristic shared by most refugees from the Middle East, and had been all-too familiar for me during my time in the Jungle. I haven’t heard it for a long time and it gripped my heart – until something about the way the interviewer, a girl, spoke shook me from my trance.

Cathy had commented on the beautiful Afghan girls that she met that day and the confidence and perfect clarity with which they spoke in the podcast using English, a foreign language to them.

It was the way the girl said “What is your hope after new year?” which suddenly hit me, hard. I hadn’t realised it at first, but there was something about the delicious way with which she curled her ‘r’, a clear pronunciation of her words, the unaccented English, the emphasis on ‘hope’, the optimistic smile in her questions. I immediately knew who she was.

Cathy later confirmed my suspicion. She told me their brother had made it into the UK, but the girls, their mother and their cousin/brother (not sure which one) were still there.

Needless to say, I was crushed to hear that they’re still stuck in that hell hole, 4 months after I left. Time in the Jungle works differently; a week there feels as long as a month, so just imagine how long 4 months would feel like. In the end I could only ask her to send the girls my love and hugs and tell them that I think about them all the time. If she happens to meet them again, that is.

Guess what await me when I woke up the next morning? This picture of them!

The picture that brought me to tears in the wee hours of the morning.

Apparently she had visited their caravan and talked with the mother, who used to be a teacher’s trainer back in Afghanistan. Pretty much explains the girls’ apparent intelligence. She also confessed of her pessimism of their chance to rejoin their family in the UK and spoke of her fears for the girls’ future. To say my heart was heartbroken would be an understatement.

Cathy then said that they still remembered me and they knew at once who she was referring to. Tears rolled down my face at that very instant.

It’s heartbreaking to know that they’re still there, that their case is still unclear, that they’re separated from their father without knowing when they can reunite, that they had to flee from their old lives and homeland to end up in this hell hole, that eviction of their already horrible temporary homes is on the horizon, that girls as bright and beautiful as these should go through this kind of hardship and be robbed of a better childhood.

But it’s even heartbreaking to see how even in the midst of all the misery and bleakness and pessimism, their smiles still remain as bright, and as beautiful, as ever.


Featured image photo credits: Rob Pinney

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