Arriving in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, Dil gets his muddy boots out of a plastic bag, puts them on and walks around to find a spot to set up the tea kitchen. In the last four months, Dil spent almost every weekend running the Hummingbird Project‘s tea kitchen in Calais and Grande-Synthe (Dunkirk) refugee camps
On my first trip to Calais with the Hummingbird tea kitchen in October, we served over 1600 hot drinks in two days between the four of us. When there are over 50 people queueing fortheir only chance for a hot drink on a very cold day, volunteers work fast and refugees try to grab what they can. Flimsy cups gets spilled. Hands are burned.
Since then, Small Batch Coffee Company in Brighton has been donating 2000 of their big sturdy cups every fortnight to the Hummingbird project. Yet, this past weekend, the tea kitchen faced another problem. Gas canisters were freezing due to the cold weather. Necessity being the mother of invention, Dil kept warming gas canisters in his back pockets before putting them back into the camp stoves. It was funny to watch, but it worked!
In one of the trips, I followed Dil’s boots around the refugee camp in Grande-Synthe, a smaller camp near Dunkirk some 40km from Calais. After setting up the tea kitchen, he went around greeting people, hand to the heart, asking how they’ve been. There was good news, like the camp’s teacher showing him a new makeshift school for the kids. There was bad news too, an eight month old baby Oscar who nearly died from hypothermia. “You know, his father is a British citizen, but he doesn’t earn enough to bring the family over,” – Dil says, a bitter taste in his mouth.
Further along, there were men wearing slippers or turning smaller size shoes into slip-ons, by breaking the back in. Seeing there were no shoes at the distribution centre, Dil got out of the camp and bought shoes and socks in the Decathlon store next door, as most Hummingbirds would do.
Going from a muddy camp into a massive winter sports store next door and seeing shelves full of just about everything refugees need to keep warm, is heartbreaking in its own way. Dil had to change into his city shoes, not out of courtesy to keep the mud out. Refugees and their muddy shoes are not wanted inside the store, nor in the parking lot.
Back at the camp, putting their new boots on, the two refugees kept repeating ‘thank you Dil-Dil!’ What they meant was thank you, you big heart. Dil means ‘Heart’ in Kurdish, he is told time and again. The majority of refugees in Grande-Synthe (Dunkirk) are Kurdish from Northern Iraq, escaping ISIS.
In everyday life, Dil is a computer engineer for the NHS. His real name is Christopher, but he’s stopped using that name a few years ago. After learning what his new name means to those he’s helping, he’s made Dil his legal name. Talk about Being In Their Shoes!
You can Be In Their Shoes and support Dil’s tea kitchen by donating to the Hummingbird Project.
Be In Their Shoes © Jeta B 2016