Refugee Week - from Afghanistan to the stage

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 - 10:21

‘I tell you what, I had really difficult time getting here tonight’. It’s an opening line long used by comedians, but it’s never been truer in a literal sense than for the cast of Borderline’s A Comedy About Tragedy. The show, a satire on Calais’ Jungle, is based on the real life experiences of cast members such as Enayatullah Jalalzai, who shares his journey, from Afghanistan to the stage.

I am James Bond from England. No? Ok, ok, I am Enayatullah Jalalzai from Afghanistan.

I love comedy and I love making people laugh, it makes me happy. I don't like seriousness or sadness… there is too much of that already. I need to laugh to survive, it helps me.

I left my country because my life was in danger, but I don't want to say any more, as my family is still in Afghanistan. I left on my own, on the day of my birthday. I was 16 years old. I followed several smugglers who had been paid by my uncle. I went to Pakistan by car, then we walked on to Iran through the mountains. It took me a month to cross Iran, by foot, cycling and by car. My friend was killed there.

From Iran I walked two days and two nights to get into Turkey, but once there I was kept prisoner by one of the smugglers as he wanted more money. I was held prisoner here for 25 days until my uncle was able to send them some money.

Borderline is really important for me, because people can see that I am real. They hear my story, they meet me, they see I am human
Enayatullah Jalalzai, Borderline performer and former resident of the Calais Jungle

I walked on, for three more days, to Bulgaria, but there the police arrested me, and stole all my clothes. So I returned to Turkey and a few days later I tried again. This time I stayed with a smuggler in Bulgaria for 15 days, before going on to Serbia. From there I took a bus to Croatia and then a train to Hungary, Austria and Germany. In Germany the police arrested me on the train, and so I had to walk to France.

In total, the whole journey to the Jungle took me three months. I stayed five months in the Jungle, and each night I tried to get to the UK. Every night I would make the three hour walk to the station, jump over fences, and attempt to get on lorries, get caught by the police, and then make the three hour walk back to the Jungle.

Many funny things happened in the Jungle camp. When we made fun of each other, we could laugh and forget about everything. One day my friends cut the top of a fence so we could jump on a lorry, but it was still too high for me and my trousers got stuck on the fence… my bum as well! It was lucky I had put two pairs of trousers on.

When I arrived to the UK, in the first theatre where we performed I couldn't believe all their risk assessment! During my journey I had come so close to death so many times and no-one cared, yet here there were so many rules, I couldn't get changed with the rest of the cast and other silly things like that.

Enayatullah Jalalzai (left), with fellow Borderline cast member, Mohamed Sarrar

I do miss the Jungle. I miss school there. I don’t have a lot of school here, just a few hours a week, as well as playing football and going to Good Chance theatre. In the Jungle a lot of British and French volunteers would come and we would play basketball in the dome there, watch Bollywood movies and dance Afghani dances. But though I miss the Jungle, life there was still very scary, with Afghani and Sudanese people fighting a lot. I couldn’t sleep. I was scared someone would set fire to my tent and kill me. It was very dangerous. 

Here I love my life. But I miss the volunteers. I met Sophie in Calais; she and the people at Borderline are my family now. I can count on her if I have a problem and we have a lot of fun together. The first workshop I did with Borderline was in June 2016 in London. I am a fan of Bollywood movies, my favourite actor is Akshay Kumar, but this was the first time I had acted. I loved it. 

For me Borderline is really important, because people can see that I am real. They hear my story, they meet me, they see I am human. And we are all different in Borderline, some come from Afghanistan, others from Sudan or Syria. And even those of us who come from the same country are different. In Borderline there is a place for all of us. 

It is very important to remember, that though the Jungle doesn't exist anymore, it's still an important part of our story. And also a lot of refugees are still struggling in France and elsewhere.

Borderline, a satire on the Calais Jungle directed by Sophie Besse, is performed in Blue Room, Royal Festival Hall on 20-21 June as part of Refugee Week

Refugee Week at Southbank Centre is celebrated in partnership with Counterpoints Arts.