Kenya: someone who really cares
20 June 2010

Most of the refugees who arrive to Nairobi have no social support networks and often go hungry.

When I fled Somalia I did not do so because of the war. You get used to gunshots and shelling. I fled because of personal problems. My stepfather owed money to a certain man who kept asking my mother for it, long after she had been divorced from him.

Since my grandparents had owned a lot of land we were living on our own property in Mogadishu. My mother was selling vegetables but she did not have the money to pay the man back. My uncle was a well educated man, a doctor. He would teach me and my cousins English which I later used to translate for an NGO. 

One day the man came back and threatened to take me with him if my family could not pay him back. My uncle told him that unless he died he would never take me away. It didn’t take long until my uncle was shot dead and I was dragged away and locked in a dark room of a huge house. Sometimes I would get only a glass of water per day. Sometimes the man raped me or stubbed out his cigarettes on my arm. I began to think that maybe that is how I am supposed to live – with no light, no toilet and hardly any food – and I lost hope.

I had been raped before, when I was 15 years old and I had a daughter which I had to leave behind with my mother. I had hated my pregnancy but my grandmother was a very gentle lady and she would tell me that children are innocent and that I shouldn’t hate my baby.

At some point I tried to escape the horror. But I had to pay a high price for it. The man managed to get hold of me, brought me back to the house and burnt almost half my body. A week passed before I got treated at a hospital, by that time I was totally dehydrated and unconscious because of the pain. After this incident I was allowed to go back to my mother. Half my body was red flesh and it was so painful that I screamed and cried until my voice disappeared and I my tears finished. I was not even able to wash my hands and pray like we Muslims are used to because of the wounds.

After a while the man came back and took me with him again. He threatened that if I tried to run away again, he would kill my mother and all my younger siblings. Again, he locked me up I subsequently gave birth to two more children. When you are locked the day never finishes and weeks become years. I was now in a room with metal bars on the window. With the end of a spoon I began to slowly remove the wood around one bar. I continued for four months. In the house on the other side of the road lived a family. Their daughter would sometimes wave or make signs and we could even whisper across the road. I somehow managed to tell her that I have been locked away for almost two years and she in turn told me they were fleeing to Kenya and asked if I wanted to join them. The following night, her family helped me to remove enough metal bars to slip through the window and they hid me and my two children in their house. The following night a car picked us up and we headed to the Kenyan border. I had left the house with no food and no clothes, not even shoes.

On the way we passed a lot of people who were fleeing Mogadishu. Suddenly I saw my mother and my daughter walking on the street. They had packed three bundles with their belongings. I got off the car, took my daughter and we continued our way to the Kenyan border. After we had crossed the border we boarded vehicles to Nairobi where I arrived in September 2009. On the way I had meta lady who took care of me. At first I stayed with her and her family in a hotel and when they left she gave me 1000 KSh (10 Euro) and bought milk for my youngest son who was by then five months old. Soon after they had left I meta woman who said she was from an NGO that would assist me. But instead of helping me she took away the only belongings I had – a golden bracelet, a necklace, a pair of earrings and the 500 KSh (5 Euro) I had left.

From then on I mistrusted anyone who crossed my path, particularly those associated with an NGO. All I had were my children. I was afraid that the man who had locked me up might find me or that someone else might take them away. At that time I realised that I was pregnant again. I spent the nights sleeping on the street and I fed my two little boys with water since I could not afford to buy milk.

A Somali lady who sells tea found me there one day. She started asking questions and finally told me to come with her until I find a place to stay. She gave me food and clothes and still shares her house with me and the children. She also told me to go and see UNHCR and hooked me up with other people who were going there. In a guide for refugees and asylum seekers I read about JRS. A JRS social worker in Eastleigh (Somali area) gave me food and some other items. But when I came back the following week he told me to claim my rights at the JRS Office.

I waited outside the office and I thought maybe nobody will listen to me. Then I was called in by a JRS worker. She brought me in a separate room and asked my about my situation. I didn’t know where to start, I was exhausted, hungry, sweaty and tired and I couldn’t even speak English any more. A Somali lady translated while I told my story. She listened and then she asked “how can I help you?” I was so exhausted, I had forgotten to ask for help. She gave me bread and some money and promised to call me. At first I was afraid that she might not call because I had no phone and the lady I stayed with only shared her phone with me at times. But she called and we talked many times. I realised that she really cares for me. So many people had lied to me or treated me badly. But she is like a mother to me. I was so happy when she arranged that I receive food assistance on a regular basis. To have food is the most important thing. If you have no food you die. And it’s impossible to explain small children why there is no food and to make them sleep hungry.

JRS also referred me to another organisation that provides me with milk and diapers. Maybe I can do some training there in the future.

I am happy here with my children and I try not to think of the past. I am glad I’m not treated badly anymore and that no man forces me to sleep with him. I now started to teach small children tuition and I earn around 2000 Ksh (19 Euros) per month. Sometimes I do translation work but people can’t pay me a fair price. I also help the lady I stay with selling tea. I am so glad that she lets me stay in her house, I don’t ask her anything else. As a Muslim woman who has three children and is not married I attract a lot of gossip which can be difficult. Sometimes I fear that the man comes and looks for me here but then I try not to think of the past, I take a deep breath and think that God is there for me.