Images of a Life Gone By
From female taxi driver and entrepreneur to refugee, Fatimé is rebuilding her life from scratch.
Her entire life is spread out in front of her: vacations in Cameroun, her own store, her children, grandchildren, neighbors, friends, festivities and the taxi that she drove at night, providing her family with a extra income and allowing her to roam Bangui. The floor is covered in 47 years of her most precious moments, all captured on camera; two houses built, friends made, three daughters raised, and husband buried seven years ago.
Fatimé Malicky sits under a roof of tarpaulin on a barely-there floor mat, surrounded by walls made of tarp. Today, Fatimé is a refugee. She is one of the more than 95,000 who have fled the Central African Republic to its northern neighbor Chad. She recalls the moment that changed her life with gruesome precision:
“It started at 3 a.m. in the morning, we heard heavy artillery and gun fire. 55 people in our neighborhood were killed with machetes, pregnant women slid up and their unborn children cut into pieces. There was death all around us. You just take your children and run, we didn’t have time to pack anything.” In the rush, Fatimé only grabbed her purse. A few months ago she had started sorting through her photo albums, taking the most precious ones out and storing them in her handbag, thus always keeping them close. Now, they are all that remains from her past life.
She camped at the Bangui airport for a one dreadful month, suffering from hunger, thirst and nightly attacks until the government of Chad sent airplanes to evacuate families. Among those evacuated was Fatimé, one of her daughters and three grandchildren. Her two other daughters have fled to Cameroun and the family is torn apart until this day.
The shelter provided by the UN refugee agency in Dosseye refugee camp in Southern Chad is one of four compartments in a big tent, measuring roughly 18 square meters. Her neighbor has recently moved out, so Fatimé removed the tarp wall and now has twice as much space. Neighbors have asked her to store some of their belongings in her shelter, these are now neatly stored in a corner together with two plastic bags of clothes and one suitcase – belongings that Fatimé has acquired for her family since she arrived in Chad. On a wooden bar holding up the shelter, Fatimé has placed a few small bottles and pots of lotion and makeup.
“We’ve received some basic household items upon arrival. CARE also gave us bedclothes, mosquito nets and peanuts to plant next to the tent. I am also growing sesame and potatoes.” Outside her shelter, she proudly shows the growing plants. In addition to tailor, storeowner and taxi driver, Fatimé can now put “farmer” to her list of professional skills. Hunger is a looming threat amongst the refugee community as food rations have been cut and not all families manage to plant their own food in the camp. “We receive one bag of semolina for a month, but that is not nearly enough,” says Fatimé.
Despite the hardships, going home is not an option for the family. “You need to be prepared for everything in life. I don’t allow myself to think about what happened. If I looked back, I would become ill. I want to forget everything. We have peace here. That is all that matters. We can sleep in peace, wake up in peace, we don’t hear gunshots. If only there was more work…”
A usual day for Fatimé starts at 4 a.m. in the morning when she gets up to pray. “I’m then doing laundry and prepare porridge for the children before they leave for school.” Fatimé herself then makes her way through the camp to a stone building with bright blue window shutters just around the corner from the camp’s community center and market.
Fatimé is part of a women’s cooperative supported by CARE. The group received four sewing machines that are set up on small tables in the airy room. “There are 60 women in our group but only two instructors who know how to work with a sewing machine,” Fatimé explains. “We try our best with what we have, but it remains little.” Judging from her entrepreneurial past, it must be extremely challenging for Fatimé to build back her life from scratch and depend on aid agencies’ support. As a single woman with children to care for, she is eligible for CARE’s cash program. She receives a monthly amount of around 3 Euros and additional money for sending her grandchildren to school and to regular medical checkups.
But the accomplished woman doesn’t let herself down. “I am very proud of our achievements here. CARE has helped us tremendously with the sewing machines, but we want to go even further. We can cook and sell the food, we can produce soap, bake cakes and other pastries – there is so much more we could do here.”
Written by Sabine Wilke, CARE Germany