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Life as a refugee

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Elizabeti Neema, a refugee from Congo

Elizabeti Neema, a refugee from Congo, sits at Bubukwanga camp where she has been for seven months now. Because she has elephantiasis, she cannot move much and finds herself seated like this all day long. Photo by Amos Ngwomoya 

By John K. Abimanyi

Posted  Tuesday, February 18  2014 at  02:00

In Summary

Having to live your home and run to a place you have never been to, as well as depend on others to help you survive is not easy. It is even harder if you are 80 years old as Elizabeti Neema is.

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My name is Elizabeti Neema. I am 80 years old. I am a resident of Kamango in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My children and husband died some years ago and I was left alone. When I heard about the M23 rebels, I thought people were just speculating. I did not think that indeed, the rebels would cause mayhem and leave people stranded. On July 10, last year, soldiers started passing through our villages. They would even request for water for drinking, claiming that they had moved long distances patrolling the area to keep our lives safe.
In my heart, I wondered where these soldiers had come from; seeing a soldier was rare. Because of the rumours we had heard about rebels, I smelt a rat. I started to wonder if these soldiers were not the so-called rebels. However, I kept quiet about it.
The next day, my fears came to pass. I heard gunshots and people were asked to start vacating the place. People started carrying their luggage and left the area. Most people were too afraid to stay. What scared me most were the endless gunshots.

Fleeing with just a few things
On a hungry stomach, I packed my only blanket, bed sheets and a few clothes and waited. When I saw people speedily moving while crying, I was afraid and decided to join them. Because I was sick and weak, I could not move quickly. Even then, I managed to walk on and with the rest, we reached Nfia Pande [a market at crossroads near |Bundibugyo] and rested. I did not have any penny in my pocket. I only survived on some bananas I had carried.

While on the way, some people fell sick and I could see them suffer. When I recalled my home and a few of my crops in the garden, I cried and prayed to God to intervene.

I left two goats behind because I could not move with them as I was weak. I just left my home and property in the hands of the Lord. I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally reached Busunga [in Bundibugyo]. We stayed there for some days. I tried to look for some of my village mates but could not see any, because there were so many people.

I felt helpless.
After some time, we were relocated to Bubukwanga camp [in Bundibugyo], where a camp was built. I kept on wondering how I would be able to handle this stressful life, a life where one could no longer have enough sleep, where one could no longer see his or her home.
Since I had neither a child nor husband who could have comforted me, I just believed in the power of the Lord. For someone who once had a home, it feels queer to live in such a congested place.

Noise, despair and worry characterise the camp. The elderly like me find it really hard to get used to this situation. Besides, the food (posho and cowpeas) prepared here is not liked by some of us. One can even eat once a day because of the competition for food. I cannot manage to stand for long in the name of getting food. I find it really hard.
If I had energy, I would be working on people’s shambas to enable me get some food to change the diet.

Some of our fellow refugees can go to far off places and work in people’s gardens for food. At the end of the day, they are able to get a variety for their meals. But since I am sick – I have elephantiasis – I cannot handle what they do. I only wait to be fed like a bird in the nest.

I am also scared of the diseases that could break out here since we are many. All this keeps me worried. I do not know the day we shall go back to our homes and enjoy the freedom we once had. Here, one does not own anything. Your work is just to sit and wait for orders from the bosses.

Since I have elephantiasis, I just keep seated. I find it hard to move up and down. It hurts me that the day passes by while I am just seated. This has left me hopeless because I don’t know where we are heading.

When other refugees are brought in, I worry even more, believing that going back could be hard since even those people who had remained there are also coming due to the fear of the rebels. We all just sit and keep our ears open to know if there is peace in Congo.

The hardships faced
Being a refugee has left me scared. This is because the environment is very new. I feel deprived of my rights because I feel like a stranger here. When one falls sick here, they find it hard because patients are many. All the NGOs like Red Cross which are giving us help are always busy attending to patients, giving them first aid. I feel displaced. At times, I cry, doubting whether I shall go back to my home. It seems the war will not end because rarely does a day pass by without new refugees joining. I am always terrified when I see my fellow refugees boarding buses to Kyangwali in Hoima. Won’t it be very hard for someone to go back home if they settle in Hoima? I feel like my life is at stake. I do not think that this weak status of mine will spare my life as I live as a refugee. I wish God would come back and save us from this suffering. We do not own anything here and therefore I cannot do simple farming. I have never got any single coin since I joined this camp.

It would be better for me if at least I had some money. If my children were still alive, they would be struggling for me in this lonely situation. I pray that I live to see my home in Congo again, because I just cannot sleep whenever I go to bed. I keep thinking about my home. This refugee life has left me weak-minded.

God, who planned for this, knows well when he shall set us free from this bondage of suffering. Otherwise, life in a camp is not good at all. I will live to curse the day we left our homes.

jabimanyi@ug.nationmedia.com