Soon after I entered the Dzaleka refugee camp, life became so difficult that I wanted to go back to Rwanda, the country I fled. I was with my husband and our two children. I could not speak English fluently, and the little I spoke was what I had learned in the streets of my hometown. I decided I had to learn English, and so I joined the ESL program that was run by the Jesuits Refugee Service.
I attended ESL classes five days a week for a period of one year, and it is thanks to the Jesuit Refugee Service that I am now able to read and write in English. The lessons were intense, and at first it was difficult to communicate due to the language barrier. But I was determined to learn, and with the support of the dedicated instructors, I made progress. The ability to read and write in English opened up new opportunities for me and made daily life in the camp more manageable.
Despite this, it was not an easy time for my husband and me. We often ate porridge, and sometimes we went to sleep on an empty stomach. If we didn’t have enough food for the whole family, we would give all of it to the children.
My husband became tired of that life. One day, he told me that he was going to hustle, but that we would have to make sacrifices. He was going to leave us here and go to South Africa. He’d heard there were better job prospects there. As a wife, I had no choice but to agree with his plan. A major difficulty was that he had no means of transportation. I told him to borrow some money that he could pay back once he found a job. Luckily, a Good Samaritan named Mbabajende helped us with one hundred thousand Malawi kwacha, which my husband used to travel to South Africa. He was able to repay the money after only two months there.
It was an emotionally challenging time for me and our children. After my husband left, I had to take on the role of both parents, which was overwhelming at times. And I was constantly worried about my husband’s well-being, given the dangers of such a long journey. The emotional strain was significant, but I understood that he was seeking better opportunities for our family, which kept me going.
A year later, I was surprised to see my husband on my doorstep. I was filled with joy to see the love of my life again. He had with him five flat-screen TVs, six laptops, and ten smartphones. Buying goods was the only way he could bring his earnings with him since it was hard to exchange foreign money in the camp. My husband had indeed become a hustler. He sold everything he’d brought with him, and we made three million Malawi kwacha.
Our life changed immediately, and we lacked nothing in our home. To maintain our newfound financial stability, we decided to open a maize business. My husband would go to the neighboring villages and buy maize, which he then sold here in the camp. We have since opened two big stores that sell crops. The business has prospered, and we’ve even hired two Burundian youths to work in the stores. Our lives have changed for the better, and I am thankful for my husband for making the tough decision to go to South Africa, which has allowed us to thrive, even in the challenging environment of a refugee camp.
27 October, 2023