Shattered dreams

By Kiiza Mohamed Minani

I fled my country Burundi when I was five. There was a war going on, and I found refuge here, in Kakuma refugee camp. I literally grew up here. It is my home and I don’t even remember what my home country looks like. Although I have managed to get free education, I endured a lot of hardships as well. Imagine learning in a class of around 250 students, in the hot weather with dust everywhere.

I remember 2010 vividly. I was in secondary school, and it was one of the most challenging times of my entire life. I put my life at stake just to get a scholarship. Our homes didn’t have electricity, so I used a paraffin lamp to read. We couldn’t afford to buy paraffin every day, and on those nights we used a small torch to light up the house.

One night – we had finished eating dinner – the torches’ batteries ran out of power, so I went to make my bed in the dark. When I removed the bedsheet, something bit my left hand. I screamed and ran out of the room to my mom. It was very painful. “What is it?” my mother asked. “I don’t know, I was collecting the bedsheet and something bit my hand!”

While my younger brother ran to the neighbor to borrow their torch, my mum and other brother went inside the room. I was lying on the floor, and heard my mum screaming “Oh my God,” and then the sound of someone beating the mattress. My younger brother came out of my room with a big scorpion. They killed it on the bed. I was in agony, I could feel the poison flowing in my veins, and began to feel dizzy.

Although hospitals can typically treat spider bites and scorpion stings without much difficulty, there’s only one ambulance serving Kakuma refugee camp which leads to a lot of deaths because people often don’t receive medical attention in time.

“Help! Help! Help! Please help!” my mum cried.

The neighbors rushed to us, and tied my arm with a cloth. Then they carried me to the security office outside the community. All the while, I kept feeling the poison flowing through my veins. The security guards called an ambulance that rushed me to the hospital.

When we arrived, the doctors said that if I was brought in later, I could have lost my life. Although I was in agony, I smiled: I was still alive. They gave me two injections where the scorpion had stung my hand. These gave some relief. Then, they untied the cloth, but my hand was still in pain. I was discharged after four days, and my family was happy. I made sure to thank the neighbors for saving my life.

In 2010 – I was in form 3 – I was already aware that the only way to improve my life was through education. I focused all my efforts on school, dedicating all my time to revise books to make sure I’d receive good final grades. My challenge was the lack of light at home. By good luck, EDP, a company from Germany, came to install solar panels at our school. They also installed bulbs in all the classes and even distributed solar lantern lamps among the girls at school. This was such an amazing opportunity for me to read.

Even though I went to a day school, our class arranged that we could sleep at school. Everybody wanted to make good use of the new lights. Only boys were allowed to sleep in school because the girls could use their solar lantern lamps to read at home. When I told my mum about it, and she said I could go. She even congratulated me for making such a sacrificial decision. I was so happy when I carried my mattress to school. At night, we could just put our mattress outside the classrooms and sleep. Then we’d remove them in the morning and store them behind the classrooms.

We were only given porridge in the morning, but without sugar. I used to take two cups of porridge so I wouldn’t feel hungry from morning to evening. Then I went home around 6:00 pm and had both lunch and supper at once. After I finished eating, I had to walk back to school at around 7:30 pm, it was a distance of about 2km. The journey wasn’t without dangers, but I had to take the risk. I was doing this every day for 2 years until I finished my final year in high school.

I come from a very poor family who couldn’t pay for my university, so from Sunday to Sunday, I made sacrifices to I perform well at school and get good grades. I was targeting all scholarship from organizations here in the camp which only offer scholarships to students who perform well. Imagine the insecurities I faced while walking from home to school at night. The fear and tension that I went through became part of my life.

Regretfully, I was suffering from malaria when it was time to take the final exams, but I went anyway. I didn’t understand why it had to attack me during the exam time. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I lost my appetite, was weak and was literally unable to speak. I felt like I was leaving this world every next minute.

Knowing malaria killed many people, not only here in the camp but in Africa generally, I was so afraid I’d be next. I went to the hospital and was given anti-malaria drugs. I took them for 6 days and then I felt okay. My exams didn’t go as I expected unfortunately. I didn’t get the grades I hoped for. It frustrated me a lot and shattered all my dreams that I had. All the hard work I had put and the sacrifices went in vain.

Another vivid memory I have from the camp is from 2018, when it it started raining heavily at around 8:am in the morning, and it didn’t stop until midnight, when the camp looked like a lake. The camp was build from brick houses and tents. All of them collapsed. We had no place to sleep and all our belongings were just floating on water. The whole community was flooded. All our documents were damaged. “Why am I in this God forsaken place?” I asked myself. We didn’t eat the whole day. There was no water to drink and no place to sit. We were busy trying to save whatever we could. It was such a horrible moment for all of us. I heard the cries of people trying to find a place for safety, and I lost hope. Even the patience I had living in this camp was swept away.

I’m still living in this camp today. All my dreams have crashed. They lie by the side of the streets like broken, rusty cars. I’m stuck here. Every day is the same, and at night I dream the same dreams and nightmares. I don’t know where I’m going but at least I know where I’m from. Living with all these memories is like living in a dungeon with monsters. I lie awake at night because sleep scares me. Memories become nightmares. When I look back, I really congratulate myself for being so strong and for resisting all that I’ve gone through. I fear looking back as well. Sometimes it breaks my spirit and reopens healing wound. I’m doing everything I can to heal but I still find myself back at the same spot. I have lost hope, I don’t see any opportunities and come rain come shine, my life is still the same.

31 March, 2023