They Snatched My House From Me

By Assani Rajabu

Life in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp was a daily struggle, full of unexpected challenges. When I first arrived, it was tough. I lived there with my only brother, and we had no relatives to lean on. We lacked basic necessities, and there were days when we could only manage to have one meal. But amid these difficulties, I had the opportunity to observe and participate in the daily life and activities within the camp. Life in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp was marked by a series of daily activities that revolved around survival and community support. At the end of the month, I would wake up early to queue for food distribution, hoping to receive my ration for the day. After that, there were various tasks and activities to keep me occupied. I engaged in small-scale trading, bartering goods and services with my fellow refugees for survival. Life in the camp was so difficult for me from the first time I stepped foot in it. During my time in the camp, I endured many years of daily struggles. Hunger and scarcity of basic necessities were constant companions. I have been living in the camp for 14 years now. As I was living with my only brother and we had no relatives to help us, we lacked basic needs and sometimes, we could only eat once per day. After realizing all of this, I decided to work for a businessman called Kondaine who managed to give me the capital to start my own business after working for him for three years. Kondaine played a crucial role in my journey to a better life. I met him when I was struggling in the camp, barely making ends meet.

Kondaine was a kind and successful businessperson with a heart for helping people in tough situations. Kondaine’s kindness shone through his actions. He frequently provided food and clothing to me and my brother without asking for money. Moreover, he took the time to listen to my story, showing genuine concern for my well-being. His willingness to give me a job and later provide the capital to start my own business was a clear testament to his kind and compassionate nature. It was these consistent acts of generosity and support that made me believe in his kindness and admire him as a person who truly cared about those facing difficult circumstances. I got to know him through a camp friend who praised his willingness to assist people like me. Kondaine took me in, giving me a job at his business. For three years, I worked hard and learned valuable skills under his guidance. I was working as a shopkeeper. He wasn’t just my boss but also a mentor and friend. He saw my potential and knew I could change my life. With his support, Kondaine gave me the money to start my own business, a turning point in my life. I became an entrepreneur, driven by his kindness and belief in me, striving for success. I learned a lot about managing a business. The tasks I was doing included inventory management, customer service, and financial planning.

I saw that it was a good idea for me to start my own work and see if my life would turn around positively. In 2019, I made the difficult decision to leave and venture into the cities outside the camp in hopes of opening a grocery store in Msakambewa trading center. This place is 25 kilometers away from me. Cars and motorbikes are the main modes of transportation that I use. Most of the time, I use the car because it is faster and cheaper than the motorbike. It was a significant step for me to go search for money so that I can be financially stable and be able to avoid struggling in finding what to eat, leaving behind the familiar boundaries of the camp in pursuit of a more promising future. I took my little brother with me. The boundary that is there is that as a refugee, I am not allowed to leave the camp and open my business outside the camp. The law of Malawi does not allow refugees to stay outside the camp. The only place I am allowed to work is within the camp. The government restricted me from going out unless I went outside the camp while hiding and that is why I was brought back to the camp. The government uses the police and immigration officers to arrest any refugee found doing business outside the refugee camp.

Before my departure, I trusted my dear friend, Musoni, with the responsibility of looking after my house. My house is not very big, but I really love it. It’s a comfortable place where I used to live, and it keeps my stuff safe. Inside, there are important things like furniture, appliances, things that mean a lot to me, and my personal documents. Having someone watch the house for me is crucial because it keeps it safe from theft and damage. Locks may not be enough, as others might break in. Someone taking care of it ensures my belongings and shelter are secure, especially when I cannot be there to protect them. I had my flat TV screen and a speaker that I kept in the house with Musoni. I also left my small mattress in my room. We had shared many years together, and I believed in his integrity and loyalty. I met Musoni at Kasiyano bar, and that’s where we became friends. He bought me two bottles of Kuchekuche beer, which was the start of our friendship. We had a lot of fun together, going to the lake with our other friends and enjoying ourselves. We also liked to drink our favorite beer, Kachasu. But when I had to leave for a while, our communication slowed down, and we didn’t talk much. The house we shared was in my name, but during a UNHCR inspection, I wasn’t there. Musoni registered the house under his name without telling me. During a UNHCR inspection, they check the house to ensure it’s safe and habitable for the residents. They look at things like the condition of the house, any repairs needed, and who is living there. In this case, when I wasn’t present, Musoni registered the house under his name without my knowledge, suggesting he had a plan to change the ownership, which he never told me about. It seemed like he had a plan to switch the names, but he never informed me about it. However, upon my return, I was met with a shocking betrayal.

Musoni had not only refused to return my house to me but had boldly demanded five hundred thousand kwacha as compensation for its use during my absence. I said to him, “What?! That’s unbelievable! How do you justify asking for such a huge amount of money?” He then replied to me, “With all the efforts I put into taking care of the house and on top of that, I registered the house in my name with the UNHCR, I have the right to ask for compensation for maintaining it while you were away.” I expressed myself by telling him that, “But that doesn’t sound fair at all! It is my house, and you shouldn’t have registered it in your name without my permission.” There was tension between us, and I didn’t know what to do next.

I was faced with a rapid of emotions and questions. Musoni’s demand for compensation and his justification for registering the house in his name shocked me. I expressed my disbelief and frustration, telling him that it was unfair and wrong. Our conversation was tense, and it became clear that there was a significant breach of trust. The

anger and betrayal I felt were overwhelming. At that moment, it seemed like there were no words left to share with someone who had lied and betrayed my trust so deeply. This revelation left me emotionally distressed, confused, and mentally drained. How could a friend, someone I had trusted so deeply, commit such an act of betrayal? The sense of betrayal gnawed at my heart, leaving me confused and lost. I felt as though I had run out of options, and the confusion within me began to affect my mental well-being. I could hardly comprehend how my trusted friend could be capable of such a dishonest decision.

In my desperation to seek justice and reclaim what was rightfully mine, I decided to involve the authorities. I reported the situation to the police, and now, we are waiting for a hearing to settle this grievous dispute. Every day feels like an eternity as I hold on to the hope that justice will prevail, and my house will be returned to my hands. The responsibility of the authorities in handling the case varies, and it can depend on factors such as local law enforcement and legal procedures. I’m hopeful that the police and the legal system will act fairly and help in the resolution of this serious matter. I must wait anxiously, hoping that justice will be served, and my house will be returned to me. However, the system is corrupt. One of my close friends told me that there are rumors that “Musoni paid money to police officers to influence the outcome of the hearing.” This indicates a corrupt practice within the legal process. Upon hearing this, I am nervous that the judge might not respect the law.

This experience has taught me the harsh reality of human nature and not to trust anyone anymore. It is a painful lesson that has left scars on my heart, but I remain resilient and hopeful that the legal process will bring a resolution to this distressing chapter in my life. I desire for the day when I can once again call that house my home, and I pray that my friendship with Musoni can one day heal from the wounds of betrayal because I do not hold grudges. I have been dealing with a mix of emotions after this incident. I decided to rent a house far from my house. I am currently not working. I am paying using the little money that I saved in my account during the time I was outside the camp. It is a place near the main Dzaleka market. I have been thinking a lot about my house and the betrayal before I go to sleep. I decided to distance myself from Musoni, and we rarely communicate now. I haven’t shared this situation with many friends, as it has been a deeply personal and painful experience. While I hope for a resolution through the legal process and dream of the day my house becomes my home again, the scars from this betrayal still affect me deeply. I have tried to focus on healing and hope rather than anger. This experience has indeed left emotional scars, but I believe in the possibility of resolution and rebuilding trust.

12 November, 2023