By Muganzi M. Isharaza, Communications Officer, World Vision
It is 5am in a small town in central Mali. The sun, while not yet visible, has already started casting away the dark cold night. And in a tiny two-roomed house, hardly larger than twelve square meters, Miriam, age 32, awakes. She walks around the children who stir in their sleep, careful not to step on or wake them. Altogether, there are nine children squeezed in one room, while the second room acts as a pantry and “living room,” though there’s hardly any space for them to sit. With only one room to sleep in, they are still among the lucky ones: for many other internally displaced persons (IDPs), having all her children with her, in one tiny space, is actually a luxury.
“Some of the other families that fled Timbuktu had no choice but to leave their adult children there to take care of the land and property,” she says, “and now, every night they worry about whether or not their children are alive.”
This worry has not stopped for the Touareg families like Miriam’s who fled into Central Mali from Timbuktu and other places in the North. Touaregs are light skinned Malians and have traditionally lived in the Northern part of the country. However, because the anti-Government militants in this region are often of a similar light complexion, many other Malians believe that all Touaregs support the armed opposition groups who imposed vicious laws on the fabled Northern Malian city before the French troops came. Because of this, revenge attacks against Touaregs and even killings have been reported in several parts of the country.
Miriam prepares breakfast for her children, before waking them up at 6:30, prepares them for school and at 7, serves their breakfast and sends them off. She then sweeps the yard, tidies up the two rooms she now calls home and then heads to the market.
“The market here is not very different from the one back home,” she says, “but I can afford far less than I used to.”
|Myriam´s children. Credit: Muganzani Isharaza/ World Vision|
Like most internally displaced people in Mali, Miriam has moved in with relatives and relies on them for her livelihood. She is living in a small corner of their house, eating their food and even wearing their clothing. It is they who are taking care of her, now that she’s separated from her husband and has no income of her own.
“All day and all night, all I worry about is him. I worry that he is dead. Then I tell myself not to think of such horrible things,” she says, before adding, “But then, I really can’t help it. He’s on my mind all the time.”
There’s also not enough food to go around.
“Because I came with the children, there is not enough food to go around,” she explains. “We therefore decided that the adults get only breakfast and lunch and the children share for supper whatever food is leftover from lunch.”
Things were not always this way. In Timbukutu, Miriam - a teacher by profession - had a job at a primary school. Her husband was a trader of livestock and jewelry. They had a few livestock and a small backyard vegetable garden. In Timbukutu, they could afford three meals a day for everyone. They weren’t rich, but at least they could afford to feed their family.
“Here, I feel like I am a burden to my parents. It is because of me and the children that they now have to eat two meals instead of three,” she laments, “Of course they do not complain about it, but it is still the fact.”
At noon, the school-going children come running home. They quickly eat their food and rush to play. For most of the afternoon, Miram seats on the verandah of her tiny quarters, sipping tea and thinking about better days.
“Each time I look at the children, I know I smile, knowing that at least they are safe,” she says, “But each time they get out of my sight, my thoughts go back to home and my husband.”
Miriam doesn’t know what will happen in the next few weeks. While the armed opposition groups have fled Timbukutu, revenge killings are still being reported and she has yet to hear from her husband. If he’s alive, she and the children may consider returning home in the next month or so when things have settled down. Otherwise…well, Miriam doesn’t want to think of the alternatives. And yet, for now until an uncertain time in the future, it’s all she can do.