This is a continuation of a conversation I had with a 19 year old refugee from Rwanda. He spent his entire life in the Kiziba Refugee camp. In yesterday’s post we talked about the food they ate in the camp (or lack thereof). This post will talk about the conditions in the camp. I had to re-word and paraphrase his answers to make them more readable since he is still learning English.
Me: Where did you go to the bathroom in the camp?
Emile: There was one refugee that had some money, I don’t know where he got it, but he had some money and he paid some guys to build a bathroom. It was a hole about 3 feet wide and very deep. There were timbers stacked around to sit on. But it was very dangerous. Many people would fall in the hole and die, especially babies and little kids. It was by the grace of God that we did not fall in.
M: What about when it rained? Did the hole fill up with water and flood?
E: Sometimes. But it was very dangerous after it rained because it would break down and soften the timbers and then more kids would fall in and die.
M: What about other bathrooms?
E: No other bathrooms. That was it. Going to the bathroom was very dangerous.
**After this he asked me about my family and I told him that I had a baby sister that died of SIDS when she was 5 weeks old. He asked what SIDS was and I explained that it is when a baby dies suddenly and the doctors don’t know why. This was his response:
E: I am so sorry. That is just like in the camp. Lots of kids died before they turned 6 years old. We don’t know why.
**Among other things, this broke my heart. Obviously these kids didn’t die of SIDS. Most likely they died of malnurishment, Malaria, and other diseases caused by the poor living conditions. How sad and fearful it must have been for these parents to know that it is very likely that their child won’t make it past 6 and they don’t understand why.
We changed the subject.
M: What did you do all day in the camp?
E: I went to school. When I was not at school sometimes I would play soccer. I also went to get the firewood. Getting firewood was very dangerous. I would have to leave the camp and go into the woods. But there are bad guys with machetes in the woods. If they found you, they would kill you. I was always very scared when I got the firewood.
M: What did your parents do?
E: Nothing. My parents just sat around. My mother would worry about us. She worried what we would eat.
M: They just sat around? Did they make anything? Did they do crafts?
E: (shocked) No! What would they make? There is no chance to learn to make anything. We could not afford to buy anything to make things with. They just sat around …. Sometimes they would sit on hills.
M: Tell me about your Dad. How did he die?
E: He died in November of 2013. His father, my grandfather, lived outside of the camp and raised cows. He was a rancher. When he died, he gave the cows to my father. So my father left the camp to go sell the cows so we could have some money. Cows are very valuable there. My father was killed because he had cows. They killed him for his cows. My brother, Innocent, found out that our father had died a few days later. I was out getting firewood then. When I came home, Innocent told me to sit down because he had to tell me something. He said, “Emile, our father is dead.” I didn’t believe him. I remember taking the wood off my head and placing it on the ground. He told me again. I cried for a long time. It was very hard for my family. I hate cows now. If there were no cows, my father would still be alive….
**I changed the subject.
M: Were there toys in the camp?
E: No toys. One time a group came and gave out some dolls. But otherwise there were no toys.
M: Emile, was there something that you saw in town that you always wanted but never had?
E: One of the boys at my school had bike. I always wanted a bike. One day he let me ride it. That was a great day. And now I have a bike here. So I don’t want anything. (He pauses for a minute) You know Katie, it is really amazing here. One day in the camp a man came driving a car. We thought, “That man must be rich because he has a car!” And today I got to drive in your car with you. It is just amazing.
**I had to show him how to open the handle to get out of the car.
M: One last question: The camp is all you have ever known, do you miss it?
E: I miss my family there. My friends and tribe in the camp are my family. Many of them are still there. I miss them. But no, I do not miss the camp. It was awful. I am glad to be here in America.