Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Meeting Najwa- a Sudanese refugee in Cairo

Leaving Things To God

Less than three years ago ,Najwa Ibrahim- a Sudanese woman in her early forties -was living comfortably in her house located in the peaceful town of "Hasahesa" in central Sudan. Central Sudan is one of the few places not directly affected by Africa's longest-running civil war. Her life was stable. Although her husband taught at a local school ,this didn't stop her from pursuing her own dream of getting a job and contributing to her family's growing needs. she is also the mother of three teenagers who received what she described as "good education" at a local school back home. Although living in her country made her feel comfortable among her family and loved ones, her sense of security was shattered by her husband's constant detentions, harassment's and interrogations by government officials. Her husband is like many Sudanese who are politically involved and are aiming at restoring the crippled Sudanese civil society. Sadly, his political involvement forced his family to leave the country for an undetermined period of time in October 2004. Their destination was Cairo, mainly because of its proximity to the Sudan and the family's fluency in the Arabic language. Accustomed to having a job back home and wanting to provide reasonable living conditions for her family, Najwa started looking for work. She was hoping to work for the UNHCR but she ended up working with a group called the "African Group". The group meets in a classroom at the American University in Cairo where they produce handicrafts and make things then sell them for some money. Najwa attends English classes at All Saints Church in order to improve her chances of getting a better job in the future.
Luckily, her husband was able to find a job too. He is currently working for "CARITAS", an organization that helps refugees.
Shortly after Najwa's family arrived in Cairo, Najwa tried taking her children to an Egyptian school but she had problems with her visa so she was forced to take them to a school based in St. Andrews church .That, Najwa's family are Muslims going to a Church school is a sign of the special relations between Muslims and Christian refugees in Cairo. In Cairo, all religions and tribes stand together as one and support each other unlike in the Sudan.

Najwa considers the many friends she made while working with the African group or attending English classes the main reason for tolerating living in Cairo, but her facial expressions, tone of voice and words express her unhappiness about living here. Najwa doesn't stop herself from telling me that living in Cairo is the worst thing that happened to her.
Najwa gets many harassment's here so she limited her life to work and attending English classes. apparently, her family stopped going out after being mistreated and called names by random people in the streets of Cairo. she recalls an incident last Eid where she went to a park with her family to have a nice time only to come back depressed. They were called several derogatory names, they left and never returned again.
Even though Najwa's story is bittersweet, she is optimistic about her family's future.
Recently, her son started going to Townhouse gallery where he meets other artists like himself and will soon be able to have his own exhibitions. Like many other refugees, Najwa is hoping to be resettled to a third country. Nevertheless, she expressed her willingness to move back to the Sudan if the government was changed.
Recently, she was issued a yellow card but her papers are taking a long time. while she is in Cairo, she is trying to make the best out of her time living here. when it comes to everything else, she helplessly exclaimed " I'm Leaving things to God"

9 comments:

Daana said...

"In Cairo, all religions and tribes stand together as one and support each other unlike in the Sudan."

I think is a misleading statement since egypt in general has been the scene of many clashes between muslims and christians lately. Our problem in Sudan is not one religion against the other, it started out as a political problem because the south was greatly underdeveloped. Later on, after the rise of the corrupt ingaz religious agendas were applied to the situation. Unfortunately, I have heard and read a lot about sudanese refugees living in cairo and the prejudice racist treatment they receive. This is something that all arabs practice. We all have egyptian friends and I am sure not all egyptians show hostilities against sudanese people, but there is an undeniable historic feud between the two countries. Would u tell us about ur own experience as a sudanese girl living in cairo?? and how are you treated???

Kizzie said...

Daana,when the war started..religion wasn't a reason at all. Like you said, the national salvation government made it one.
I don't face discrimination at university because i mostly mingle with people from upper classes (they interacted with foreigners before because they went to international schools/they lived abroad or they travel abroad alot). I get discrminated against sometimes when I'm in a lower class area.
To be honest, I don't get alot of discrmination mabye because the people I mingle with are open to other culture and used to other people.
Refugees here have different opinions

Ebony said...

*sadly kisses her study abroad plans goodbye* Oh well...

Anyway, this is somehow unrelated (yea you have to get used to my long comments :P). But I was a refugee in Uganda for about two years... (though I was never in the camps, my mother wouldn't allow it, thank God...though our experiences were still.... *shudders*)...

Anyway, I might be totally wrong but the general hostility between citizens and refugees seems to stem from the belief that refugees somehow gain more benefits than the more deserving citizens. As if they live in absolute luxury from hand outs from whatever non profit organizations/or even government ones... in addition to stealing their jobs. When the fact of the matter is...though some are "relatively" of or even "comfortable" considering their horrendous dispositions, the majority are barely surviving.

Having a peace of mind seems to only happen when refugees are somehow able to assimilate and blend into the general population. Though this is really difficult when you are easily distinguishable and systematically picked out. hmph.

There's not much thought put into the discrimination that occurs when it comes to wanting to get decent jobs to get off relying on unreliable aids.

Maybe that's the case in Egypt? I've attempted to discuss this situation with some Egyptian friends (who have tried to be objective for the sake of our friendship, though you can still sense the "argh Sudanese" hehehe) and on some message boards, I've generally found hostility. It always starts out with "my father makes this much, and they get that much...yet they still complain."

I mean, look at the demonstration incident almost two years ago.

You know, even in the U.S. refugees struggle. It's just that dynamics in which one can better themselves differs slightly and gives people more of a chance to pick themselves up.

I guess it kind of goes both ways. My mom has a never-ending animosity, that she will try to justify to no end, against anything Egyptian (or rather Arab in general). Though she will make exceptions after they pass whatever unofficial test she has for them. :'\

I wish I was more optimistic like you, Kizzie. I personally find myself hardening up and growing bitter. Going from peace-maker/keeper to just down right reaching for my axe out of frustration. (kidding, folks...kidding...it's only a baseball bat :P)

I have to keep focusing hard on the "general" hard to see goodness of people, rather than the overbearing negativity...and then constantly remind myself of all the wonderful exceptions I've found in people from all walks of life.

Only then can I continue to try to make a positive difference. Because otherwise a lot of times I find myself wanting to say..."To hell with it."

Black Kush said...

I think there are lots of things happening in your story, Kizzie. But first, I don't think you considered yourself a refugee in Cairo, being there legally to study or whatever. Your situation is different and the people you meet are different, as you mentioned.

It is common knowledge that the NCP made the war in the south religious in order to win the northern Sudanese and Arab support. For example, the Darfuris, being religious people took the war seriously to the extend that they forgot they were being used as fodder until their eyes
'opened' and the guns turned against them. That is another story.

I guess he story of Sudanese refugees in Cairo is the story of any other refugee in any other city. However, they expected better treatment, being "Arab" and Muslims. It is the shock of their lives what they saw and lived! True, not all Egyptians are like that, but the even the acts of the minority are too much to bear.

I have been to Cairo before the CPA signed when the majority of the refugees are from South Sudan, seen how people suffered, how they were treated. I have been to St Andrews and All Saints Church (Is it the Church in Sakakini? I don't remember now)and all places. I remember being called "Samara" right the moment I sat foot in the terminal building! Their lives will never be the same again and they will live with the experiences forever.

Btw, I assume by "kertas" you meant the Christian NGO "CARITAS"?

Kizzie said...

black kush, I changed it to CARITAS sorry but I didnt know how to spell it.
Have you read the report published by FMRS department at AUC about december 2005?
I'm not a refugee but I'm involved in the refugee community here (teaching/cultural events etc..)
"Your situation is different and the people you meet are different, as you mentioned."
I know I can't put myself in their shoes because I'm not in their situation but I try to listen to their suffering, help them deal with it by even doing the slightest thing. I'm not making things better but like the say, I'm doing the minimum.

Yes it's interesting how the war turned to a war against the "kuffar" all of a sudden.

Yes, refugees do share some experiences but it also depends on the country. For example, refugees in america will probably have better living conditions than refugees in third world countries.

Yes, sacred heart is in Sakakini.
St.Andrews is in esaaf.

"Their lives will never be the same again and they will live with the experiences forever."

whats your email?
I would like to share something with you

Kizzie said...

"sadly kisses her study abroad plans goodbye* Oh well."
I'm sorry. I hope you reconsider that because it's still lovely here:)
Like they say, you always have to experience yourself something before you judge it. Never form opinions based on other peoples experiences. I'm sure u will enjoy your time here but anyways, try to reconsider:)

"But I was a refugee in Uganda for about two years... (though I was never in the camps, my mother wouldn't allow it, thank God...though our experiences were still....*shudders*)"
why don't you share your experience in Uganda? I would like to hear about it. I was never a refugee but my father was kind off in exile, he couldn't go back for a while.

"Anyway, I might be totally wrong but the general hostility between citizens and refugees seems to stem from the belief that refugees somehow gain more benefits than the more deserving citizens. As if they live in absolute luxury from hand outs from whatever non profit organizations/or even government ones"
That's true.
Most refugees here don't have jobs because they can't find any. They depend on ngo's/charity organizations/unhcr but some of them have jobs at churchs and stuff. Anyways, I don't believe they are taking jobs from the citizens here.
The argument people usually say is egypt has its own problem and there is alot of poverty here so they can't accomodate refugees. I understand but they are not taking any of the country's money.
The refugee situation here is overlooked most of the times, most people don't talk about it/don't know about it. In the last few years, I noticed that many Iraqi refugees started arriving Egypt is a popular destination for refugees, its close and stable compared to its neighbors. So, the refugee problem here should be tackled and discussed freely.

I did have bad experiences with Arabs but I have had plenty of great expeirences with them. I will never forget the good egyptian.lebanese.jordanian friends I had and still have. The problem is because I'm a Nubian and I'm really arabized. I relate more to arabs/north africans when it comes to culture and language but more to east-africans when it comes to looks.

Most people think I'm too optimistic. They laugh at me when I say am optimistic about the future of sudan. I am. Sudana foog!

" Going from peace-maker/keeper to just down right reaching for my axe out of frustration. (kidding, folks...kidding...it's only a baseball bat :P)" he he he he tafsh6i al 3ersan kida :D
Because u r such a great person u will meet great people ( like me? jk!)
thanks for your valuable comments

Sudan said...

kizzie..

A toughing story, especially for someone like myself who is still a refugee in a foreign country. One of the reasons I am returning is that life as a refugee sucks!

You have inspired me to write sometime on the same line of thought. My parents fled the first war to live as refugees in East Africa.. they returned after the first 'peace' only to see their children flee the country again. I hope to end this cycle, but I have not figured out how..

the returnee
http://sudanreturnee.wordpress.com

Kizzie said...

Yes, its horrible.
I really don't know how sudanese refugees in east africa/chad/western nations are gonna come back home and live a normal life again.
The war scarred alot of people, we can fix our economy and start developing but can we heal ourselves?
It's a challenge I hope we will be able to do

Black Kush said...

Here it is: jubablog@yahoo.com