A Day in the Life of a Somali Refugee Girl

IFRAH is a young girl who likes to play outside with her friends and draw pictures. But her life took a very different turn when her family had to leave her home. She was born in Tanzania, yet displacement has given her a strong sense of belonging to the land of her parents and ancestors: Somalia.
At just 13, she has traveled extensively in Africa and South Africa,
“People call me the traveler,” she smiles.
But her smile comes from identifying with the new community she quotes, rather than the words’ implication on her life. When you’re constantly moved on, calling somewhere home is the most exciting adventure imaginable.
“I was at Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth…I liked Durban. I just liked it, I don’t know why,” she says after bounding out of her tent with a big smile and very good English.
At 8am, Ifrah wakes up. She walks around the camp and fetches water before making porridge on a makeshift stove for her four brothers and sisters, as well as the other children in her tent, because her mother and aunties are pregnant and sick.
“Once breakfast is rationed out, I tidy the house.”
‘The house’ is a gazebo-type tent you or I would have a garden party in. When the camp first opened three months ago, over 400 people shared a tent like this. Now the camp is approaching closure, so half of the 1200 people have already been moved on.
Ifrah then baths her baby brothers, who range from two years old to six, using the porta-loo wash rooms. Water gushes from the floor onto the piles of sludge-like rubbish outside.
“Then I go and play” she smiles.
‘When?’ I wonder, because at 1pm the Red Cross appears with a limited quantity of rice for lunch. Many of the pregnant women smell the food and can’t eat.
With no school organized yet and the threat of xenophobic violence outside the fences of the military base, Ifrah has nothing to do for the rest of the day but daily chores and thinking of her home and ambiguous future.
Walking through the refugee camp men, women and children tell you they want to go home. But they know this will probably never happen, so they want to work, to buy a house and re-build their life. Somewhere.
At 5pm the Red Cross is back. The healthy, sick, elderly, pregnant and young alike form a long line to receive two slices of dry bread and a cup of tea. Ifrah lines up with the rest then goes to play with the other children.
By 6.30pm daylight has gone and the threat of poisonous snakes in the mud and grass takes Ifrah into her tent with her family.
With nothing to do, she goes to bed at 8pm, ready to repeat the experience tomorrow, but always in the hope that tomorrow someone will come with a uniform and tell her she can go to school.

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