Sadia is not grateful.
Sadia is sick of waiting. The 19-year-old is tired of putting her life on hold while her application for resettlement is processed.
She is short and sturdily built. She is Ethiopian and teaches me the difference between the Oromo and the Tigray. She tells me when it is appropriate to tell people off for being late, and informs me which communities are arguing that week. She leads workshops with me. When Cala and Kailey start missing class, she marks their absences beside their names with tuts of disapproval.
Sadia is also an exception, in that she talks about the past. ‘Becky, I want you to take my story,’ she says to me one day as we both sit in the office. ‘I want you to tell people what happened,’ she says. ‘Maybe it will help. Maybe someone in America will hear and they will help me leave. I want to leave. I want to study.’
The generator stops humming. When lunchtime hits in Kakuma, the lights switch off, and darkness and silence pour into the room.
Sadia tells her story carefully, administering it in small sips, like medicine that is hard to swallow. ‘My parents were taken,’ she says. ‘Back in Ethiopia. I was 15.’ There is deadness in her eyes.
I bring my head closer to hear the words that catch in her throat.
‘Then they came for me,’ she says.
‘I was in jail for two weeks. They would tie my hands and put me down a hole – hanging there for days. Beside that pit was a pit for the people who died. They would beat me. We ate the scraps left over from their meal. They kept asking: were your parents part of the Oromo Liberation Front? I said I was still a child – I didn’t know what that was.
‘It was in the jail that I was raped. They all raped me.’ Her son is from the rape. At school here in Kakuma, she says, other Ethiopians beat him and call him names.
I want to reach out and touch her, but she doesn’t look like the woman I worked with every day. The Sadia I knew plastered her golden face in my white sunscreen, removing her veil to get the cream in properly. She sang along to the radio at the top of her lungs, and shamelessly teased everyone about their love life. But this woman is smaller.
‘Now, I’m just waiting,’ she says, as we sit together in the darkened room. ‘I need a new life somewhere new.’
‘Can you help, Becky?’
She is not the only one to ask.
Listen to Sadia telling her story below, or at KALW News.
* The Waiting Place... For people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting. – Dr Seuss.
Act Five: The Crossroads will be published next week.
Photo by the author.