Coming home from holidays, you’ll probably tell your family and friends all about the places you may have visited this summer, and share your photos on social networks. Not all teenagers are so lucky however, and the only “travel” experienced by more than 1.4 million children in the Lake Chad region is caused by violence or climatic hazards.
Listening to the story of Khadija, 15, and her many travels, I could imagine the dangerous road that these migrant children have taken. In 5 years, “Khadi” as her friends call her, has lived in five different places because of conflict or drought.
Khadija Kaku lives in the Daresalam refugee camp in Chad’s Lac Region. “My father is a farmer, he left us to go to work a plot of land leased near the shores of the Lake. He doesn’t want us to live on humanitarian aid alone,” she says, proudly.
Kaku Khadija was born in Ariboye, a remote village in north-eastern Nigeria with no school and no clean drinking water. Her parents rented a small piece of land to work, but it wasn’t enough. “In 2010, there was another drought. We couldn’t harvest enough to live on for the rest of the year. We had to leave our home to travel to the village of Meltri on the shores of Lake Chad. Our uncle welcomed us there,” she continues.
The life of a teenager
Khadija’s life in Meltri looks like the life of the kind of teenager I know. “My uncle had a television, a computer and a small shop where he charged people’s phones. This is where I developed a passion for new technologies. We watched Bollywood shows and music videos from all over Africa. Then we’d go out with friends and try to imitate the movies or the lyrics for fun,” she says with an embarrassed smile.
It was also in Meltri where Khadija discovered school, quickly advancing to grade 5. Reality would soon catch up to her however. “One morning when we entered the classroom, we found a letter slipped under the door of the school at night, written in Hausa by Boko Haram. The letter ordered parents to send their children home, and teachers to leave the area.” The tone of her voice changed immediately as she recounted the incident. I could hear bitterness and the feeling of a stolen childhood in her voice.
Pursued by the sound of gunshots
Feeling threatened, the family decided to leave Meltri for Madai in the hope of finding safety.” We only spent 5 or 6 months in Madai. I went to school filled with fear. One morning, men in turbans and dressed in black attacked the village, destroying everything in their path. We had already wanted to run away days earlier, but where could we go?” she adds.
“I wanted to take my school books, but I couldn’t even do that. All we left with were the clothes on our backs. We walked for days, barefoot. Arriving at Baga, my feet were badly injured from walking in the bush with all those thorns. I had to go to the clinic so they could pull them out with pliers. It took hours.”
The smell of ashes and the sound of gunfire still followed Khadija. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, on January 3, 2015, the city of Baga, their last refuge in Nigeria, was also attacked. Khadija is still recounting the memories, the smoke, the sound of explosions getting closer, fleeing on foot; like an endless story, but that of a persecuted family rather than a travel album. “We ran to the lake and jumped into a boat to flee to Chad. We were all in shock, people in the boat spoke of lifeless bodies left lying on the ground and of houses burned. I covered my ears. ”
Arriving in Ngouboua, in Chad, the family thought they had found peace at last when another attack forced them to make a final escape for the Daresalam refugee camp where Khadija now lives. “I’m sure it’s not over, we’ll have to move again. I don’t know when, as far from now as possible. I’ve started going to school here; it’s a bit difficult for me, since it’s all in French, but I’m getting used to it.”
Before leaving, she shows me the phone she’s sharing with a friend, her wallpaper none other than a Bollywood actress. “Later on, I’d like to work in IT and new technologies. What I’ve learned is that with the internet, even if you don’t know something, somebody in the world has what you need. It’s the best way to learn and to share knowledge.”
Badre Bahaji is a Communication Officer with UNICEF Chad in N’djamena