Zamzam, 35 years old, from Shalan Boot, Somalia
Zamzam is an outgoing character with a radiant smile. However, her lovely facade hides beneath it a terrible tragedy that befell her and pushed her to abandon everything she ever had, even her own children.
“I would have prefered to study, but working was essential in order to take care of my four children.” For years, Zamzam was a vegetable seller in Somalia - but one day, all of a sudden, the simple day-to-day life that she had come to know collapsed.
When she recalls the next part of her story, the vibrant and loving woman that I spoke to, bursts into tears.
“My husband lost his life, he was killed by his own brother. This murderer was part of an Islamist, terrorist group, called Al- Shabaab, and the purpose of his murderous deed was to kill my husband so that he could marry me instead.” Drying her tears she continues, “At night he came to see me and harass me. He wanted me to marry him. As I told him ‘no’ he threatened me and told me that he will kill me. Later that night, my neighbours, an older couple, came over to help me and my children escape. They accepted to take care of my children, because I had no choice but to leave my motherland. I left my children with them and fled my home.” The older couple had a car and took her to the Somali capital, Mogadishu. They gave her enough money so that she could get the passport she needed in order to leave the country.
From her homeland, Zamzam fled to Iran. Once in Iran, to go further she had to travel by foot. She only stayed a couple of days in Iran before joining a group of people trying to cross the Turkish border. Reaching Turkey took them 3 to 4 days, and Zamzam suffered from serious knee pain. “Those who could walk were walking. But sometimes women for whom it was difficult could ride horses pulled by men.”
“In Turkey, life was the most difficult. I had no means, no money, and I was alone. It was too hard, there was no one to help me.” Zamzam spent 1 year and 6 months in Turkey. She told me, “Odd jobs were just enough to eat and house myself. Cleaning houses was just enough to survive.”
Zamzam continued to dream of education for her four children. “I decided to leave to Greece for my children, so that they can receive education one day. I do not want them to be like me. I cannot read or write.” The young Somali woman is now applying for asylum in Greece and is waiting for her children to join her, in a place where she can give them a better future and a chance at education.
“I am happy here [at the refugee camp], because an independent volunteer gives me English lessons and I can finally study. I also had the possibility to have Greek lessons in Athens. If I had the choice in Somalia, I would have studied languages. I always wanted to learn new languages. I would like to speak as many languages as I want to, starting with both French and English.”
Thinking of her children, a tear drops from Zamzam’s eye. It has been 2 and a half years since she has been separated from them. But when I ask her what makes her get up and carry on every day, a smile immediately appears back on her face. She talks about another refugee woman from Somalia who she met in Athens and became friends with. They both live together at the refugee camp she resides at - one hour north of Athens. “She makes me smile everyday, we laugh together every morning when we wake up.”
She ended the telling of her story on an optimistic note, using these words : “I see a better life ahead. I will study and have my children join me here for a better future for us all.”
Photos: Shayanne Gal / Story: Romane Boyer