Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Feature

‘I cannot say that I experienced war as many people have’

Nine women lay bare why they went to Brazil and what they experienced once they got there. Not all migration stories are the same.

18 March 2021, 5.30am
Image provided by author. All rights reserved.

I wouldn't be able to be here today if I didn't have the support of my whole family.

My father passed away in 2018, when I was living in Boa Vista, Brazil, and I didn't have the opportunity to return to my country for his funeral. I had to move to São Paulo. In Boa Vista I was alone, and in São Paulo I had some family members.

I'm talking about my father because of what he said when I started to study. You choose what you are going to study in your third year of high school in my country, and I wanted to study Latin, philosophy, and law, but my real passion was journalism. My father was a businessman, and he said “you want to do Latin? Okay, I will support you anyway, but I will give you an option: I would like you to choose business studies so you can come and work with me later.” The business course was a three-year technical course before going to college that covered accounting and everything else related to business. At first, I didn't really like the idea, but I did it anyway and I ended up in love with the course I had taken. One thing I will always continue to thank him for is that I loved the course very much.

I was born in eastern Congo. My father was from there, my mother is from there, my whole family is from there. Many of my relatives still live there. In 2007 we moved to the capital, Kinshasa in 2007, because of the conflict in eastern Congo. I cannot say that I experienced war as many people have – the war where many women are raped, the war of the men, where children are forced to labour, where children end up joining the army. We lived in Goma, near the border with Rwanda, and the conflicts were in the interior of the province. Instead we had to leave the place I was born because of a volcanic eruption. We had to flee.

When I look back today, I laugh about the situation, but it was a tragic story. There were people in the city who watched the volcano’s activity and they kept us informed. One day, my mother came home and said, ‘We have go to now.’ We crossed the border into Rwanda and stayed there for a few days. When we crossed back to our country and returned home, we found out that our house had been destroyed, everything had been destroyed. My father was always traveling because his job was in international trade, and he wasn't at home. My mother asked, ‘we don't have anything else, what do we do?’. This was my first experience of a humanitarian crisis. I remember I saw the United Nations, the Red Cross, Caritas. They came. It's that thing that we only see in films and documentaries.

The city of Roraima has become something that I carry in my heart.

The house where we lived after the volcano was very close to the army. Sometimes we were sleeping and the army people would start shouting, ‘Get the kids out of the houses, a bomb is going to explode.’ We were constantly afraid that the houses were going to be attacked. Sometimes we would wake up in the middle of the night with the men shouting to us to leave. We’d get in the car and start leaving, but then they would say, ‘No, it is ok, you can go back inside.’ We didn't sleep on those nights.

We could hear when the conflict came closer to Goma – from up there we could hear the bombs exploding. I don't wish it for anyone. I had an uncle who worked at a hospital in the city. Sometimes people went to the hospital to see a family member and they would see the women being treated there because of the war. There were rooms reserved for women who had experienced these conflicts psychologically and physically, who were abused. The kids asked their mothers what these women had and why they were so sad. But sometimes the mothers couldn't explain it. At that time we didn’t talk about it. It was considered a taboo, in the sense of no talking to not wake up the pain, of not wanting to talk about something that hurts. Sometimes in schools there were seminars just for girls, where they talked about what we needed to do when we felt threatened, what to do at that moment, whom to speak to.

I wanted to be a journalist because of all this, but I started to think that journalism wouldn't take me very far. I thought, ‘I want to study politics first to understand why all of this is happening; I want to study war, I want to be specialised in that subject.’ I found international relations, where you study war and peace, how war and peace are perpetuated. Then I got a scholarship from the Brazilian embassy. I was already in Kinshasa, and the Brazilian embassy was distributing scholarships to students who had a slightly above average grade in high school. We had to take a test then go to Brazil.

I arrived at the airport in Roraima and it was like entering an oven – it was very hot. I started to meet the people and get to know the place, and the city has become something that I carry in my heart. If Roraima was a country, it would be my second nationality.

I am an immigrant in Brazil. Thank goodness I am studying. But, sadly this is not the reality for many immigrants here. So I keep thinking that my place is not at the university. It's not that I don't like it – studying is my passion – but I know that my place of work is outside, where people need my contribution. I know a lot of people are helping migrants, but I feel like I have to do something here. It is like a responsibility that I have. I have this space of speech and I need to take advantage of it.

M. Z., Five years in Brazil

This series has been financially supported by Humanity United.


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