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MY NAME IS AISHA: A COLLECTION OF STORIES FROM INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

How it all started…

It started off as a typical day in Gwoza, located in a Local Government Area of Borno State, in North-East Nigeria. The rocky and hilly terrain, providing beautiful scenery. My parents were at home, and my siblings were playing outside as usual. I was washing my clothes inside the house when I started hearing gunshots. I called out to everyone, and we tried to see what was going on. That was when we noticed men moving into our village in large groups. At first, we thought they were soldiers who had come to protect us because they came in trucks, but later, we realised that the gunfire was coming from BokoHaram militants who were engaging soldiers in battle. Everyone was running, and we knew it was no longer safe to stay in the house. So, I left with my siblings and parents; we ran to the hills and stayed there hoping that the militants will retreat, but they did not – they had taken over our town. They killed our men, destroyed our property, farmlands and went away with valuable items. Living in the mountains, we ran out of food and water and survived by eating dry Guinea corn and Millet. It was not long before we realised that we would not survive much longer if we continued to stay, so we decided to leave the village. We had heard of people being killed as they tried to flee town, but we were left with no other choice.

We left in the rain carrying only some of our belongings and followed a path that had some people on it. We dressed my brothers in female clothing and covered their heads because if they were identified as men, they would have been killed. We helped to disguise many other men, but some of them were discovered and killed – my brothers were able to escape. We were stopped twice along the way by militants; they collected our identity cards, phones and the little money we had and were allowed to continue our journey. At some point, they started chasing us, and we ran for our lives.

Many men were killed, and some died of hunger while hiding from the militants.  Young girls and women were taken away.

Finally, we got out of the village trekking by foot from Gwoza to Madagali, a local government area about 15 miles away in Adamawa State; we were tired, thirsty, hungry and dirty. Our feet were swollen and pierced by thorns. We stayed there for two days and did not have money to continue our journey. Later, a bus was sent, and we were brought to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camp in Area 1, Abuja. The story is not very different for many of us. My family and I have been displaced since 2014.

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