Most walls in the slum of Kombo are made of dried mud. These constructions are often damaged during the wet season, but they are cheap to make and keep the house cooler than corrugated iron. Most of these walls are very rough, but Lampo’s house seemed to have a slightly smoother surface, so I thought I’d give it a go. I asked him for a word and he thought for a while before giving me the word “bani” (=health in Zerma). Health is a huge issue for the population of Kombo especially due to do the high risk of malaria, as well as many other diseases caused by poor hygiene and the consumption of non-drinkable water. Everyday we meet kids who have malaria, and adults who are sick. Lampo and his son Moussa told me that health is the first issue that the community has to address, and development will follow.
Moussa, 25 years old, chose the word “Union” to stress how important it is for different ethnic groups to come together as one. He’s originally from Burkina Faso, his family having left to find work in Niger in the early 90s. But whether people are Zerma, Hausa, Tuarag, or from foreign ethnic groups, the most important thing is to work together.
“In my religion, “jihad” means a struggle to be a better person or a better society. In this particular case, I’m referring to the struggle we are facing to keep our neighbourhood of Kombo. There are plans of destroying our community in order to build hotels on the banks of the river. We will probably have to move to the outskirts of the city, and all be separated and will have to change the way we live. We have been fishing and growing vegetables by the river for generations and my jihad is to do everything I can to keep our neighbourhood still standing.” Karim – 16 years old
“I’ve always fought for Freedom (AZADI in Kurmanji). During the arab spring I was demonstrating in Damascus for a free Syria. Things got ugly at one point as the Syrian army started firing machines guns around my neighbourhhod. I was on my roof with my daughters and I told them to get down. They were crying but I had to keep a straight face. One day my neighbour, who worked for Bashar Al Assad’s army, came up to me and said that I need to leave straight away because the army wanted to capture me because I was a freedom activist. I called my wife and took my 3 kids and some money, and we left Damascus by bus. Along the way, the police stopped the bus and checked our ID. My kids were all crying and I kept my cool. Somehow, the police checked my ID and let me go. We went to Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria. But then trouble started in Rojava, bombs started to rain over us, and we had to leave the country and come here to Iraq. I don’t regret anything, freedom is more important than anything.” – Redwan, 41 years old.
Fars chose the word “Qamişlo”. It’s the Kurdish name of his city, the capital of Syrian Kurdistan. Qamişlo was founded in the 1920s by Assyrians and Kurds who fled the Ottoman Empire during the Assyrian genocide. Today, a century after the foundation of the city, a large part of its population is now living as refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan in camps like this one, creating new refugee settlements as history repeats itself. However, Fars and his family are still hoping of returning to their land once the war is over.
ASTI (the word for “Peace” in Kurmanji) was chosen by Shidan. She is the mother of 9 year old twins Lava and Hossein. They used to live in Damascus where Shidan’s husband Kaniwar worked as a baker. Here in Kawergosk Refugee Camp, Kaniwar still works as a baker in a small shop on the main street. He has no hope of going back to Syria, he wants to carry on baking cakes somewhere in peace.
“I love Damascus, but we had to leave when the civil war started in Syria. We went to Dayrik in Syrian Kurdistan for a year, but then had to leave Dayrik too and come here to the refugee camp in Iraq. It’s not been easy but we’ve stuck together as a family and our love for eachother is what has helped us. No matter what we’ve been through, we’re a happy family. So I want you to paint the word “LOVE” on my house.” – Yafa, hairdresser and mother of 4.