Despite the panic of running for her life, Aisha gave everything for a little boy.
“We didn’t know in which direction to run”, Aisha recalls as she left with her children and neighbours. What she also didn’t know was that this decision would leave her with tragic and fond memories at the same time.
Let us start with the beginning. Aisha Umar lived in Baga in Kukawa Local Government Area, Borno State, with her husband and three children. Both parents were working, with Aisha earning a bit of money with a grinding mill. Life was cheap in this rural community as “we produced most of the food ourselves”, Aisha recalls.
When the insurgency reached her area, they fled into the bushes. As they were trying to find their way to safety, they saw dead bodies and injured people everywhere. “After running and running, we got thirsty and hungry”, Aisha says. “A lactating woman, my friend, could not help but drink stagnant water”.
The water affected the mother and she died while they were fleeing. “We didn’t know what to do”, says Aisha. Afraid of the armed groups chasing them, she did not dare to stay long enough to bury her friend. “While I was crying, we covered the corpse. Then I took the baby and continued running.”
As the child started crying for hunger, Aisha had nothing to offer him. “So I started breastfeeding him because I felt pity with him.” Still, it was “not normal” to give the breast to someone else’s child. “Somehow”, Aisha says, “it felt I was breastfeeding my baby, and, at the same time, someone else’s.”
After surviving several days in the bushes, they reached Monguno. The baby boy’s father was already waiting for news about his family. “I had to explain to him that his wife died”, says Aisha. “The man fell down and started crying.” This is how Adamu, the baby, was returned to his father. Since then, he stayed with the larger family.
In Monguno, Aisha reunited with her husband and he took her to the Borno State capital Maiduguri where she lives now with some 17,000 other internally displaced Nigerians, mainly women and children, in Stadium IDP Camp. Her oldest daughter is five years now, and the youngest three months.
Like many, Aisha lives in a UNHCR-provided shelter. It has recently been damaged by termites and the rain, but thanks to a kit provided by UNHCR, she was able to repair it. Here, she is earning a bit of money by knitting the local caps – a skill she learned in the camp – and by selling spices, beans, pottage, and dried fish occasionally.
“I dream that peace returns and we can go home one day”, she says, “then I want to keep selling food and have a grinding machine again.”
In the future and now, she carries the baby in her heart, the baby that would not have survived the displacement in 2017 without her.
It’s not a baby anymore. Adamu is four years old now and has recently visited Aisha with his grandmother. When they were approaching Aisha’s shelter, the grandma told Adamu: “That’s your mother.” The boy came running and gave Aisha a big hug, she recalls. “Why are you not coming to live with us?”, he asked. “I am not your mother”, Aisha replied, but Adamu was already aware: “Grandma explained this to me already.” The encounter had a deep impact on Aisha: “I felt very sad when Adamu left.”
However, knowing of the boy’s gratitude and love soon made her smile again. Without her brave action and her care, Adamu would not be with his father and grandmother today.