Once in a while, when new arrivals have come to the island, we’ll get a call from the Hotspot asking us to transfer some of them from the Hotspot to private accommodations within town. This is usually something reserved for women, children, and vulnerable people. In an effort to keep them safe, when they arrive on the island, they register at the Hotspot, but then they are moved to other buildings in town. One large building, in particular, is where most of the women and children stay.
Since I’m usually teaching, I rarely have to make any of these sporadic drives to transfer people, but last week I was asked to go and pickup a group of women who had just arrived from Congo. There were a couple of things that struck me about this unique situation I found myself in. As I brought the van around to the Hotspot and parked it on the side of the road, a police officer actually greeted me and treated me kindly for the first time that I can remember. It must be because he knew I was doing him a favor. The other thing that was curious, was when I stepped out of the van and opened the trunk to prepare for any extra luggage, the women came out of the Hotspot speaking French and a surprising amount of my high school French instantly came back to me. Enough so, in fact, that I had to alert them rather quickly that I didn’t understand much French, as they started to speak very quickly and elaborately to me. I helped them with some of their possessions. There were 6 of them in total, 5 women and one young girl. I was alarmed at how heavy each of their packs were. One in particular didn’t make any sense to me at all. How could one individual carry something as heavy as this!?
Unlike with many of the female refugees from the Middle East, these Congolese women were chatter boxes the entire drive from the Hotspot back into Lakki. I’m not sure what they were talking about, obviously, but I felt like I could pick up some hints of relief in their voices. I could only imagine that their journeys must have been long given the location of their country in Africa. As I drove, I hoped they knew that they were just being briefly moved to new housing. Sometimes the communication is poor, and I didn’t want them thinking they were in for a long ride in this van with me.
As we pulled up to their new housing, I helped them out of the van and up the steps of the building. I took one of the bags and slung it over my shoulder and took a second bag in my hands. As we moved up the steps and into the building, we had to stop as the woman in charge sorted which women were suppose to go where. After just ten seconds, the weight of the bag on my shoulder was so painful that I had to put the second strap over my second shoulder. The employees of the building kept asking me if any of the women were pregnant. I just kept shrugging. I hadn’t been given that information and I wasn’t about to start asking complete strangers if they were pregnant or not.
When everyone was sorted, I escorted the one woman we found out was pregnant down a long hall and into a large concrete room with multiple bunk beds. I dropped the bag down on the bed for her, both my shoulders now in excruciating pain. I bid her farewell and exited the room and building, heading back to the Hub to resume my usual daily duties. The literal weight of that backpack stayed on my mind for the next few minutes. That small, pregnant woman from Congo was resilient and strong and courageous and a whole bunch of other adjectives I wish I could outwardly see more of in myself. Another friendly reminder that refugees come from all different walks of life and are all different types of people.