Kyeli, Blue Nile State, Sudan – “Soon after we married, my husband was killed during the war, ” says Hawa Abdul-Gadr. Hawa’s eyes are repositories of a grief suppressed, part-masked by a poised resolve that surely comes from getting on with things, in what is a tough place to live. Still, hers is a perceptible sadness – long-kept under wraps but maybe closer to the surface than she would care to admit. Chopping her left hand down from her right cheek, as if swatting away an invisible spectre, Hawa declares “I am happy now here, we have peace and I hope it stays.” She spent eleven years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The border is just fifty miles away from this village in southern Blue Nile state, but for those long years, home here in Kyeli seemed like a distant dream. “I came back in 2006, after the word spread about peace in the camps.”
FREETOWN – “The police stop us all the time. Sometimes they try to take money from us, sometimes they threaten to arrest us. But the usual trick is to check our handbags. They plant some drugs, then tell us to come with them to the station. The only way to get out is have sex with the policeman, otherwise we go to jail.” Just 20 years old, Maryama* has lived on the ramshackle streets of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, for eight years. Her father died when she was 10 – possibly from HIV-AIDS, although nobody knows for sure – leaving her mother unable to bring up their three children. This was at the height of Sierra Leone’s civil war, infamous for anti-government rebels who hacked off arms and hands to deter civilians from voting in elections.