The will to survive
HER name is Adar. She is a big woman, sturdily built, with a small, bare face; her nails are stained a reddish- orange rust from henna. The 45- year- old widow speaks softly through an interpreter, never quite making eye contact. She is a Somali refugee, and her journey here has been perilous.
“I came to Malaysia in November 2007 with three of my children. My eldest son is in Kenya,” she says, fingers on her temples. “My husband was killed earlier in 2007. I came here looking for safety.”
Running from a country ripped apart by civil war, she left behind a “happy life” that was “middle- class and normal”.
In Somalia, there was a jewellery store and a big house; the children went to a good school. In Kuala Lumpur, there is a flat barely big enough to house the family. But she had to fight to get this flat, had to fight to fill it with old furniture.
“When I came here, my kids were young. There were many problems: I couldn’t speak the language; I didn’t know how to start a new life in a foreign country; and I didn’t know how to find a job,” she says, clutching her UNHCR file.
As a single mother, she already had to fend for her children by herself. As a refugee, stateless and without the protection of a government, she is even more vulnerable.
Her eyes well with fresh tears as she remembers how hard it was just to survive. Now her children are teenagers – 16, 17, and 19 – attending a school for refugees.
She works as a seamstress, spending her days sewing on an old Singer machine. The UNCHR has given her a livelihood, she says, taking out a certificate for a sewing course from the file.
In Somali fashion, she makes bright, patterned fabrics, and sells them to fellow Somalis and Arabs.
“I make the decisions for my family. It’s not an easy job, shouldering the responsibility, thinking about how to survive.”
But after nine years here, things are different and she’s “happier” because they “fit in more”.
A world away from the life she knew, she’s come out on the other side. She wants to tell other women like her to “be patient, work hard, and be brave”.