32 portraits, photos and stories written in French, translate into English and Maltese by Nadia Mifsud
I used to live in Malta with my husband and my children. We were poor. My life as a woman and as a wife was not an easy one… Since divorce was not an option in Malta, I had no choice but to flee the island with my six children, so I came here to Tunisia, where I met some other Maltese people. The first problem was language, but it didn’t take us long to start understanding Tunisian. I also started cleaning houses. Some of our neighbours were very charitable and helped us in different ways. I brought up my sons on my own. They had to start working at a very early age, at the factory, at the port or as waiters in cafés. I am now working as a concierge, which is a good job as I also get paid accommodation – a flat on the top floor. I am glad that Tunisian women have obtained the right to vote, that is huge progress! I listen to the radio, to people in the streets, but I don’t get it… Why are they asking for independence now? All these protest marches, I just don’t get it… Things were running smoothly here, we had a happy life. Why do they want everything to change? Why do they want another war? … I have just lost a son who was twenty-one, only twenty-one… I’d already lost another son aged only seven… My other sons keep telling me that I should leave Tunisia. I don’t want to. Who will tend my little ones’ grave if we all leave? … I don’t want to leave Tunisia, I can’t leave my little ones. Where would I go, anyway? Two of my sons have opted for France, another one wants to move back to Malta. They all hope to improve their own and their children’s lives. My youngest son is living with me. He will stay with me, whether I remain here or am forced to leave. My family is breaking up, and I have no means of stopping this from happening. Tunisia’s independence is destroying the peace in our home.
The eldest brother
I haven’t seen my family in seven years. I have my ID card number written down on a piece of paper, but I don’t have the card itself so I can’t visit my family back in Chad. I miss them terribly. With my ID card number, I can work but I cannot open a bank account. It’s stressful having to go around carrying cash, hiding the money at home… What if the landlord chucks me out? I came to Malta through Libya. I used to paint houses there, that’s how I learnt that walls could be thick and solid. Things were going quite well, but then war broke out. That’s when they started rejecting us – even if you spoke Arabic, your black skin gave you away, they could see you were not «like them». The Libyans’ attitude towards us changed drastically – they shouted at us in the bus because they didn’t want us sitting next to them, they insulted us in the streets… When I got fired, I thought of going back to Chad, but the road was closed. I could try to make it over the border but I risked getting robbed. You can’t go back home penniless. I was also risking jail. I don’t know how to go about getting my papers. When I ask the people in administration and in NGOs, they simply tell me to keep waiting… I miss my family. When I got to Malta, I had no identification documents, I was coming from a country that was not considered as having any major problems. I spent 18 months waiting in a detention centre before I was transferred to an open centre. In the open centre, you get €97 per month, besides the food and a roof over your head. Four times a week you have to sign a register. You may find an odd job every now and then; the following month, you have to pay for all the services of the open centre regardless of how little or how much money you have earned. Together with a friend from Chad, we decided to take the risk and found a flat to rent. We both have a regular job. It’s the start of a new life. I have also learnt Maltese. One of the official languages in Tchad is French. My brother is currently learning it, thanks to the money I send him. I wasn’t as lucky but I will learn French too so that I can have a better status once I go back home.