Refugee – Ganno & Maliha

Ganno and Maliha are two young women from Ethiopia. They are inseparable at the Cowley Club. They both live in Brighton, Ganno with her father and brother, Maliha on her own. They both wear thick coats, even though it is warm in here, and headscarves cover their hair.

For us Brighton means freedom. Here we can speak – we can say exactly what we want.
Brighton is good! We like the beach. You can see it from Maliha’s house. We both love walking on the beach. Now, it’s winter and it’s cold. It’s never cold like this in Ethiopia or Nairobi. We’ve bought thick coats, gloves and hats. The Red Cross has helped us by giving us clothes. The clothes are OK, sort of.

Language is a problem for us both. Learning is difficult. In Kenya we both learnt Swahili very fast just by listening and talking to the people we met. Here it’s hard to practice. English people don’t talk to you openly; they don’t seem to talk to others easily.

My town was near Addis Ababa – my father is from the Oromo tribe and that was the reason we had to leave. I left with my father and my older brother and went to Kenya where life was safer. After a year, my mother and my two younger brothers left Ethiopia and came to join us. All went well for a while, but then Mum and Dad fell out and Mum went back to Ethiopia.

My father is a photographer. He had a photographic studio in both countries, first in Ethiopia, then in Nairobi in Kenya. He specialised in portraits. Here in Brighton he doesn’t work as a photographer; he is trying hard to learn English first. He is also doing a voluntary job while he is learning.

In Kenya, I was a designer and a hairdresser. I designed textiles for use in the home, things like covers for pillows and cushions. I can’t work here as a hairdresser. In our culture, women cannot be uncovered in public. In Brighton there are hairdressers that have both men and women as staff and as clients. For us, that is impossible – a man being a hairdresser for a woman is not right for us, because of our religion. I’d like to study design, but I’d also like to study nursing. When I have learned English, I will study.

My best friend here is Maliha. She is also Ethiopian. We met in Kenya at a mosque in Nairobi. We were the only ones there speaking Oromo and we heard each other straight away. It was so good to find someone who spoke the same language!

I went to the United Nations and like Maliha was allocated the UK as my destination. We came to England together, travelling on a plane. It was the first lime I had flown and we laughed a lotl When we arrived, we stayed in a hostel in London for three days before coming here to Brighton.

My father was a businessman. In 1991, when I was only seven years old, soldiers arrested him. He was from the Oromo tribe and the Ororno are not the tribe of the government.

I was arrested in 2003, when I was at school, just because of my tribe. I have five brothers and sisters and I was arrested because I am the eldest. They tortured me. Then. in prison, I was sick for a long time with kidney problems. When I was released they warned me. They said, ‘If we find you at home you’ll be imprisoned again. If not, we’ll take your mother’. I had to sign something. I didn’t understand.
When they came for me, I was away at a friend’s house, so they took my mother. I don’t know who is looking after my brothers and sisters now. My mother is still in Ethiopia.

In 2005 I went on my own by bus to Kenya. I was very scared – scared to stay, scared to go. There I met another mum. She was a Somali woman called Nadifa. She lived in Nairobi with her six children. I heard her voice in the street; she spoke exactly like me and I went up to her and just started talking. She took me in as one of her family.

Nadifa and her children were sent to America by the U.N. She rings me up still and that’s lovely. I also went to the U.N. I told them my story and they sent me to the UK. I’ve been here for six months now. I’m happy where I live; it is very nice .

Now I am studying. I also do a voluntary job – selling books, clothes and furniture. I’d love to be a nurse; it’s what I would have done if I’d stayed in Ethiopia.

I was scared at first of living on my own but now I’m fine. I have a boyfriend in Kenya. He is also Ethiopian. He writes to me here and he hopes to come to England too . I hope he does.