Mamadou was hungry. He had a strong headache and wished he could have a cup of tea and a bowl of rice, but there wasn’t any. They always ran out of food before the end of the ration period. Last night Mamadou had given his dinner to Howa, because he’d noticed how her baby started crying more frequently in the last couple of days before a food delivery and suspected that Howa wasn’t always able to make enough breast milk.
Saidou had snuck off early that morning to try to get some work in the nearest town. Howa and Mamadou worried about him doing this – sometimes refugees were attacked when they left the camp because some of the locals resented them for taking jobs that they might otherwise have been given – but when the food ran out Howa and Mamadou lost the strength to worry. Saidou would always bring back food.
Normally (when he wasn’t too hungry) Mamadou would try to be useful – groups of men would gather together and go looking for suitable jobs, like helping build shelters and sometimes Mamadou would go to the camp school to help teach the kids. But today Mamadou’s hunger and headache meant he wasn’t up to much at all.
To take his mind of his headache and empty stomach, Mamadou decided to take a walk around the camp. He could see some cars coming in the front gate and wandered over to see if the people in them had any news. A crowd quickly gathered around. They were trying to keep a respectable distance from the visitors and the aid workers who were meeting them, but were finding it hard.
Mamadou watched for a while but nothing exciting seemed to be happening and he couldn’t hear what the visitors were saying over everyone else’s chatter. He had just set off to see what was going on at the camp school when he thought he heard someone yelling out his name. He turned around. One of the aid workers and one of the visitors were making their way through the crowd, waving their arms above their heads and yelling out his name.
Mamadou approached and the visitor, speaking English, asked Mamadou if he spoke English. Mamadou responded that he did. The visitor said “Good! This is for you” and handed Mamadou an envelope. The visitor was then mobbed by other people, who hoped he would also give them an envelope so Mamadou retreated, holding his envelope close to his body.
Mamadou walked back to the one room shelter that he, Howa and Saidou shared. Nobody was there. Mamadou could hear lots of voices next door and thought that Howa was probably helping the neighbours with their cooking (since she didn’t have any food to cook that day). Mamadou hoped that someone they knew would have enough food to share with them that night. People tried to make sure nobody went hungry but sometimes they all ran out of food at the same time.
Mamadou sat down on the floor, opened the envelope and took out the letter inside it. It was written in English. Mamadou had suspected it would be. He could speak English, but he could scarcely read it! “Maybe when my headache goes away I will be able to” thought Mamadou. He got up and went to see if he could find Howa.