Almaze: A Mother’s Story

Almaze sings softly to her daughter, cradling the child close to her bony chest. Still, her baby screams in protest.

Almaze cannot produce enough milk to feed her daughter, whose sharp cries mirror Almaze’s gnawing hunger. The camp is overflowing with refugees – thousands of them – with more coming every day.

Almaze arrived in Sudan with her four children. Before the conflict broke out in the Tigray region, she and her husband had a quiet, idyllic life, working their land. However, everything changed in early November when armed men arrived and dragged her husband from their home. She and the children fled into the cornfields.

When the screams died, she and the children waited until nightfall to be sure that the soldiers had moved on. Almaze found her husband’s corpse and stayed beside him for seven days. She and the children kept watching over his body. She was afraid to leave it, unprotected from predators.

Finally, some neighbors shook her out of her stupor: “Woman, get up, get up! You and the children must leave – now!”

With her neighbors’ help, she gathered thorny tree branches and corn leaves to cover her husband’s body. At night, amid the sounds of strangers whispering, her mind drifted back to her husband’s lifeless body.

She shares a tent with 10 other families, many like hers, mothers without husbands. Their men are either lost or dead. Many fled to the border of Sudan and Ethiopia, not knowing whether they would ever see one another again.

Almaze covers her nose with the back of her hand. Sometimes, the stench of unwashed bodies drifts through. There is a shortage of drinking water and washing facilities in the camp. The women lack privacy and can’t always find safe spaces to change their clothes if they have a change of clothes. She, like, many refugees, had no time to pack any belongings. There is a real need in the camps for clothes, shoes, and blankets.

When Almaze and her children arrived at the refugee camp, they were given some food and water. They had been walking for nine days without food. Now, the refugee agencies need to bring more food and drinking water. They may come tomorrow or next week; no one knows for sure. Almaze tries to remain hopeful, but she fears for her children. Her baby cries nonstop – and her older children? Their hands are so thin now.