Updated: Sep 29
Simba is surprised by her strength and survival despite many things that threatened her life coming to the US. Growing up the economy was good and healthcare affordable. Unusually, there was a clinic nearby, so Simba wasn’t hours away from healthcare. Once called “the breadbasket of Africa,” the area had plenty of food. Women being always less than men was beginning to change.
All the while in Africa, Simba lived in her family home which they had because civil servants like her father were reserved houses. Family support and schooling being country priorities, police intervened and arrested people if family allowed homelessness among their members or anyone was found not in school. All schools accepted people of all backgrounds and charged fees but offered trusts for orphans. Simba was a social worker at 25, doing home visits, teaching how to care for incontinent people with HIV at the end of their lives.
British settlers in the 1800’s claimed fertile land and pushed natives onto undesirable land. In 1980, following a revolutionary war, natives gained independence, forming a peace treaty but without a change in land ownership. In 2002, a reform program redistributed land to everyone to have equal access to land suitable for farming. The government set the program without policies to carry it out. Veterans who fought in the war pressured the government to award them the land, forcibly taking land from families who’d occupied it for 200 years.
Thousands losing farmland moved from the country or lost lives fighting. Then, a strong opposition party formed opposing governmental policies. Hearing farmers being attacked and arrested greatly distressed natives. Surrounded by native farms growing their own food, Simba’s family suffered from the 2002 drought. The US sanctions on imports due to the violence impacted the economy and meant healthcare services and food became expensive and inaccessible. Simba’s family worried they’d die if they became ill, and starvation threatened by food from non-fertile land diminished even more by drought.
Most of Simba’s trip was walking off roads to avoid soldiers, and periodically crossing dangerous rivers. During a month of walking she was detained three times. It took her four months to get to the US. She met few women along the way. Men held her up making her pay them so she could keep walking. She ran out of money. She ran out of food. She ran out of hope. Every step was dangerous. She doesn’t know how she made it alive.
At the border in California, Simba had a phone number for someone she met along the way. It was the only phone number she could give the immigration officers. They let her pass. She committed to go to North Dakota hoping to stay with a woman she’d only met once who had family she’d never met. At least Simba didn’t have a delay waiting for an interpreter because her English was good enough. She could speak and write for herself.
Immigration officers shackled her with an ankle monitoring bracelet, another requirement before continuing her journey. Changing buses three times, it took four days to get to North Dakota. She doesn’t know who paid the bus fares. Alone, exhausted, scared, Simba worried she would get lost. Immigration officers advised if that happened she should see a police officer who would check her “bracelet”! A few days after arriving in North Dakota Simba had to take another bus to Fort Snelling in Minnesota to have her ankle monitoring bracelet removed. Simba doesn’t know who paid her bus fare or gave her $50! It is a mystery.
In North Dakota, Simba stayed with the family she first connected to but it was difficult. Simba knew from the border agents that she needed to apply for asylum within five months but the family never helped her get started. Simba still must report in at Ft. Snelling every six months.
On one trip to Minnesota, she sought medical care for back pain from caring for kids and performing household duties. Simba went to a free clinic where a lady from her home country, also a social worker, said she knew the family and did not think it was a good idea for Simba to go back there. The social worker sent Simba to another local group of Sisters to ask for a place to stay. The Sisters connected Simba to the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and Advocates for Human Rights where she then began the asylum process and treatment for trauma and pain.
After one year she received work permission requiring a move as the Sisters’ rules included a 5:00 p.m. curfew. Simba was referred by CVT to Sarah’s. At Sarah’s, Simba could work evenings. She has her own room and schedule, and can eat her own food. Sarah’s staff give her confidence saying, “You can do it! People on the phone WILL understand your accent!” The staff wouldn’t make phone calls FOR her so she had to keep trying. She is safe and has peace of mind.
Simba continues working and pursuing her health. Such a hardworking, caring woman, she works full-time as a nursing assistant. Even during COVID-19, she continues her job, contributes $500 per month to the CSJs to support Sarah’s, and helps out with chores at home.