Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville


A study of adjustment of a Sudanese female refugee in Charlottesville, Virginia Life in a conflict zone can be extremely hard. Since fighting broke out between rebel groups and government-backed militias in the Darfur region of western Sudan in 2003, an estimated 200,000 people had been killed or have died of starvation or disease within a period of one year (National Geographic Society, 2004). Atrocities attributed to the militias, known as the Janjaweed, include the burning and looting of villages, and large-scale killings, torture, and rape. The violence had forced more than 2.2 million people to flee their homes (National Geographic Society, 2004). Though many international agencies (i.e., UN, UNICEF etc.) work for catering to the basic needs of the refugees in conflict zones, the people go through many hardships and uncertainties. When a refugee family shifts from a conflict zone to a developed country, the life adjustments can be very difficult. Refugees may suffer acculturative stress (Poppitt and Frey, 2007; Milner and Khawaja, 2010). Culturally specific sequelae in terms of social isolation and acculturation may be particularly problematic for these migrants (Schweitzer, Melville, Steel, & Lacherez, 2006). Acculturation-stress has been well studied quantitatively. However, there are not enough qualitative studies that explain adjustment of Sudanese refugees in the US. I was interested in investigating the central phenomenon of adjustment. The purpose of this study was to understand the adjustment of a Sudanese female refugee in Charlottesville, Virginia. This study explored the question – how Kadija, a Sudanese female refugee, finds adjustments in a small city of America, Charlottesville. Kadija is from one of the poorest countries of the world. Ethnically she is African; and she practices Islam. On the other hand, Charlottesville, which is in the wealthiest country of the world, is dominated by white European-Americans (73%), who mainly follow Christianity. Clearly, subject of this study, Kadija, is very different than the people of dominant culture in Charlottesville.

© Kathan Shukla, 2012

She vividly narrated – “We used to take donkey with us and go far… far away. “Getting the fire-woods was also part of my job”. And secondly. she began helping her father with farming and other field work. The concept of „formal schooling‟ was unheard of in her village. Her personal story can shed light on many important aspects of adjustment. Then after. This study attempted to understand how Kadija has balanced both components of adjustment – how has she changed her way of living and how she has modified her living environment in Charlottesville to suit to her traditional-life. which is bordering Chad. 2012 . Kadija‟s life in Sudan In a small village in Darfur.” Kadija‟s family is big. Bauda. an individual may find adjustment with the environment by adapting to the way of living of the dominant culture. an individual may influence the environment and make changes in it to make it compatible with his/her way of living. goats and a donkey. But if we count all of her half siblings.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 2 It was considered that the central phenomenon of the study. I have studied the challenges she currently faces to adjust with the dominant culture of Charlottesville. giving up old traditional ways of daily rituals and routines. People who didn‟t have donkey were unable to collect so many fire-woods. she recollected. Kadija grew up living a life of preindustrialization era. there was a © Kathan Shukla. may have two main components to it. This process can be more challenging when an individual arrives in a completely new environment. In addition. There was no question of learning to read or write as their language Masalit does not have a written script. to collect fire-woods. sometimes for 2-3 hours. I believe every individual attempts to find some sort of balance between these two components to establish adjustment with the environment. but we could do so. Her parents have five children. adjustment. Firstly. At home. cows. Kadija‟s duty in her family was to take care of their animals – mainly. she helped mother with taking care of her younger siblings and cooking. Kadija have thirteen siblings in total. Up till age of 10-12. We would tie wood on donkey‟s back. two sons and three daughters. When Kadija was child.

None of her family members were killed. goods and cattle were very common in Kadija‟s village and in Darfur in-general. on the other hand. there were only four people in house – Kadija. Her husband used to earn just about enough money to eat meals two times a day and pay rents. However. went to Egypt to live with her husband. killing and theft of money. Egypt. We had to run away. Kadija. expressed Kadija. there were many other Sudanese. However. Migration to Egypt Incidents of robbing. Kadija‟s husband got driving job in Cairo. it would happen for a few days or months and then stop… Then again fight. Kadija stayed in Sudan. But. It was father‟s decision that Kadija should stay in her maternal home until her brother brings wife home. Also. 2012 . but manageable. “We did not have any big problems”. cooked meal and did usual household things. © Kathan Shukla. “We knew a lot of people there”. We lost contact with many of people. Life in Egypt was different. Kadija recollected. Chad and Kenya with their families. by the time Kadija turned twenty and got married. which facilitated their social interaction. They both spoke Arabic. Therefore. a brother and her father. Kadija mostly stayed at home. when I was 23. Kadija recalled – “we always heard about fighting between Arabs and tribes. which helped them have deeper social ties in Egypt. and then stop… But the war really began in 2003. the crescendo of violent incidents exploded and everyone had to abscond from their villages. in 2003. and all of her other siblings had migrated to different places across Sudan. They often heard stories of conflicts between local tribes and the Arabs. who had come to take her with him. Mother had died because of unknown disease.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 3 time when all were living together. because they needed someone to do household tasks. a younger sister. but she heard about killing of some of her cousins and family members of her friends. Some were killed and some are still missing”. Kadija‟s family members ended up in a refugee camp in Chad.

I knew many people around selecting America over other countries like Australia and Canada for migration. we did not tell any preference. and if they knew anyone in US. Perhaps this ignorance about the US was helpful in a sense that they were prepared for whatever was supposed to come in their way. So. Kadija‟s husband had contact information of one of his Sudanese excoworkers in Egypt. Initial adjustments in US Kadija and her husband arrived in US in late 2005. so we also applied. When asked about the reason for applying to the UN. people around her were more or less like her with respect to being informed about places they were applying for migration. UN then transferred their charge to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Kadija said – “everyone around from Darfur were applying to UN.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 4 In 2005. It is clear – Kadija knew too little about America or any other country for migration to have opinion of her own. I received a very interesting answer – “some people say if you pick place. 2012 . The couple was asked where they wanted to go in US. so some people were concerned about us”. Perception of US before arrival When I tossed up the question about their selection of US for migration. go to America‟. he said „I‟ll go to any place you send me‟. they not gonna pick you and you stay. In addition. So. „ok. When they asked my husband. Kadija and her husband applied to the United Nations (UN) for migration. I also heard about America fighting war with Iraq just before coming to here. They hardly had any positive or negative bias. IRC brought them to © Kathan Shukla. I had heard that America is a country and democracy. we came to America…” Kadija further added –“Before coming here. Then they said. but didn‟t know anything else. Virginia. and who was now working in Charlottesville. My husband said we can have better life”.

But surprisingly. But within a few months.responded Kadija regarding language issue. there was no bus on Sunday. language barrier was not a big issue for them. as she mentioned . at her work place she felt isolated and less respected especially by a couple of © Kathan Shukla. I didn‟t understand anything. However. African Americans. and especially in Charlottesville. European Americans. They helped us a lot”. I had to ask Kadija about her first impression of the people in US. In those days. Finding their first job was not difficult for Kadija and her husband. However.“I and my husband worked all seven days. so IRC-people bought me some clothes as well.. Even the blacks here are very different. transportation was a problem for Kadija. I had never seen White. driving and house-keeping) did not require much interaction with people. provided initial accommodation and assisted with finding the first job. except their color and looks. Hispanic and Asian Americans) are very similar in their behavior and manner so they are not different from each other. Their job (i. Most of the times. “They said they can provide food and apartment for two months and we need to start working and find our own apartment before that”.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 5 Charlottesville. If they had some questions.. we are very different than them…” She thought people were very nice to her as she said – “They all smiled and said „hi‟”. She further said –“I had lost my suitcase while travelling. She responded –“Very big difference… We found them very-very different. they all (i. they would ask other Sudanese in town. In addition. and I got my first job in about fifteen days at a hotel as a house keeper”. 2012 . so I had to find people to ride me to my job. “My husband got driving license and started working within a week. She recollected. IRC provided food and gave $75 to each individual. Kadija clarified. In fact. “In early days. Hispanic or Asian people before.e. other Sudanese workers gave me ride”.e. But. Kadija and her husband did not know English in these initial days. I started understanding their words and meanings” .

© Kathan Shukla. “I think because I did not know many things.” Adjustments at present At present. She had always practiced Islam religiously. She has learnt English quite well. She understands and speaks it clearly. Kadija wore a head-scarf. She does not remember any issues with the transportation in last couple of years. Kadija did not mind wearing her job-uniform. where Kadija is from. However. I was comfortable with everyone” – said Kadija. At present she can read and write.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 6 African American house-keepers.“I felt it was just too cold. and with help of IRC. Kadija recalled . She said –“I can go to all places that the bus goes to”. She has good relationship with almost all of her coworkers and students. But.Kadija justified. too. She does not drive. they treated me like that. For her. 2012 . “It was part of job. covering her hair is part of the religion and she continued practicing her belief. You have to do everything and go to work and earn. I realized that she is often under fear of her supervisor‟s scold. she does not seem very happy with her supervisor. Pray god to give you strength. Adjustment with the weather was challenging. Kadija has been in Charlottesville for more than six years now. While observing her at her work place. as time went by. I would wear sweater and a jacket and still feel cold”. adjustment with climate change was not a big issue for Kadija. Though the clothing-style was foreign to her. but you cannot complain. Kadija spends eight hours at work and the rest of the time at home on weekdays. You don‟t wanna say no…”. However. she is taking classes to improve her language-skills. she had no reservations wearing t-shirt & pants. However. Climate in Darfur. Kadija has a housekeeping job at an educational institution. like an average American. being a woman of Islamic faith. but knows all her bus routes very well. is arid and desertic and temperature goes beyond 117ºF in summers. She said –“You feel cold.

rather. a couple of times she had different people visiting her just to © Kathan Shukla. Nonetheless. she said – “you are young. I remembered some work. One student said – “She‟s a very patient listener and a very gentle… and kind lady”. 2012 . including all students in her building. It is important to note that this is not just one time observation. If you like it. Also. Though she does not seem to have any close friendship with other housekeepers. I don‟t drive and… [I] find such food expensive. Kadija has developed quite many friends of other races as well. At one point. I will bring next time as well”. I don‟t want to give her any chance for complaining about my work”. Other staff members. She suddenly started walking. Kadija gets along well with other staff members as well. She also avoids getting being spotted idol by her supervisor. During her lunch time. every time I observed her at her work place. During one of the interview sessions. she hardly talks to anyone unless it is required. She explained –“Different people have different break-times. she saw her supervisor entering in the building. When I appreciated her kindness. which I had to finish”. I don‟t want to hear her saying anything to me. She greets to whosoever she meets. and said – “Sorry. she seemed under some stress when her supervisor was around. Many of the students know her by name and like having a quick chat with her. Kadija brought a rice-pudding kind of item that they drink in Sudan for me. When her supervisor is present. Kadija is usually alone and sits at a table outside her work-building. During my observations. you should drink more. She reappeared after 15-20 minutes. she becomes very conscious and focusses hard on her job tasks. while we were talking in the corridor. She further added – “Some people simply think they know everything and the others know nothing”. Clearly. she talks with all of them cordially. She defended her behavior saying –“She (her supervisor) is very disrespectful lady. Kadija seems to be sharing positive relationships.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 7 Whenever the supervisor is around. in return. without saying anything to me. many people go and buy food from outside. Kadija is not comfortable with her supervisor. I bring something from home and eat it here”. with everyone except her supervisor. In addition. So. talk with her as and when required.

They know about 8-10 Sudanese families in Charlottesville and all families share close ties with one another. they do theirs. drinking is forbidden in Islam. Rahim. If not working. almost all Sudanese in Charlottesville are Muslims. Kadija has not seen her maternal family. This has given her family a cushion for religious belonging and they occasionally have small religious gatherings. hence it is completely out of question. © Kathan Shukla. Since arrival in US. It is good”. Kadija is now a mother of a two year old boy named. She prays (Namaz) five different times a day. Her time at home flies by doing all household tasks like – cooking. I will find people ready to help me” – she declared confidently. Whenever they get together with other Sudanese families the meal is usually at the host family‟s home. Furthermore. explained Kadija. They say it will be done in a few months. She does not find any issues with interacting people of different religion. However. They do not have any telephone where they are living. In addition. only to hear a couple of lines from Kadija and her husband. 2012 . Their concept of going out means „getting together with other Sudanese family and having a meal‟. So. we may have [immigration] problem”. Kadija misses her father and siblings a lot and remains concerned about their wellbeing. every single day. Kadija used to visit mosque very frequently before having a child. “Whenever I need help. In spite of a settled life and good family-like ties with other Sudanese families.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 8 greet her and to have friendly chats. If we visit my people early. Movies or restaurants are not part of their lives yet. Kadija spends all of her time at home with family. because child may make noise and disturb others while praying. talking to her father and siblings in a refugee camp in Chad is a big issue. Kadija now offers prayers from her home only. In addition. She and husband take the baby to the nearby garden generally twice in a month. and taking care of her baby and husband. they have to walk a couple of miles to reach at the telephone center. cleaning and maintaining things organized. She mentioned –“You do your thing. “We still are waiting for citizenship documents. Then they dial call.

2012 . We do what he says… The doctor says my child is growing very healthy”.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 9 Kadija said . but I am fine. This apparent contradiction regarding attitude toward doctors can be explained by her love for her child. I take my baby to nearby garden and we play”. A gentle smile appeared on her face as she talked about her child . presently Kadija‟s life-center is her child.“All my day goes around him. She responded – “I don‟t like doctors. she is habituated to handle personal health on her own. However. They cannot pay so much money. And Kadija is going through it for about seven years now. In two days this will go away on its own”. she was still coughing a bit. she is not prepared to take chances when it comes to her child‟s health. During one observation.“It is very expensive for them. I cannot talk more”. If my husband is working on weekends. So. She replied –“We have a doctor for him. When asked about her wish for her child. She said –“It took a bit longer this time. Hopes for the future Like any mother. he is with me. Because of poor health care facilities and possible unpleasant previous encounters with doctors in Sudan. “They have to pay whether they call or I call…” Such technical and infrastructural difficulties can be truly frustrating for anyone wanting to stay connected with loved ones. “What if you call them back?” – I inquired. My husband is usually busy with his job and may not find enough time to play with Rahim. So. [for] most of the time. They don‟t know anything and keep giving medicines. When I met her after three days.” I was curious to know what she would do if her child is having sickness. Kadija said: © Kathan Shukla. I asked her if she had taken some medicines and had seen a doctor. I noticed that Kadija was coughing and was not feeling well.

But. I have never heard any complaints from her. maintain some distance. I live. to catch up with the current times and live a successful life. she definitely wants her child. She does not see herself driving a car at any point of time in future. For example. She is still not completely there. I want him to become a good man and kind person…” Kadija is in contact with IRC and knows that her child will begin schooling from 2013. unless being asked to clean it. But. Rahim. In short. so I may not teach his school work. how to talk and so they feel respected. People will be free and feel they‟re human beings [someday]. Even when she talked about her current supervisor‟s mean behavior. Right now. I should modify my behavior to avoid confrontation‟. work and raise my child here… People there should have good life. we didn‟t have schools. In my village. Finally. People teach . he only speaks „no and oh no‟ in English…” – said Kadija with a laugh. her tone was „given how she is. “I have hope for my country. However. and to serve and be kind. One of the biggest strengths of Kadija for adjustment is that she does not judge or criticize any life circumstances. This is not good… I feel this [US] is my country. I will make sure he studies and finishes all homework… I will teach him to respect elders and to take care of young ones. Kadija‟s transformation to modern era happened in a few years. but we learn at home how to greet people when they come to our home. Sometimes.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 10 “I want him to have a good life. Listen to what they say carefully and learn from them. All my people are in Chad. She wants pre-school to teach her child good English. Kenya and other places. I don‟t feel it is my country. personally she has not yet reached the technological era. I didn‟t go to school. “Right now. 2012 . she is able to use phone only to dial or to receive a call. give them respect and keep your sight lower. Kadija wishes wellbeing of her home country and her people. I feel that her comfort zone does not have any specific boundaries. I don‟t wanna do the work I do. © Kathan Shukla. I want him to have a good job that good people have. Don‟t stand too close.don‟t look into the eyes of older people. She has never touched a computer.” Discussion It took more than two hundred years for the Americans to reach current modern age from preindustrialization era. Everyone has left their houses.

“It is ok… I am fine” – she responded. we decided to walk outside her work-building to chat for a while. They have seen much difficult time than the worst possible scenarios in the US or any other developed countries and this enabled them to go to any place in search of a better life. This also explains the couple‟s decision to migrate from Egypt to any of the developed nation. But.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 11 especially for physical and material comforts. This incident epitomizes her tolerance to physical or material adversary situation. One of the biggest factors contributing to Kadija‟s successful social adjustment is the presence of other Sudanese families in Charlottesville. she does not recollect any major incident when she had to go through any negative experience because of her Islamic identity. It is possible that because she has seen a lot of hardships and experienced much intense pain first hand. She has done slight modifications in the prayer times. I could see she was uncomfortable. Outside. It is also noteworthy so mention that she was never really required changing her routine practices in US. so I asked her if we should go inside. personal health and so on. and couple of days she brought nothing to eat. Her Sudanese identity is not very visible. her work place looks a bit more diverse. because of her job. Though they are in a small number. I think to some degree Kadija and her husband have lost the fear of uncertainties and loss of material. 2012 . Kadija has not changed much in her religious practices. but her Muslim identity definitely is. During an observation. she would tolerate it. as she wears a head-scarf. She eats very little for the lunch – couple of fruits and a coffee or some Sudanese milk-item. because of her presence. it was cold. In fact. weather or food or any other physical/material needs does not bother her much. Even when she is uncomfortable. water. They may well be very sure: „nothing worst will happen in a developed country than what we have seen in Sudan‟. The same can be said about her other basic needs like food. Islam is part of her identity and she is a very devoted Muslim. However. Kadija‟s friendly nature and good relationship with almost everyone may contribute to spreading a positive perception of Muslims at her work place. I can safely say that her basic needs are very few and this enables her to be satisfied with whatever she has. they have deep ties with © Kathan Shukla.

F. © Kathan Shukla. R. Retrieved from: http://news. N. & Frey. K.Adjustment of Sudanese Female Refugee in Charlottesville 12 one another. Within a broader framework of a pluralist American identity.nationalgeographic..html Poppitt. In a way. 160-181. 179-188. can find adjustment while preserving aspects of her own identity intact and hope for a better future of her family. (2007). Steel. (2006). Melville. Sudanese adolescent refugees: acculturation and acculturative stress. post-migration living difficulties. they have been able to preserve their cultural values.. 17 (2). this is the true beauty of a pluralist country like America. language. R. Surviving Darfur: African refugee life.. They provide a social-shield and a sense of belongingness to a group to each other. Sudanese refugees in Australia: the impact of acculturation stress. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling. 40(2). 4(1). 2012 . G.. P. Schweitzer. with such a diverse background and life experiences. and social support as predictors of psychological adjustment in resettled Sudanese refugees. Perhaps. religion and their Sudanese identity through the existence of this small social group. & Lacherez. & Khawaja.. National Geographic News. Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology. Z. 19-29. References Milner. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. an individual like Kadija. (2010). National Geographic Society (2004).

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