Maïmouna Bouba: A man claimed that my firewood belonged to him
Since she arrived in Cameroon seven years ago, Maïmouna Bouba has experienced a daily struggle to gather firewood for cooking and washing in the refugee camp at Gado Badzéré. Now, wood has become scarcer than before.
“Sometimes we [refugee women] have to walk very far,” she said. “We don’t own fields where we can harvest wood, so we have to go to the bush and get dirty.”
The already “dirty” task becomes even dirtier after bushfires because ashes stain the bodies and clothes of the women who continue going out to harvest.
It is challenging during the rainy season too, as the firewood becomes wet and smoulders when lit, rather than igniting: “We light the fire with great difficulty; we fan the fire to the point that our eyes redden,” Bouba said.
Harvesting wood is also risky, even in large groups. The women frequently run into problems with men and local landowners. One time, Bouba was returning to camp with a group of 10 other women, each carrying a bundle of wood. They were stopped by a man who told them to give him all their wood, claiming they had harvested it from his field, so it belonged to him.
Leaving the wood with the man, the women returned home empty-handed. They went to complain to the local chief and offered to pay his transportation to meet with the man and check the facts.
“We went to the man’s house and the chief explained to him that we are refugees and that we wanted firewood to cook for our children,” Bouba said. “I told the gentleman that I cannot afford to buy either firewood or charcoal; I need the wood that nature offers in the bush to cook for my children.”
Fortunately, the chief sided with Bouba and her companions, and the man agreed to give them their firewood back. Still, they have not gone back to that area to look for wood since that encounter.
Conflicts like these make it difficult for refugee women to meet their basic needs without putting their safety and well-being at risk.