Mariam, aged 12, lives in Siguin Voussť village, about an hours walk from Lergho, where her school is. The village name means sit down and have a rest. Mariam lives in a single-roomed house with her mother, Awa, and nine year old sister Sali. Awas husband, Boureima, has his own house nearby. Mariam is in year five at Lergho primary school. Mariams first language is Bissa, but all her lessons at school are taught in French.
"Mum wakes me up in the morning. Sali and I hear her clanking the pots that need to be washed but we like to stay in bed a bit longer, to keep warm. Its cold, so I wrap a shawl around me when I go out to wash my face. After Ive washed I pray in the yard.
"If mum has lit the fire, I heat up the wu [a stiff white porridge made of millet, sorghum or maize flour] left from the previous evening and eat it for breakfast on my own. We dont have a school uniform, but I try to keep some clothes specially for school. Its still dark when we leave home at 6 am to come to school.
"My best friend is Adjeratu, my cousin. We walk to school together and we play together. If Im in any difficulty, I know shell help me. A good friend listens to what you say, and respects you. If one of us needs a drink of water, the other will give what she has."
"If we arrive at school in time, we help to sweep out the classrooms and collect water for cooking lunch, and for washing the plates and the blackboards. On some days we begin with PE (Physical Education) outside at 7.30 am.
"I stay with the same teacher for all my lessons and science is my favourite subject - it's the one Im best at.
"At 12 oclock we have lunch - couscous. Its always couscous, so we could get tired of eating it. We used to collect wood at lunchtime to provide fuel for cooking. But this year the trees in the school compound have grown well, and are being cut for firewood.
"We have a lot of time before we go back into school. Children who live nearby can go home, but we have to stay and play games or read. Its very hot at lunchtime, so we dont play for long. We can sit under the trees, or in the shade at the front of the school to look at our books. We might do each others hair. It can take a long time, depending on the style you want. There are lots of styles."
"Im happiest when Im at school. Its something special for me to
do. I remember how it seemed when I first started. It was an adventure, to leave home and
walk to Lergho. Id like to go to secondary school in Garango when Im older and
become a nurse. Theres no nurse in Siguin Voussť. Id go wherever I was sent,
but Id like to be a nurse here, in the village. I wouldnt want to go far away.
All my friends and family are here, and were used to living with each other.
"We finish school at 5 pm, but before we go the class sings a song like Un Jeune Soldat (A Young Soldier) or Le Forgeron (The Blacksmith). If were thirsty when we come out of school we have a drink at the well. We start out as a big group but most of the others leave the path for their homes before we get to Siguin Voussť. We dont have to hurry on the way home, so we play. Sometimes we run so that we can make time to pick sweet fruits, like mougna, to eat. We get home at 6 pm, or even later.
"My favourite place is this homestead - in my mothers house. Its my home. Its where I feel most comfortable. My favourite possession is my dress, my green dress. Mum bought it for me for Ramadan (the Muslim holy month). It makes me feel special, so Ill only wear it for celebrations.
"I have a rest when I get home. If mum is cooking I might help to wash the plates. When I get the chance I warm up some water so that I can wash and get changed. I pray for the last time at 8 pm. We eat together: me, Sali, and my mother. We almost always have wu, but with different sauces. Sometimes we might have chicken, or omelettes. I like wu best, with kurdu [okra] sauce. We can also eat it with kaladu, bahurdu, gridu, horledu, sungulere ... (other sauces made from local leaves and flowers).
"When I'm not at school I help more with the cooking. The boys don't usually do it, just the girls. But I wouldn't stop them -- I wouldn't mind if the boys did some cooking.
"I don't know anything about children in Europe. They must learn to read and write like I do. But they wouldn't understand Bissa! I don't think they could makepeanut rings (croua-croua) or prepare millet and cook wu. They must grow crops like we do, but I don't know what they grow.
"The last thing I do is sweep the floor and lay out the sleeping mats. I might talk to my mum when I lie down, but sometimes she goes to sleep first. We go to bed at different times because we visit our friends around the homestead. I go to chat with Adjeratu and the others. Sometimes we tell stories to each other, or adults tell us stories. Anyone can do it. I'm able to tell stories as well. The best stories are the ones that make us laugh."
Have a read of the story that Mariam tells.
The stories told at Sabtenga village contained the usual African cast of characters - hares (the cleverest), hyaenas (the most deceitful), lions, guinea fowl and other animals.
"Some stories have riddles, and the children will ask
others their meaning. It helps them solve problems and teaches them about their culture,
and our lives in the past."
Sallam Mone, storyteller
All photos for Oxfam GB by Crispin Hughes
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