What It’s Like to Live in an Armed Conflict Zone
I decided to travel to Africa and live in Nigeria–in the middle of an armed conflict, surrounded by bombs and insecurity. For six months, I lived in Jos, Nigeria, a city located in the middle of the country, where the Christian South and the Muslim North meet, killing each other, in the name of religion.
During that time, I witnessed many disturbing things. While conducting research for my master’s thesis, people told me the most horrible experiences. I felt the fear in my body. I got to know orphans, who had seen their parents and most of the people in their village slaughtered in the middle of the night. I met Nigerians from both regions who did not dare leave because they feared being killed.
Beside the armed conflict, I had to adapt to a life without access to basic services. No running water. Every time I wanted to go to the toilet or wash myself, I first had to go outside to catch water in the well. Then, I had to carry the bucket inside to the bathroom. Once I had a really bad case of food poisoning. You can imagine what that felt like. Every five minutes for three whole days, I had to do this before running to the bathroom, with fever and body cramps. These were three of the hardest days of my life.
Before going to sleep, I wondered, will they attack tonight? During the day, I wondered, will the fighting break out?
There was also no electricity–or maybe for an hour or two per day if we were lucky. Then everyone would run to charge their phones or laptops, even though there was a big risk that the charger would burn up.
So, how could living like this be the best thing I have done?
Well, because it changed me. I understood that having material things does not make me happy. I was happy in Nigeria, even happier than I am at home. Though I did not have basic services, I had many Nigerian friends who cared about me. We had fun together. We opened up to each other. They were like family, and I felt at home with them. I realized that as long as you have people around who love you, that is what matters.
I know that for me it was a temporary situation, and that it is different for the people who cannot escape these conflicts. They cannot return to their country, where showers, lights, Cable TV, WiFi and flushing toilets are available.
What It’s Like to Live in an Armed Conflict Zone.
The armed conflict was the most devastating thing I have ever witnessed in my life. But it made me realize that I won the jackpot, being born in Norway. How lucky I am to live in a peaceful country. To have a family that won’t be ripped away from me due to their beliefs. To not feel safe is one of the worst feelings I have ever felt. Before going to sleep, I wondered, will they attack tonight? During the day, I wondered, will the fighting break out? I am very lucky to live a life without having to think these thoughts.
After my experience in Nigeria, I see the world differently. I appreciate different things than I did before. I appreciate my life more than ever before.
Photos for What It’s Like to Live in an Armed Conflict Zone by Hanne Hellvik.