Ameera: the day-to-day life of a tea lady in Sudan

Ameera is not used to being idle, for years she has worked a few jobs at a time. Working as a tea lady on Nile Street in the evenings and as a henna lady during the day, sometimes even working at beauty saloons in the morning; all in an attempt to make ends meet. The mother of three has a huge responsibility: she is separated from her husband who only supports their children from time to time and she is also obliged to support her mother. Last week, on Wednesday, Ameera was coming back from Nile Street after midnight, as she starts work there at sunset and caters to her customers until well into the night when business picks up. Nile Street is, after all, one of the few places in Khartoum that never sleeps. Ameera gathered her belongings, got into a Raksha (Tok-Tok) and headed to her house, not too far from her workplace. As she came closer to her house, she was stopped by policemen who asked who she was, where she was going and why she was late. Ameera spoke politely to the police officers and agreed to accompany them to the police station.

There, she told the officer that she was a tea-lady and worked a night shift at Nile Street. She was asked to sign a statement saying that she will never work until this time again. Ameera obliged, signing the statement, although there is no law specifying work hours for women or men in Sudan. On her way back to her house, Ameera passed by the same checkpoint and was stopped again by the same group of policemen. This time, one of them approached her and said : why did they let you go? She told him that the officer made her sign a statement and let her go. After all, she did not commit anything against the law. The soldier approached her and asked her to go home with him. She refused and added that she would still refuse even if he threatened to kill her with his kalashnikov. When another soldier began to approach them, the soldier who had propositioned her, began screaming at her, telling her that he would slap her in jail because she had insulted him. He then beat her up, with a blor to her chest, and a grip on her arm until his hand left marks, slapping her twice and trying to suffocate her until she pushed him away. When she still refused to go with him, telling him that she did not believe that he would take her to the police station based on what he had said earlier, he called a police truck. Ameera was taken, by force, to the police station, where she was kept sitting in the complaints room until Friday evening. She refused the two meals they gave her, while waiting for the bail process.

Although they told her that any ID, even a worker’s ID could bail her out, the ID of her relative was refused when he came to the police station. They asked for an employee’s ID instead. It has been a week since Ameera last went to work. She fell sick after she was released and is now too scared to go back to work. Ameera is worried every time she remembers the five accusations the soldier filed against her. He accused her of insulting his family and insulting “God and religion”, standing in the way of justice, accusing him of stealing the money she had made that day and most importantly, tearing off the pin from his uniform. Ameera said she didn’t do any of these things, that she would never insult her own religion and doesn’t even know his family to insult them. Furthermore, she said he tore off his pin before he went to file the complaints. The money she made that day was lost during the detention process, and now she doesn’t have money to buy milk for her children.

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