Chapter II: Hospital


The history of Central African Republic can be summed up in a single room: this hospital ward.

We’re in Kabo, close to the border with Chad, in the only hospital in the area. It’s a hospital used by everyone and it is run by Médecins Sans Frontières. At one end of the ward, Ashta Burma, a Muslim woman whose family was attacked by the Christian anti-Balaka militias, is keeping watch over her sick mother. At the other end of the ward is Ellen Yandoma, a Christian woman whose family was attacked by an armed Muslim group.

They share the same space, the same pain and very similar stories.

Both women have spent years living as displaced people, far from their homes.

Ashta Burma smiles as she cares for her sick mother, repositioning the maroon shawl embellished with coloured circles that she’s wearing today. She lost her home three years ago. Ashta is from Bouca, a town some 150 km south of Kabo and the scene of fierce fighting between anti-Balaka militias and the Séléka coalition. “There was a lot of fighting in Bouca,” says Ashta. “The anti-Balaka forces killed many people so that’s why we decided to leave. They burnt our house down.”

Ashta Burma, who fled the Christian anti-Balaka militias, looks after her mother in MSF’s hospital in Kabo. | Anna Surinyach

It was a chaotic escape for the many Muslim families who fled north, always north. “While we were fleeing, they carried on shooting,” says Ashta. “A stray bullet hit my husband on his shinbone. Another bullet took my father-in-law’s life.”

Ashta has ten daughters and five sons, including two sets of twins. She and her family sought refuge in Moyenne-Sido, on the border with Chad, but soon they became destitute and decided to head to Kabo, where the MSF hospital is based. They live in a camp for displaced people and it doesn’t look like her luck is going to change anytime soon. Although the situation in the north of the country has been relatively calm since the chaos of 2013 and 2014, Ashta feels wary. “We’re scared about going back to Bouca. I don’t want to go back, I don’t want to go back,” she says, gesturing with her hands. “I don’t want anything to do with Bouca.”

At the other end of the ward is Ellen Yandoma and her niece, Ornella Neluta. “Arabs attacked us,” she says. Both had to flee their homes five years ago after attacks by armed Muslim groups. At the time the Séléka coalition didn’t technically exist, since the groups which make up the coalition had yet to join forces in their bid to overthrow the government.

How did they escape? “Everyone tried to save themselves as best they could,” says Ellen. “Everyone was running. We got here by walking.” They now live in a camp for displaced people, near the MSF hospital.

“Until there’s peace, we won’t be returning home,” say both women.

Ellen Yandoma escaped from Arab militias. She won’t return home until there’s peace. | Anna Surinyach

Ashta and Ellen both talk about the attacks as if they happened yesterday, but years have already passed since they were forced from their homes. What's worse is that they have little hope of returning.

Outside in the yard, in the fresh air, Muslim and Christian families lay out rugs and scarves on the grass. And chat together.

Ashta. Ellen.



The history of Central African Republic can be summed up in a single room.