Affoussata and her children lived in a hotel for a long time before they were able to get a studio apartment
It was a bright one-room studio in a student residence in Clichy-la-Garenne, a stone's throw from a pretty park. Affoussata, 25, and her children, Lassiné, 6, and Fanta, 9 months, felt good there. There was even a little space next to the bunk bed for the children to run their toy cars on the lino. Lassiné was already looking forward to going back to his school in Gennevilliers where he was to start second grade.
However, at the beginning of August, the small family was asked to leave the house they had moved into just two weeks earlier. Affoussata and her children were relocated to Menton, in the Alpes-Maritimes. It was the umpteenth move since their arrival in Europe. Affoussata had left Ivory Coast in 2017 with her little boy, fleeing a violent husband and an abusive uncle, to seek asylum in Europe.
Arriving pregnant in France in January 2018, after a year in Italy, Affoussata spent a week on the streets, near the Gare du Nord station, with her son. They were then lodged in a hotel at Porte de la Chapelle, then in Montrouge, south of Paris. They stayed there for a year and eight months.
Lassiné is in first grade in a primary school in Gennevilliers, near Paris. Little Fanta was born in October 2018. Her father is a man Affoussata met in Italy. He comes from time to time to see his daughter but Affoussata takes care of the little girl's education and expenses herself.
Between the hotel in Montrouge and the primary school in Gennevilliers, a routine begins to set in for Affoussata and her children. Their day-to-day is punctuated by round trips to school and weekly visits to the Notre-Dame de Tanger association of Sister Marie-Jo Biloa. The young mother applies for asylum and begins to dream of a normal life in France.
Affoussata is in great pain. With each step she takes, the scars from cutting she endured as a child cause her pain. "My childbirth was an ordeal because I am cut. Even when I urinate, it burns [...] Today, I no longer think of myself as being a woman," she confides.
Beaten for years by her husband and repeatedly raped in the reception center in Italy where she and her son spent a year, Affoussata is in dire need of psychological help. According to her, her attacker - an Italian who worked in the center - admitted having raped her but was never charged. That's what hurts her the most.
Always stable and smiling in front of her children, the young mother falls apart when she recounts this episode of her life. "I'm really not okay because of everything I went through in Côte d'Ivoire and Italy," she says.
In an attempt to manage her demons, Affoussata starts seeing a volunteer psychologist from the association Notre Dame de Tanger. The weekly appointments do her a lot of good.
In her studio in Clichy-la-Garenne, the young mother had begun to envisage an easier life. "My morale's been better since I've had this studio," Affoussata said at the beginning of the summer. "But I still have a lot of nightmares. I dream of what I went through in Ivory Coast and Italy."
The young woman was also pleased to have been able to get an appointment at the Women’s House of Saint-Denis. She hopes to be able to begin a reconstruction procedure there so that she will no longer suffer from having been cut.
In Menton, the small family benefits from a larger home. But Affoussata, beaten down, feels like she has to start all over again. This is the fourth home she has lived in since her arrival in January 2018. Lassiné will have to enroll in a new school, get his bearings again and find people he can trust. "I'm sad but I hope it's going to be alright," the young mother says.
Over the months, Lassiné's school had become a landmark in Affoussata's life. "I was in regular contact with Lassiné's teacher and the school principal. They were very kind to me. I didn't want to change schools," she says.
Lassiné didn't want to move and leave his friends either. "He always asks me why we left. I explain to him that we had no choice," says the young mother.
In Menton, Affoussata tries as best she can to create a stable environment for her children, knowing that their stay in the city is not permanent. "I'm here for 6 or 9 months. After that they'll send me away, I don't know where," she whispers.
For the moment, the only thing she knows is that she will have to make a return trip to Paris with her children once she has the date of her appointment with Ofpra, the office for refugees.