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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Anastasia, un destin taillé à la machette et au courage

by EMILIEN URBACH

Anastasia: A Destiny Shaped by Machete Strokes and Courage

Translated Monday 16 January 2017, by Arwen Dewey

She was a girl from Suriname who lived under the radar in French Guiana for 10 years before finally being granted residency papers last March. This is the story of her struggles, her dreams and her nightmares.

Anastasia, a young Bushinengue mother, is seated at the back of a little shop in the La Charbonnière neighborhood of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, savoring her new life. After 10 years as an illegal immigrant, this woman from Suriname was finally granted residency papers last March. Anastasia is a fighter. When she was a child, her father promised that he would take her to French Guiana. He had obtained a residence permit, and was preparing for his children’s’ arrival, when he died at the age of 37. At the time, Anastasia was only 14 years old, and her fate seemed clear. She got pregnant for the first time, but her baby didn’t live. Then, when she was 19 years old, she gave birth to a son, who is now a teenager. But Anastasia didn’t want to be a housewife. She wanted to go to school. Her boyfriend at the time was prone to violence, and didn’t agree with her plans. So she left him, and decided to take control of her own life. She salvaged a canoe, and crossed the Maroni River with her son.

With no working papers and nowhere to live, she managed to put her son in school and began working a string of odd jobs. Sometimes living with her brother, who was also in the country illegally, and sometimes with cousins, Anastasia was unable to show the proof of address necessary to apply for residency. “To have a normal childhood, my son needed a place of his own,” she explains. “Some people were clearing land to build ’carbets’ [wooden shelters, traditional in American Indian culture]. I decided that I should do the same.” So Anastasia went to the forest with a friend, machete in hand, to clear a tract of land and build a cabin out of wood and sheet metal. To earn money, she worked as a cleaning lady, prepared food for workers at downtown construction sites, and sold freshly picked fruit at the local market.

She had mastered every language spoken along the river.

Within the space of ten years the young woman was arrested three times by the PAF (border police). Every single time, the police let her go. “I always told them that my son was in school,” she says, “and that he had no one else to take care of him.” Anastasia also had another skill that set her apart from other Bushinengues: she had mastered every language spoken along the river, and she could also speak English, Dutch and French. When she was arrested for the third time, Anastasia offered to help the police communicate with several of the other prisoners. “One of the officers asked me if I’d like to help out as an interpreter on a few PAF missions,” says Anastasia, smiling. “But it was impossible for them to hire someone who had no working papers.” The officer issued her a 30-day residency permit so that she could legally apply for residency status. The timing was perfect: Anastasia was able to show proof of address. She had moved in with her new boyfriend in Mana, on the western coast of French Guiana. The boyfriend was a Creole who had been admiring her strength and determination for months. “We had papers drawn up proving that we were living together, and I was able to get my residency permit,” she says happily. “Since then I’ve worked for the PAF several times, and I’m planning to go back to school to become an interpreter.” But first, she will have to complete her high school diploma. Then, since night classes at the university in Saint-Laurent are 45 minutes away by car, she’s planning to get a driver’s license. In the meantime, she’s decided to get a jump-start on her new career: in her free time, she is studying Chinese. E.U.


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