Fariza wakes up early every morning so she is ready for the tea rush hour at 7 o'clock. Photo: Klaus Bo / Danish Refugee Council

Baking a way back to life

While most other residents of Markazi Camp in Djibouti describe the place as 'hell on earth', it does not affect Fariza Zahle Abdul. She is happy, because here no one drops bombs from the sky and she has received help, so she once again can sell tea and cookies.


She desperately tries to get the fire to catch on. She waves a torn plastic lid from a can in order to get the fire to light the charcoal. Large, empty, rusty cans are placed in a half circle around her. They are the chairs for the customers. 

Fariza Zahle Abdul has her own tea parlour in Markazi Camp in Djibouti. Here live around 1,300 refugees on a barren plain six kilometres from the coast in the small, African country. Several of the camp’s inhabitants describe it as 'hell on earth'.

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The temperature hits up to 50 degrees Celsius and the wind blows over the dusty camp as if it came straight out of an oven. But Fariza does not complain. Every day she bakes bread, cookies and makes tea on her little stove, which she then sells. Sometimes the other residents of the camp come to enjoy a cup of tea, but her regular customers are the gendarme - Djiboutian security personnel - who monitor the camp. Every morning at 7 o'clock, they come to enjoy their morning tea.


Fariza has opened the tea shop with a grant provided to her by the Danish Refugee Council, which helps the residents of Markazi to start small businesses and kitchen gardens. There are no other means of supporting one-self in Markazi. Refugees are not permitted to work or to fish. Fariza spent the grant from Danish Refugee Council on the first batch of ingredients for the bread, cookies and tea and on extra charcoal, so she could get the business started.

She keeps waiving the plastic lid, as she tells the story of how she ended up in Markazi Camp.

Fled when bombs started falling

Fariza Zahle fled Yemen with her three children - two daughters and a son. One daughter is now married and lives in Obock - a few kilometres from the camp. The other daughter lives with her sister and helps in the house chores. The son helps some of the local fishermen in Obock. 

Fariza gives half of her profits from the tea and cookies to her daughters to help them get by. She saves the other half.

"I am being economic," she says smiling.


Fariza and her family decided to leave their home in Yemen, when bombing started near their house. Fariza points to the sky and lets her hands move towards the ground, while she shakes them, to demonstrate how the bombs fell from above.

"They bombed our house," she says.

Her son is a fisherman, so he sailed the family to safety in Djibouti, where they were placed in Markazi Camp.


Today only Fariza lives here, but she does not mind, because her daughters visit her often, she says.

She nods towards the sky and says in'shallah when asked, whether she will ever return to Yemen.

"If my country will become good once more, then I would like to return home. We had a good life before the war. I had a business, where I sold potatoes, eggs, cookies and tea. I earned money and did well for myself. I pray that the war will end soon. But thanks to God, I am also well today. I am alive and here I sell tea like I did at home," Fariza Zahle Abdul says.