About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Nitha wearing a red plaid shirt

Mama Nitha Mathyalagan

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan

Mirza Durakovic

“I want to open the restaurant with the bakery,” says Nitha Mathyalagan (38) a refugee in Paris. Nitha and her family had to flee their home in Sri Lanka when she was just an infant. “My running life is started.” The family moved around India for years before returning to Sri Lanka. “It hurts a lot when moving place to place.” She left again amidst civil war in 2007, this time to Malaysia. It was there that she began to cook. “I learned the cooking through my husband. My husband is a really good cooker,” she says. In 2015, Nitha and her daughter resettled to France. Her husband joined a year and a half later. “I am fine here but can I forget my motherland?” With catering organization Meet My Mama, she started cooking Sri Lankan and Malaysian dishes for French diners. “I give a lot of love to cook. Because… when I start my cooking, I forget everything.” 45 Mamas cook with ‘Mama’ Nitha now. “I was so happy because I’m the first Mama,” she says. “They gave me the second life.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Hello Nitha.

Can you introduce yourself?
Okay, I’m Mama Nitha, or Nitha… My full name is Nitharshini Mathyalagan. I’m 38 years old, I’m from Sri Lanka.

And today, where do you live? Also, do you live in an apartment, a house? How would you describe your living conditions? Are you happy with them?
Now I… I stay in Aubervilliers. This is apartment, it’s apartment… I don’t know how to explain that.

Would you say you’re happy with your living conditions or do you want to to move to somewhere else?
In this situation, I don’t know how to say! In future I want to move this place, in future I want to move this place because in my apartment it’s not very big, this is very small because I stay with my husband, my daughter and my mother but just for the small apartment. It’s very small because I am doing for the catering is not enough for this place, is not enough. So I want to move it.

And so, so you are, you are a cook? You’re a chef?
Yes, I’m a chef. I’m a chef now, I am doing for the Sri Lankian and Malaysian food.

And what do you do, during your day? What’s your occupation? SI imagine you cook a lot, right?
So in this situation, I… I didn’t cook a lot because of corona(virus) because before I have a lot of orders like that, because now actually I’m working with the Meet My Mama. Meet My Mama is an association, so I work with them. They would arrange for the orders and everything but in the city, there is not a lot of orders because of Covid, very less order.

So how did you feel, because of Covid when you got less work?
Yes. I’m not happy because I’ve not a lot of order because very difficult to manage but there’s…The Government is doing…help. I’m receiving fonds de solidarité money. Anyway is not enough because I’m not satisfied, because of less work, I’m not satisfied, yeah.

And do you do anything besides your work? Do you have, like, a passion or something? You have an occupation, so you have a family? I imagine you also take care of your family?
Actually, I want to take care of my family because… I want to take care of my family because my mother is staying with me, she’s handicapped. She cannot do anything because she’s a – how to you say – AVC (stroke) patient, it’s very difficult to manage because she, she nothing to do, it is very difficult. Anytime, every time so one person, someone will take care of her. That’s why I’m choosing for the cooking. From here I’m cooking, at my home because I want to take care of my mother but at the same time I want to manage my business also.

Okay, good. And so do you have, like a passion, something else besides cooking?
I am interested in cooking and baking. I am not interesting in anything other than this. I have completed a diploma in baking. Nothing more to say (laughs).

Great, and so, to go back in time, can you explain to us your life in Sri Lanka, how was your life?
Actually… I already told you, I born in Sri Lanka. So when I was born in 1982, still, I didn’t stay in one place. It was very difficult because of everytime we are facing a lot of problems with the political… some of the peoples are jealous with my father’s business, like that. So very, very difficult. So, I say already I tell you I was born 1982. Everything started in 1983, after one year starting, my running life is started. So in 1983, because some of the… some of the persons are jealous with my father business so in this time my father stabbed with a knife. The house was demolished so we moved to another place. Even in my country also, we are staying refugee life… Normally a refugee means when they move to another country they are called refugee, but even in my country, also we are staying refugee, because every, every time we are moving because ’83 is a problem – jealous, some of them are jealous of my father’s business or moving to my place, my house. After again, we all came to my place again, it’s a problem for the 90’s again started the problem for the political war problem, so we moved to India. India also so we are staying India seven years, there also we didn’t stay in one place, we are moving to a lot of places. We have faced many obstacles and trials in India also.

It’s not easy to move everywhere because very difficult because we want to know the persons… We want to understand the situation. We want to search for work, it’s a very difficult. So, that time is, I’m a small… Small, so no problem because my father manage everything. After we are return back in Sri Lanka, we didn’t stay in the same place because before when I was born in Batticaloa and lived in Vavuniya until seven years then we went to India as a refugee for nine years then again we went to Batticaloa, for not in same districts, another district. We went to Batticaloa, so very complicated there also. We are… We were to ’98. So there also very difficult to manage because, again, some of them broken my house. Again, we can build a house very difficult every times – three times or four times and again, again, we build the house and stay in this country. So finally, in 2007, again, they started for the war, is a big war, the political war. So we went to… We left my country, left my country and we went to Malaysia. The same as a refugee, same as a refugee.

So very, very difficult because in Malaysia, it’s not same like for the Sri Lankan, little difficult. So very, very difficult because in Malaysia, UNHCR gave me the refugee status, but the Government didn’t give the authorisation to work or study, is very difficult because at that time I was married and I have one daughter, because she’s eight month, eight month baby. So very, very difficult. We face a lot, lot, lot of problems in Malaysia. In this situation, I don’t have a… Two euros to buy a milk powder for her, very difficult because everyone is easy to earn two euros here, two euros not big money, but I face like this in Malaysia because I don’t have two euros because very complicated. That time only I was… Choosing what can I do because the government also – the Malaysian government also, didn’t give the permission to work like that, so very complicated. So, this is my situation, I was moving to my country like that.

And how did you feel moving from place to place all the time and growing up like this?
Going from one place to another is difficult. Nothing is easier. It is difficult to find a house or a job. To gain confidence. They will not easily trust anyone and give them a job. Actually it hurts a lot when moving place to place.

You feel like stress, anxiety or what kind of emotion?
I cannot describe this pain… Yes. I had many relatives and my family. But they did not come to help knowing our situation. I think at the moment my position should not come to anyone.

So in this situation in Malaysia, people are very kind and very nice because they are, I don’t know that person, they are not my relatives and they are not my family, but they are, they are, they are… Come to front of me and they told me ‘We are here for you. Don’t worry. We will help you.’ That’s right. That’s right. And when they told me like that so I’m relaxed like that, then only I’m decided because some Malaysian Aunty’s gave me the idea, because here is all the people, a lot of old people, a lot of people, they didn’t cook at home. They told me, ‘Why you start the cooking and you can do the food for us because every time we are ordered the food outside and eating, maybe you can cook at home, make food and give us. We can, we will give the support for you, every day we will order for you,’ they told like that. Because this is not my job and before, because I’m an accountant in Sri Lanka, I’m an accountant in Sri Lanka because I did a women project in Sri Lanka. Because the first time that I worked on that one project, woman project, this project is help for the widows and the head of the family, I did like this job. I don’t know how to cook. Very difficult. They told me like that ‘you can start the cooking’ because suddenly I thought, because okay we will start the business, the cooking business.

Suddenly I learned the cooking through my husband, my husband is a really good cooker. My mother, also. So some of the Malaysian also helped me to how to cook like the Malaysian food and like this. After I learned the Sri Lankan cook with my husband and my mother, suddenly I started cooking business, this cooking business like that homemade business. At this time, I am very interesting because… Interesting to do for the baking. So… Baking, but I don’t have the money to start buy the oven and like that, so very difficult. So in this time I met one NGO is called TECH Outreach because they are so kind, but they are giving me a lot of… Trainings like that and after they will select and they will give the loan, because this loan is no need to pay interest. Just I want to pay this loan without interest. So first time they gave me for the thousand Malaysian ringgit, so I bought the oven. I started my business for the baking business. At the same time I started for the cooking also. Step by step I am, I earn the money for this business after I bought, again I bought for the loan for the thousand ringgit because I want to develop my business. So I developed my business. My business was also starting very, very good and moving very fast like that. After only I finished my Diploma in baking in Malaysia so… Slowly I started and improve my business.

And I just had a question, how old were you when you left Sri Lanka to go to Malaysia?
Uh… Twenty six.

Twenty six, okay.
No, sorry, twenty five.

And how did you feel when you left Sri Lanka? Can you tell us how, how, how that felt and maybe the trip, the journey?
So this journey the first time – because already I went to India, but that one is at that time is very small. But this one is at twenty five years old as I left my country, because the first time I didn’t face a lot of problems like this because when I was small, I don’t know anything. But this is because I have a majority, because I want to take care of my family, because I have a daughter, my mother, because in this time, my father also no more, because he also died in 2007. Then only I moved to Malaysia. So this is the first time… Because I don’t know, because very difficult. I cannot take this situation because… Because I didn’t, I didn’t face like this problem before… Because every time, because I will be a sporty person all the time. I don’t know, the… This is… Because when I went to Malaysia then I went ‘Oh, this is life.’ Then only I learn. Because every time, because I have a work or like this because I don’t know the… I don’t know the value of money before because I don’t know the value of money, because everything I have: money, I’m working, enjoying my life like that… Suddenly I moved to Malaysia because I don’t have a money, everything, because without work because one normally one year without work my husband and me, we don’t work. We stay without work so very difficult. No money is, like, the, I feel ‘Oh, this is life… This is life’. I don’t know like this life before, I thought ‘oh this is life’ and a lot of people face like this problem because before I don’t know… Very hard.

And did you miss Sri Lanka?
Yes I am fine here but can I forget my motherland? I miss all my friends and relatives. At the same time, I missed my Malaysian relatives.

What happened then in Malaysia? How, how did you move to France? What happened?
Okay, my brother brought my mother here. I’m not remember for the year. So after the UNHCR called me to give the resettlement for my mother. So I explained my mother went to France. So she asked me to come for the interview because we are stay in refugee status in Malaysia. She told me to send only my family. They send me the file here because they told me that times is very difficult because… When I was in Malaysia, my husband file and my file are also not in same. It’s a different file because of some political issue for my husband. So they are doing for the interview finally, so taking their time, because in this time I have some medical problems. But even if you have a UNHCR refugee card, then only they will give you the hospital 50% discount in Malaysia because the government didn’t accept for refugee in Malaysia. So even it’s a very difficult for me because I don’t have the money because I had some problem for the medical, because I cannot go to the hospital. So in this situation, UNCHR recognized my problem, everything so they accepted my file, with my daughter and my husband file is accepted in after one year. They gave me the refugee status for me.

But still, my husband, my husband didn’t get the refugee status, he’s waiting for the refugee. So after one year only, he received the refugee status, my husband. So they told me for the UNHCR, we cannot send the both file, just for we want to send for your file because my husband, my daughter and my file, because there’s only one file. They can’t to send it to France. If they accepted your file, you can go to France for the refugee. After… Because very difficult because I’m thinking without my husband is very complicated. What can I do? But it’s difficult because my daughter cannot go to school for there because she already… She is eight years ready, very difficult because we are giving for the school everything, it’s a private school, is very expensive. So we thought – everyone has told me because you can go because the lawyer also told me ‘You can go first with your daughter, after your husband can come to join you, because this is a good way to go because other is very difficult’.

So after I said, ‘okay, no problem, I go with my daughter, without my husband’. So after they was in the file here with everything, the government also accept – the French government – accepted my file. They only took me and my daughter for here in 2015, November. I came with my daughter, but the French government doing everything for the visa, ticket, everything, and I came here, they gave me, you know, the association France Terre d’Asile, that’s it. So they only take care of me and my daughter, and they give me the house for here, but this house is sharing house, because one of the families, Afghanistan… She’s also came with her daughter alone so they would give an apartment for the sharing, me and that family, Afghanistan family. That’s when I came to France.

Thanks Nitha, and can I ask you, how did you feel when you arrived in Europe? This was the first time you were in Europe, right? When you were in Paris, in France?
Yeah, when I arrived, I’m so happy. But in these times, a little sad because I miss my husband, because I came… I came here with my daughter, without my husband. So very difficult even I was so happy because I have a new life and the French government and the association France Terre d’Asile was doing a lot of help, because of everything they are doing and because I know, because my future is going good because… Not, not like I faced… Because in Malaysia I face a lot of problems because I don’t have a house, I didn’t have money because very difficult. But even when I arrived here, I didn’t face like this problem. So I was so happy. I was so happy.

And did you miss your husband and your family?
Yes, I missed my husband because in this time I miss my husband because I came alone. After one and a half years, my husband, because of the association France Terre d’Asile was doing a lot of help for me to take my husband, because procedure is very long. But they were doing everything and they took my husband here but now, after one and a half year, my husband joined with me. After one year, after one year only because before I stay in joint family, with another family, because I already I told you, I stay with the Afghanistan family, but very difficult to share the house also very complicated (laughs). After one year they gave me the separate, for the own apartment for me and for… Now, now my life is good here.

And do you remember what you… What you thought, what did you think about Paris, about the French people, the culture when you arrived? What were your first impressions?
I want to say, okay, because it’s the first time I came, a lot of people have helped me because…the association France Terre d’Asile, they introduced some people. One girl is from Brazil. She’s… She’s working here, at the same time she introduced one London girl. Her name is Flo. She’s also working here. After one French family, Arulien and Axelle, they are husband and wife. But they are so kind… They are so… the four peoples are very kind. They are introducing the place, introduce for everything. But easy life, this is very easy because they are… they are teach me, they are show me everything in Paris. That is very… Nothing very hard, very easy for me because of them they are very kind. They are very kind to talk, everything. But now I know a lot of French people, a lot of different kind of peoples also here. But it’s… They are very kind.

And how did you resume your cooking? How did you get back to the cooking?
Yeah, okay. I resume my cooking because of Mathilde. She worked in France Terre d’Asile. She’s so kind, because she knows my history, because what I did in Malaysia. I did in Malaysia, or every time I tell her ‘I did like this, I did like this’. Every time I talk with her because she’s so kind, so in this situations, she told me “Can you interest to cook here also? Because I know one person, he wants to start the cooking like that. So he’s asking, he’s searching the women to cooking like that. So if you are interested, I will introduce that person”. She’s asking me like that. I said, “Okay, I’m very interesting”, because I am actually, when I arrived here my ambition is I want to open the bakery shop here. My ambition is like this, but it’s –

Open – sorry – a bakery?
Bakery shop. My ambition is… When I arrived, my ambition is bakery, opened a bakery. Open the bakery shop so suddenly she’s asking me “Maybe can – you already you cook for the catering also in Malaysia – maybe you can try to talk with him? Maybe you have ideas?” Because in this time, when I arrive the first time, because I don’t know the person, I said, “Okay, no problem. I will meet and I will talk with my project. If they are also good, I will continue to work with them”. I said like that. After, I met Youssef, the Meet My Mama founder, Youssef. In this time, no Meet My Mama, just for the Youssef because he didn’t start the business, just the first time he wanted searching how to start like that. So suddenly he met him. We will spoke with them because he knows, because a lot of times he came to Malaysia. He told me because I know the Malaysian food, he’s very interested for the food and different kind of food.

So we are talking together about project, I did like this. I did like this… I will explain everything because I was doing catering. I was doing baking like this… I introduced my business, everything in Malaysia. So he, he also interested to start the business. He told me “Maybe we can start cooking like that?” So I said, “Okay, we will do it, we will try.” After he came and we were start one – we can choose one day. He said he called for the 30 people in restaurant. This one is a Italian restaurant. He invite the 30 people, all the people are working in associations, a lot of associations and companies also. So we have cooked together, me and Youssef and at the same time, Loubna, Donia – it’s the founders, three founders – cook in my apartment, because…I will ask the permission in France Terre d’Asile “can we cook?”. Then she told me “No problem, you can cook in this apartment”, because….Because we are sharing the house, because I cannot do right to cook for the big quantity for the selling. So she told me, “No problem, you can start and you can try to cook,” she gave the permission, she’s very kind. “You can, you can start because this is your future,” she told me like that. So we cooked together because we don’t know how to do it, we can’t serve the thing, because first time (laughs) because I plan to cook the Sri Lankan and Malaysian food. It’s… We are searching because we went together to buy the thing, ingredients, everything. After, finally we cook ready for the 30 person, finally we cooked and went to the restaurant. We carried all the food to this restaurant. All the peoples came and when the people was eating my food, everyone was crying (laughs).

Because it was too spicy?
Yes (laughs), everyone is crying but not stop to eat. Everyone is crying, crying at the same eating because they said “Oh, the food was very delicious but it was spicy.” But it’s all crying because something… I did for the some sweet items also. Because some of the items I didn’t list. I put a lot of spicy because Sri Lankan people eat a lot of spicy. I do not… Because I don’t know before first time I don’t know, I thought French people, also all the people are eating the same spicy, spicy food like that. But I was “Oh la la!” everyone was crying, even crying, even eating, all the food was finish! They said everyone was happy because they said “The food was very delicious but it’s spicy! Even I didn’t give the food. I will eat, eat, eat.” Everyone is finish, also. But it’s a success. This one is the first time we are tried this one with a very great success because all of the members, how to say, All give… Good notes because the taste is different. Only thing is spicy. The only thing is, is spicy and “maybe you can continue to cook without spicy, it’s very good,” they told me like that. So this one’s a great success. The first time I was cook was a great success, I didn’t forget for the first memory (laughs). Still when I was… how to say… when I was doing some presentation like that, I was… I’m telling because this is my history. This is a… When I was starting my first time, I was doing like this. But now you have… everyone isn’t believing me because no spicy (laughs).

Great! And so you’re working at your place now?

You’re working at your place, in your apartment?
Yes, in my apartment. Because I… We don’t have a permanent place so sometimes we took some apartment for example Youssef friends’s house, maybe it’s Donia, Loubna house. We are cooking like that because in the beginning we are starting like this.

But right before the Covid?
Before Covid… After the first time that we are starting like this, we are giving for the tasting like that. So in these times, every time I was cooking in my apartment. Because the first apartment is a share house and everytime they gave you the permission to cook there. So I was cooking there. So after one year I finish, after they will create the name for the Meet My Mama, after the Meet my Mama is growing very fast, growing up. A lot of Mamas is joining after, now is 45 Mamas. I was so happy because I’m the first Mama. I was so happy that I’m a first Mama – now empower Mama, they are doing a lot of training. They are giving lot of training program, for example cooking classes, hygiene classes, presentation, etc. And now they are improve. So they took for the Deliveroo, you know, the Deliveroo? They took the kitchen for the Deliveroo. So in this kitchen… After 2019, I cook in the kitchen, in Deliveroo kitchen. I cook with one more Mama, she is Lebanese, so we are working together in this kitchen. In this time I did Sri Lankan and Malaysian voyage.

How do you feel when you cook, what do you think about, how do you feel?
I’m so happy to cook. When I was… Every time when I start my cooking, I go very careful and you – how to say- I do have a lot of love, I give a lot of love to cook. Because… when I start my cooking, I forget everything. Only concentrate for the cooking because I want to give the food, for the good food, for the… that’s why I told you, because I mix my love with my food ingredients (laughs), yes.

Great, and you also cook food from your country of origin? I imagine that’s important for you?
Yes… now, because now, I’m cooking, actually now I’m doing for the Sri Lankan and Malaysian food, traditional Sri Lankan and Malaysian food. But – how to say… With changes for everything. Not exactly Sri Lankan food, not exactly Malaysian food. I’m using for the Sri Lankan and Malaysian food, but without spicy because little changes for they can to eat everyone. Only for – I didn’t focus on Sri Lankan and Malaysian people – I focus for everyone. So… yeah, so …I modify something for the spices, modify the design, modify for the…creating some recipe because, ah, normally there’s some recipes for… I didn’t use the same recipe. Every time I create some recipe for the season, season vegetables and like that…some, some of the people don’t like to – how to say – want to eat everyone, not only Sri Lankan or Malaysian.

Great. Well, thank you very much, Nitha. I just had a question: before you had to leave your country, what was your dream?</i
Actually… When I was moved to my country, my dream was I want… I need for the freedom. That’s why… First thing, because first thing I didn’t care if I will be like this, like this… Nothing. When I left my country, Sri Lanka, I thought we need for the freedom life, like… That’s it. After I stay, I stay in Malaysia, I open the bakery shop. So when I came to France, I thought, I want to… again, I want to open the bakery shop. And now my ambition is I want to open the restaurant with the bakery shop, a bakery, because now, fully I was doing for the catering like that… So… in this situation, my ambition is I want to open the restaurant with the bakery, at the same time I want to do some social work.

Some what?
Social, I want to do some social work.

Some social work?
I love to help other people like me.

Great. And where can we taste your food now?
Any time. If you want, you can tell me. You can call me for any time “I need like this food like this”, I can to see for the – how to say – maybe if you want, you can call to Meet My Mama also. If you want to order the food, on Meet My Mama, you can… If you go to the website, Meet My Mama website, you can see everything. At the same time if you want I have Instagram, Facebook, email address… If you want, you can contact me. No need to order if you want. Just you told me “I want to taste like this food, like this food” maybe you can tell me then when, I would prepare and I’ll give you. No problem.(laughs).

Thanks. Thank you very much, Nitha
Thank you. Thank you so much.

I just wanted to ask you the last question. Do you have anything that you want to say more about refugees or about refugee experience or anything else you want to say?
Because when I was in refugee, I faced a lot of problem now also I am a refugee – I was face a lot of problems, because I wanted to say for the all refugees women: so you have a perseverance and very confidence, very important for the women. At the same times… I want to say one thing for… In future, because I am here, because I was in… I’m in five years already, but just five years because I did a lot of events and a lot of activities like this, I did a lot of activities like this. In future, I want to be a role model for the refugee. This is my, this one also my ambition to be a role model for the refugees. Yeah. Because here a lot of women thinking… it’s very hard to do something. Yes, everything is a very hard but with the confidence we can try again and again, you can do to achieve something. So… so I just want to say for the refugee women: be very confident, perseverance is very important for them.

All great. thanks very much, Nitha!
Okay, because in this situation… I want to say thanks to some of the people, because when I was face a lot of problems in these times, a lot of people helped me to improve my business, my life, everything. So I want to say thanks to Malaysian people because a lot of Malaysian peoples are helping me, because I cannot to explain for everyone, because a lot of people. At the same time, I want to say thanks to Malaysian NGO TECH Outreach, Dr. Malar she only help me in the beginning. She only helped me to start my business. They only help me, she only gave a lot of training program like that. So… After I want to say for the UNHCR, the Malaysian UNHCR and Malaysian IOM, they only helped me to come here. After when I came, I want to say thanks to French government, because rehabilitation was given by French Government and the association France Terre d’Asile Stephane Solvia because they are doing a lot to help for my paperwork, and help to took my husband, everything… So at the same time, I want to say for the France Terre d’Asile officer- before she was working in France Terre d’ Asile officer- her name is Mathilde. She only introduced me to Meet My Mama, Youssef. So I want to say thanks to Mathilde. Thanks to Arulien, Axelle, Bruna, and Flor because beginning is very important, they did lot of help. At the same time I want to say thanks to France Terre d’Asile accountant Antoine, he only helped me to start my auto-entrepreneur business because I don’t have any knowledge of micro-entrepreneurs. He only…he told me how to do, he explained everything and still he was helping me to do my… because my French is no good. He only helped me to do all office work, everything, personally… But I want to say thanks to him. At the same time I want to say thanks to Meet My Mama because now, I’ve improved my life, everything, because of Meet My Mama. They only give a lot of support, a lot of confidence, like that. Because when I was came here, every time I was crying, I feel very sad like that because I… Because I left my country. I left my relatives, because I miss my husband so I was feeling very sad. In this time, Meet My Mama gave me a lot of support to improve my business. Now I’m working for the Meet My Mama. So I want to say thanks to Meet My Mama, of course the whole team of Meet My Mama. Because Meet My Mama is my family. Everytime I think of them as my family. The same time I want to say thanks to my family, especially my husband. He was doing a lot of help me, because everytime he’s with me, my husband is everytime here. Even my business, even my achievement… Everything is with me. My husband is with me. So thanks to my husband also. My husband, my mother, my daughter and my sister. They are giving a lot of support, strength. My strength is my husband. I see my dad in the form of my husband.

Thanks, Nitha, I just have a question because all of these people helped you right? It’s big support. But what about you? I mean, you have lots of qualities and you were talking about perseverance, ambition… And what would you say are your strengths, your personal qualities that helped to, you know, go through and overcome all these difficulties?
Okay, because… Yeah, I said like that because I, when I was in the beginning, I have a lot of failure. See, I have a lot of failure. That’s why I said, it’s… Because even I have a failure also I didn’t, I didn’t feel very sad. Sometimes I sad because I have a failure, because I tried to do something. Suddenly I failure. A lot of times like this, a lot of failure. But in this time I was very confident I can achieve. That’s why I said “you can, you can patient, can do patience and perseverance and confident, you can achieve something.” So now… I was thinking now, because I achieve a lot, because now I have when, I manage my house or my family like that business like that. A lot of people talk with Mama Nitha, a lot of people knows Mama Nitha, so this is my great achievement. I was thinking “this is my great achievement, this is not enough, I want to go very far.” But this is a beginning also. I’m self-confident. So that’s why I said, you can patience or confidence, you can do achieve.

And did you have this confidence before- before you came here, before you had to leave your country, did you always have this confidence, even when you were younger? When you were growing up, and ambition?
Yes, it is, because that’s what I told. When I was a young also, I faced a lot of problem. I told you no? A lot of failures, a lot of problems. So I’m very confident. That’s why I am here in this point, because even… Because I have a lot of failure, a lot of problems, it even – how to say – I feel sad, I feel something “I cannot do more like this”, if you’re thinking like this, I cannot achieve anything. But every time I think of the positive, positive. So that’s ….

It’s very interesting. I also had a question, maybe, because I notice you have this little dot here. Is it cultural or are you religious?
So actually, this is called kukkumma pottu. Yes, it depends on the culture and religion. After marriage, a red kukkumma pottu should be placed in the middle of the forehead. Let’s put a different colored sticker before the wedding. I don’t know how to say pottu in English

Okay. One more, one more suggestion I wanted to tell in this. My husband already came here. He’s 40 years already. It’s a very difficult, still my husband didn’t get the visa. Still is a problem for his visa- how to say- still here every time we are asking for the OFPRA, what’s happening for my husband file, everything they are told the procedure is going. But it’s a very far because very difficult, because – how to say – very complicated. Because without visa, he cannot work. He cannot do anything. It’s a very difficult life. So I want to say this, if you can add like this, because I’m working, I’m an auto-entrepreneur but my husband cannot do anything because he doesn’t get the visa. Please mention this one.

Oh, yes. Yes of course.
France government gave us life again. Giving me a place to be, giving me a good job, and educating my daughter but not fully enjoying it. The reason is that it has been four years since my husband came. Not getting a visa is painful.

Does it make you stressed?
Yes it’s a stress, because this is a stress. Because I have a lot of confidence, a lot of… Because I’m doing a lot of work, a lot of activities. Even sometimes I feel very sad because my husband life, because he cannot do anything. But he was doing a lot of help for me, even he cannot do alone anything, because this is very stressful. This is very stressful because he didn’t talk anything further openly. But I know he’s paining, because he know, because everyone knows that I have a work like this work and they are doing a lot of activities. But he is… Every time he was helping me. This is a very stress on him because not settle very well. Because of my husband visa, because I don’t have idea to get him back to Sri Lanka, because we cannot go there. Very difficult.

Yeah. You’re not thinking about going back?
No, I’m not thinking like that. Because I have experienced many hardships and pains in my life. I’m struggling. That’s refugee life from birth to today. My desire is to get permanent residency means nationality in this country and get a visa for my husband and live in peace.

Okay. Well, let’s hope the situation gets better for him. Thanks very much, Nitha
Thank you so much.

Last question: you wanted to say one more thing about how you felt when you left Sri Lanka?
Because when I left my country, I was thinking… “No more”. I thought “no more”, I think that my life was finish and our life was close. I thought like that. But now it’s a second born. So actually, they are giving a second life for me as a second born like that so I want to say thanks to everyone.

Thank you.
Yeah, they gave me the second life. Yeah.

Thanks, Nitha!

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.