A life like Anja’s – what is that like?
A life like Anja’s – what is that like?
Danish public-service radio and television broadcasting company, DR, has interviewed Anja for a Podcast series called “World Class”. The two Danish hosts, Stéphanie Surrugue and Anders Agger, speak to Danes who, for various reasons, have voluntarily chosen to settle abroad.
Anja is one of them.
Privately, Anja lives an unconventional family life with a husband in Nigeria and their son, David Jr. who goes to school ind Denmark. He himself says that he lives in two countries at the same time. Their lives are back and forth between Nigeria and Denmark. Suitcases are always packed, and waiting time at the airport has become part of everyday life.
But what is it really like?
What drives Anja to give up a safe and stable life in Denmark and instead live a difficult life, in one of the world’s most dangerous countries? And how does Anja’s son feel about having to share his mother with 100 other children at the Land of Hope orphanage?
We know that many of you have asked the same questions.
Now Anja puts into words the choices she has made in life – and why.
Since the Podcast is only in Danish we have translated it here for you:
You are known in the public eye for your work with ‘witch children’. Are you unhappy with that predicate?
My mission is for world leaders and large international organizations to open their eyes to the 10,000 children a year who are accused of being witches in Nigeria. You can call me ‘mother of the witch children’. It is also the name of my book. So I have given myself this predicate too.
You move between Denmark and Nigeria all the time. And I have read somewhere that you feel just as at home in Nigeria as in Denmark. Is that correct?
If you ask my son where he lives he will say “I live in two countries”. And that is the truth. My living room floor is full of suitcases. It’s like we live in Frankfurt airport where we fly between Denmark and Nigeria. And on top of that it is two very different countries.
It was a choice I made when I met my son’s father in Nigeria 10 years ago. Our main priority and life mission is to spread the word about children being accused of being witches and that means our relationship and family life come second.
Do you sometimes meet each other at the airport?
My husband and I only see each other in Nigeria. He has never been to Denmark and a lot of people wonder about that. He might be exceptional but he does not dream of coming to the western world. His goal is to make Nigeria a better place, and he is also politically active in Nigeria. So he is very busy with that.
How is his view on Denmark?
He thinks that Danes are fantastic. His own son is half Dane. But he also thinks Danes are a little crazy sometimes.
He looks at the western world with Nigerian eyes and his world perspective is culturally different from mine. I grew up with Christian values in Denmark which is the world’s least corrupt country. We fight for women’s equality, and he grew up in a patriarchal society in Nigeria, the world’s most corrupt country. Our point of view is different.
I may have been a bit naive thinking that we in the western world do everything the right way. But if you look at us from different perspectives that might not be true. He has pointed that out to me.
At the same time he knows, we would not be where we are today if it wasn’t for the support we get from the Danish people.
After spending 10 years together we have learned that we may have different backgounds, but we have a common goal and important things to fight for. Therefore, we have to put our own values aside to find common solutions to save as many children accused of being witches in Nigeria as possible. It is not always easy to do so.
When I travelled to Nigeria 10 years ago I wanted to ‘save’ Nigeria by telling these poor communities ‘you should not accuse children of being witches’. But I had to realise that these people didn’t even have clean water to drink, didn’t have access to healthcare, and no social protection.
When you describe Nigeria like that I feel the need to ask: Anja, what in the world are you doing? I admire your mission, but why do you want to live a life like that? Have you had time to reflect on that?
It has been a question I have had to ask myself. A lot of people have told me I am brave and asked me where that comes from.
I grew up with a strong and caring mother who worked at a nursing home. We did not have much money. My father was an alcoholic and he neglected me as a child. They represented two different worlds to me – and I wanted to save my father. My concerns have always been other people’s needs and well beings – not my own.
My mother taught me that if I want to reach my goals I have to work hard. So I knew when I started Land of Hope that it came with sacrifices.
Do you live in the dangerous areas of Nigeria?
We live in Akwa Ibom state. Nigeria has 36 states and Akwa Ibom state is in the South-East of Nigeria near the coast. We live at Land of Hope together with all the children. It’s primitive, but it is what I want to do.
How does your son feel about it? You taking care of other children but him
I don’t want my son to feel like he comes second. But it was difficult being his mother, and at the same time being a mother figure for all the other children. I was afraid he would be jealous. I spoke to my husband about it and he said, I shouldn’t feel guilty. That the children know he is my son and he lives with us.
I also questioned – is this life good for him? And I believe it is good for all children to see all sides of this world.
When you get old and look back. What would you like to say you succeeded in doing?
The footprints I leave my son is important. I want him to know the most important thing you can do in life is to help other people in need and be a good person. To listen, be empathic, and not judge other people.
I hope he will remember his mother as someone who helped other people.
That is important to me – not the fact that I have met Dalai Lama or won awards. It may look good in pictures on instagram but we also sacrifice a lot. I hope he forgives me for that and instead appreciate that I gave him an insight into a world where children do not have the same opportunities as him. And he learned something from that experience.