When we reach Ibrahim’s house in Novye Atagi on a hot spring day, the whole family is at home to greet us. Even though they went through a lot in life, their house’s doors are always open for guests. “We have found the strength to enjoy life despite of challenges,” says Ibrahim, as he walks us around the place where he grew up.
Ibrahim and his family returned to Chechnya from France in June 2018. The beginnings were not easy, but his determination, optimism and family support enabled him to persevere and purse a new path.
Life in France
When Chechnya was going through a difficult phase of the conflict, Ibrahim’s wife, Madina, fell severely ill. She was in urgent need of a medical treatment unavailable in the region then. That was one of the main reasons that prompted the family to leave Chechnya in 2015.
In France, the main focus of the family was Madina’s health. Ibrahim was trying to take care of all the administrative issues and tried hard to find a job to provide for the family, so that they could become independent from the government’s support. He remembers that, since he was used to working and having his own money since early childhood, the situation of being dependent on external means was not comfortable for him.
The inability to obtain a residence and work permit made the family consider a return to Chechnya, since they did not want to stay in France without a regular status. As soon as Madina recovered, they decided to head back.
They recall the three years spent in France as an overall positive experience, which provided them with an opportunity to learn a lot about the life in Europe. It did not come without its own challenges, though.
“When I speak to friends about the negative aspects of our life in France, they are not receptive to this kind of information. People who have never migrated choose not see the negative side of the migration story. Up until today, many Chechens consider Europe to be the Eldorado where everything is possible,” recalls Ibrahim. “Despite the mixture of our negative and positive experiences, we are very thankful to France for everything. My wife got cured there, my children have seen another part of the world, we really appreciate it”.
Ibrahim says that when he lived in France, he also learnt and understood many things. Most importantly, he realised that he wanted his children to know and love their homeland: “The time spent there is part of my accumulated experience – and a beneficial one. I am grateful for the time I spent there. It was enriching, interesting, at times not easy, but still very useful.”
A new start
Ibrahim remembers that getting back to Chechnya in 2018 meant that his family’s life would look completely different than it did in France. It was especially challenging for his older children, who faced some difficulties getting back to school and re-adjusting to a different mentality and reuniting with their old friends. Thankfully, their local community was very welcoming.
As Ibrahim used to work as a butcher in the past, he quickly decided with Caritas’ partner in Grozny that he would start a butcher business, which made most sense given his past experience. The butcher business was also a good project to provide for the daily needs of his family income-wise.
“I love my job as a butcher, I do it with pleasure, I love talking about it. I know certain details that a common man in the street does not know, I constantly improve my work, and it is not only me who benefits from this, but also my customers,” he says.
Ibrahim prides himself in customer service, his unique approach and knowledge: “I know my clients’ needs and priorities; I know what kind of meat is needed for which event. I know how it should be prepared for specific dishes. It is very interesting to watch and communicate with my customers. Sometimes the conversation moves on to other topics. Customers are people who, when coming to buy your product, take away not only the food, but also the mood. I want them to leave my shop with a good mood.”
Ibrahim’s village is quite big, so the locals grow their own crops and breed farm animals. The family itself keeps chickens and geese. Ibrahim says that in the future he hopes to buy more land to get his own livestock, too: “Like this, I could avoid purchasing cattle for slaughtering, I could have my own cattle. Also, this would allow me to completely control the food and medication that the cattle receives, something which is never sure when you buy cows from other people.”
The hosts proudly takes us on a tour of the green area around their house. Ibrahim’s wife treats us to their blackberries and raspberries, Ibrahim’s mother picks ripe cucumbers. The family says that they really enjoy working their own land, as home-grown food tastes much better compared to what one can buy in a supermarket. “The children are pleased to see how it all grows, how to take care of it, and love to help us too. Joint activities outdoors bring the family together and kindle the love for nature. We raise them so that they value both their own work and the work of others, and treat food with care. We ourselves grew up close to the land, so we understand the value of this. Children are happy that here they have more space to walk and their own courtyard. They didn’t have that in France.”
Spending time with the family, one starts feeling involved in everything going on in the house, enjoying the peace and harmony. They admit they feel very much more at ease, as they know what they want– to be happy as a family, among their own people. Three years have past since their return from France, Ibrahim is convinced he took the right decision.
“Even if it was difficult for our children at that time to leave their second home, La France, they are now fully reintegrated in their real home country, and this makes me happy. It is important for me that they understand that, wherever you are, the way you shape your life always depends on you. Chechnya has a lot of problems, but as a parent I always strive for a better life and better future for my family. This better life and future is here, on our Chechen ground, not in France.”