Lost in Migration: A Refugee Chooses Between Two Worlds

The choice for Neema John boils down to this: America or Tanzania; family or familiarity; her parents’ poor Atlanta suburb or her own close-knit slum; her mother or her witch doctor.

Neema and her son Tony were the focus of the 2009 Pulitzer Center project, Run or Hide? Seeking refuge in Tanzania, and featured in the Christian Science Monitor series “Little Bill Clinton.” Five years ago, Neema’s refugee family resettled in Atlanta without her. Since then, the young woman has been living illegally in a Dar es Salaam slum, and her family has been working to bring her and Tony to join them. All of them hoped a reunion would help to heal their war- and genocide-scarred family.

Now, America has offered Neema and her 6-year-old a home. If she doesn’t take it soon, she’ll lose the opportunity forever. But Neema is not sure she wants it anymore. She’s at a crossroads, trying to imagine two vastly different lives and pick a future for her own small family. Officials at the U.S. Embassy and UN refugee agency say they’ve never seen someone hesitate to seize a chance like this. But for Neema, the choice is not obvious. This project will explore why.

Staying Power

“Witch doctor” is clearly not a Swahili term. But that is what the woman yells, over and over, stomping in place and drinking from a plastic pouch labeled “Premium Vodka.”