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Our battle with raising quadruplets in a refugee camp

By Vibeke Vinema, BBC | Sunday, Jan 8th 2017 at 10:36
Massaya, Taghri and the children Photo: BBC

Massaya Ag Iliyass: I am a farmer from Mole in central Mali, and I have one wife Taghri Walet Tokeye. Our lives turned upside down when one day we had to gather up our six children and a few blankets, and flee from what we knew was home.

Three of the children could walk - the others had to be carried. A friend had lent us a donkey and the younger children took turns sitting on its back. We walked for five days and five nights. It was a very long way and exhausting. We had to walk slowly so we wouldn't tire them out, and we rested as much as we could.

Taghri: Half the village fled at the same time. There was no food - all the shops and markets were empty. We were fleeing both soldiers and Tuareg rebels. Among them there are a lot of bad people, who rob people of their possessions and attack them if they wanted to have one of our animals and we refused, they would kill us.

Our destination was Mbera refugee camp, just across the border in Mauritania. We were part of a wave of 15,000 refugees that arrived in the camp that month alone. When we first arrived, conditions were harsh.

Some 60,000 refugees were trying to survive in 50C (122F) heat in the middle of the desert. There were shortages of water and food.

I soon realised that I was pregnant but it felt different from my other pregnancies. I could feel I was bigger so I knew there was something more to it. An ultrasound revealed I was expecting quadruplets. It was very good news to hear that.

I felt no pain at all during delivery. I had an epidural anaesthetic and was awake throughout. Nobody cried - apart from the babies.

They were a promising weight at birth, between 3lb 15oz (1.8kg) and 5lb 6oz (2.45kg).

Massaya: I wasn't there for the delivery - I was out herding sheep - but came home as soon as I could. I felt extreme joy. I was very happy - so happy it's difficult to express in words.

Taghri: I managed to breastfeed. It wasn't very difficult because I'm used to it. But the nurses really helped and did some bottle feeding on top. The quads were three boys and a girl.

After four months of special care, we have now left the medical centre and returned to the refugee camp. It is challenging. We and our 10 children live in one swelteringly hot tent. There is someone who helps with the children but it's very difficult to sleep at the moment.

Massaya: Two of the quads, Fatim and Oumar are very calm. However the other two, Ousmane and Aboubakrine, are very naughty - they cry a lot and only calm down when someone holds them in their arms. The six older siblings seem happy with the babies and carry them around.

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