Marieke Hopman (28), PhD candidate at the law faculty, has a tattoo on the inside of her left wrist, the size of a euro coin, of the silhouette of a bird of prey.
“In 2016, I went to the Central African Republic (CAR) twice to do fieldwork for my research on children’s rights, the right to education in particular. One time I was talking to children in a refugee camp in Kaga Bandoro. The violent rebel groups Seleka and Anti Balaka fight against each other in this area. My interviews ran long and it was getting on for six, almost dark, too dangerous to travel. I spent the night in the local church. I lay in bed the entire time fearing they could storm in at any moment and shoot me dead. That’s how the kids I interviewed slept every night. Later, after I’d left, the camp and part of the village were attacked and set on fire. Almost forty people died and about sixty were hurt. That’s all news, but in the West you don’t hear a thing about it. If you’re lucky you can find something on Twitter under #CARcrisis.
Past November I went back to share the results and one day we were driving through a market when a local opened the left-hand door at the back and tried to get in. Presumably to rob us. The driver immediately grabbed for his weapon – which he coincidentally didn’t have on him that day, but the movement was enough. The intruder fled. I was sitting in the front on the right, so the furthest away, but it was very threatening.
The tattoo of a bird of prey is a symbol for me of the constant threat in the CAR. It’s a warm country, often not a cloud in the sky. Birds of prey circle high up and cast a big shadow. It’s horrible and intimidating. There are people everywhere with machine guns on the street and the police and the army are absent, corrupt, or have nothing to say. There are a few UN soldiers at most. There’s stealing, plundering, rape, murder.
At the same time, the bird of prey represents my position as a researcher. Like a bird, I observed everything that was happening from a distance. The tattoo is based on a photo I took there. I’ve tried googling what kind of bird of prey it is, with no luck.
Every time I look at my tattoo I think of the life lessons I learnt in the CAR. I now know what fear of death is and learnt then that I always want to keep working as a researcher for children’s rights, preferably in disadvantaged areas like the CAR. Research on the rights of children there is sorely needed.”