"I was born in Ethiopia, but that part of the story I only found out later. My father kept it secret that my stepmom was not my biological mother.
I left Eritrea in 1997 to avoid military conscription, because they say it’s two years but it’s never two years—it’s forever. I had to go through the mountains to get to the Ethiopian border, because we were not allowed to leave. In 1998 the war started, and I haven’t been back since.
To be honest I thought the war wouldn’t last long – I wanted to return home to my boyfriend, but it didn’t turn out that way. I waited the first months, when it was still possible to communicate between Asmara and Addis Ababa. In the end they cut the phone lines. My lifeline was just closed," Nicole tells.
"I met my first husband in Addis. He is the father of my daughter."
Originally from Denmark, Rahwa’s husband proposed a move to Europe.
"It’s difficult – you’re a young mother, you just came here to Denmark, you don’t know the country, you don’t know the language."
Her husband would soon grow tired of family life, however, and leave them behind for new opportunities abroad.
"As fate would have it, it was not to be her last trip to Denmark. She soon met the man who would become her second husband – another Dane!
"I started language school and thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this language is really difficult!’ But I was determined.
"I told myself: 'I have to make it, I have to understand what is going on around me and I have to know what people are saying. I want to know what is going on in society, because it’s very important' – if not you’re just a lonely ranger roaming around without knowing what is going on – so it was very important for me that I understood.
"I’ve always been blessed with languages – I speak five – and it’s always been a little easier for me to learn. I was also very quick to learn Danish – but it was more difficult than the others."
"We had this Danish teacher who was very demeaning to foreigners. Before we finished the course, he asked us about our plans for the future. One student said he wanted to be a dentist, and the teacher laughed and said ‘You’ll be on a cleaning crew.’ Another, she wanted to be a graphic designer – ‘Haha! You’ll be taking care of the elderly,’ he laughed. And to another still he said, ‘You’ll just be a welfare recipient.’"
From Rahwa to Nicole
"I was sending applications, sending my CV, and I never got anything back. And those who replied, they just rejected me and said they weren’t interested.
I came across this article about a guy who lived his entire life here, and after he finished his education he was looking for an internship, and nobody would give him one. And he was really qualified. And he didn’t understand it, until he found out it was because of his name – because his name was Mohammed. So he changed it to something more European.
When I read that, I said ‘Ha!’ The light bulb clicked – I told my husband, ‘I know why they won’t give me a job, because they see Rahwa and they assume I’m a Muslim, I’m a foreigner, and then they just think, 'Forget it.’
I sent in an application to change my name. I asked my friends to help me choose between Lilli and Nicole, and they looked at me and said ‘you know what? Nicole fits you much better.’"
You can't be good at everything, but you can be good at something
"When it comes to school, I just say to my daughter: 'remember that education is the key for the future, and the only thing you have to remember is that we are so lucky to live in a country where we have free access to education and you can be whatever you want to be. You have a chance to do whatever you want."
"I told her: 'we can’t be good at everything, so just be good at something. Something that suits you – something that makes you happy."
"If I was born here in Denmark, then my dream would have been to be a psychologist. It really fascinates me – I like to analyze, to analyze people’s behavior, and I like to listen."
Approach people with kindness
"I have been in Denmark for over 20 years, and I will have been working at a jewelry shop for 15. I really love it. Though I would have liked to work with people as a psychologist, I’ve loved jewelry since I was young, because my mom did too."
"It’s very fortunate to have this job. I speak with people, I have a lot of interaction, I love to talk to people! People feel comfortable when they talk to me, so I just listen to them – and they become very good customers."
Nicole published her first book, an autobiography entitled 'Fremmed i Danmark' ('A stranger in Denmark'), at the beginning of 2021.
She hopes to do some tours to present her book and make some speeches!
Moayed has been volunteering since day one in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now, being an asylum seeker for almost a year he has a job and lives independantly in an apartment that he rents.
In 1997, Nicole fled Eritrea to avoid military conscription. Her story is a story of female empowerment and strength. Coming to a new country, Nicole had to overcome the challenges of being “othered” due to her birth name, Rahwa.
Ndaishimiye lives with his wife and children in their house in Nduta Camp, Tanzania. Back in his country, Burundi, he was asked to teach children about the ruling party, but refused. As a consequence, he was jailed.
Mohammad started working at the age of 11 at the local pharmacy. That is how he earned the means for his education and managed to graduate the economics at the university. He learned a lot about medicines and developed an affection towards medicine – knowledge that turned out to be very useful.