School: Fargo South High School, Fargo ND
Educator: Leah Juelke
AWARD: Gold Key, American Voices nominee
“Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!” someone desperately shouted.
“Mufatane amaboko,” my mom told us. We came out of the house intensely holding each other’s hands and we saw the dark sky. It looked like it had turned red. I was following where everyone else was going, I was so scared and I did not know what was going on. I was soon separated from my family and I started running faster.
Earlier in the evening, everyone had been happy. The people in our community of Banyamurenge in Burundi had integrity and respect for everyone. I was five years old and I was playing with my sisters. Sometimes we used to make fun of my elder sister and tell her that whenever she would get married, we would all have to follow her.
“Mwarasaze,” my sister would say.
My parents were always the best gift I could ever ask for. My wonderful dad used to encourage us. He would tell us to not listen to people who think that girls won’t be able to achieve much. He told usto always remember that we may not be the best in everything, but there is something we are all good at.
That night, some people were singing and others were in the church. It was part of our culture to always go to church before going to bed. As I was happily playing with the other kids, we suddenly heard a loud gunshot and my mother told us to go silently into the house. My sisters and I went inside but we told mom that we could not sit down without knowing where my dad was. My mom tried to convince us that Dad would be here any minute, but something in my heart kept on telling me that we should go and look for him. My mind was racing and then we started hearing kids crying. Then, we heard someone screaming for help.
“Why don’t we go outside and see what is happening?” my mom asked. When we opened the door we were so surprised to see a dark red sky and to find everyone running away to save their precious lives.
My family and I started running too. Eventually, I got lost. It was very dark and difficult to recognize people. Some of the enemies started to catch up to us and when they saw us, they would shout to their group to let them know where we were.
“Sanga mama wawe,” someone immediately commanded me from behind. I kept on looking around to see if I would see one of my lovely sisters. As I was standing by someone, I heard a loud gunshot. I thought that they had shot me, but when I looked, I saw the person that was standing beside me was shot and died immediately. Even though I did not know the person well, I started crying quietly. In a blink of an eye, I was thrown on someone’s back and carried away. I was confused and I wanted to cry at the same time.
The enemies started to burn people alive and women were mistreated and killed in the worst way. I kept on running until I saw two of my sisters and I felt like I was saved. My elder sister tried to save us by hiding us under a small roof that had fallen down. We told her that we couldn’t keep on hiding without knowing where our parents were. She suddenly told us to go with her. We were slowly walking and we saw my dad lying on the ground. Then we saw some guys pouring something that I thought was water on top of him. It wasn’t water; it was gasoline. We all started running to him and I saw something that I will never forget.
One tall man removed a lighter from his pocket and lit my father’s clothes on fire. As my sisters and I were watching, I heard my dad say, “Don’t ever forget your dreams.” My dad said it as he was burning. I felt like my stomach was being ripped from my body. During that moment, I did not care if I was killed or anything else happened to me. I told them to kill us because they took all we had. The guys started laughing at us and I felt like my world had ended. The man told us that they will make sure that we won’t be killed by anyone because they wanted us to suffer. They started arguing. One said that they should kill us the other ones said no. They eventually decided to let us go.
My two sisters and I had nowhere to go. We were afraid and we had no family left. I tried to think of someone to go to but I could not. We finally found my only aunt with a wounded elbow and leg. She immediately grabbed my hand and my sister and I went to her house. After awhile, we started to hear people shouting in our language.
“Musohoke tuje kubatabara!” someone shouted from outside.
As I was seated, I kept on thinking of how my life would be without my parents. The voices outside said that we were going to be rescued, so my cousins opened the door. As they opened the door, they were instantly shot and died right there on the floor. We thought that we were being rescued but it was the enemy’s way to see how many were still alive so that they could finish us. Within two hours those criminals killed 160 people.
My family had been in Burundi for only a few weeks when the massacre of my people started. The people who attacked us were actually Congolese rebels who followed us to the refugee camp. They were working together with corrupt officials from Burundi. We had come to Burundi when our country, Congo, was at war. The government allowed us to enter the country as refugees and stay in a refugee camp on the border. The main reason why our people were being killed in Congo was because of how we looked. Many tribes were very racist against our tribe. They didn’t like that we spoke a different language. Because we spoke a different language, they accused us of not being Congolese.
It wasn’t easy for us to get used to living without my dad. We found our mother the next day at the hospital where most people were getting treatment. We decided to move to Kenya. We stayed in Kenya for another six years. We started life there and I went to school. When I started eighth grade, I soon became one of the top five students in the whole country. It was my first moment of happiness since I lost my dad. It was also the first time I saw my mom smiling in a long time. I got a scholarship and I started high school. Going to a boarding school away from my family wasn’t easy. The first time I was shown my dorm room, I did not like it because it was small and I did not know anyone there.
One day, I was called into the office. It was my first time being called by the principal. I was really scared, but I knew that I had not done anything wrong. She told me to sit and wait for someone to come and talk to me. I started to bite my nails with my teeth. Surprisingly, it was my mother who I hadn’t seen for so long. She told me the best news ever. She told me that we were going to America the next month. I was sad but also happy. I felt sad that I was going to leave my friends. We did our check ups and got our immunizations. When it reached the actual date for us to leave, my friends were all crying and it was very hard.
My first time going on an airplane was really uncomfortable because I felt like I wasn’t safe. The food did not taste that good. It was not the kind I was used to. When we arrived at the Fargo airport, I was surprised to see one of my uncles whom I hadn’t seen for so long. I did not like the climate because there was so much cold and snow. It wasn’t easy to get used to the environment, but I learned that in order to get used to a place, you have to try to like it first. After a few days, I started school on the west side of the city and later in the year, we moved to the south side. I learned a lot after joining a military class at school called AFJROTC. I learned that you can never know what someone has gone through unless you talk to them. I also don’t feel alone anymore because of how I interact with other people. I’m glad I was able to start a new life; I just wish my dad was here to enjoy it with us.
Kinyamurenge Language Glossary
Mufatane amaboko: Hold each other’s hands.
Sanga mama wawe: Go to your mom!
Mwarasaze: You are crazy.
Musohoke tuje kubatabara: We have come to rescue you!