About Refugees, By Refugees


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Democratic Republic of the Congo


Ali Lorestani

I just wake up one morning and my mom told me we are going to Sweden.” Grace (pseud, 23) moved to Stockholm from the Democratic Republic of Congo as a 12 year-old child of a refugee. “My mom didn’t told me a lot, but we come here to be reunited with our father.” Grace had a new country, language and school. “I’m a very shy person,” says Grace. She recalls being afraid of being bullied “because I couldn’t speak Swedish or something, but I had my sister that’s make me like going through it.” She didn’t enjoy her new school and remembers how sad that made her mom: “To see her sad that make me anpassa mig [adapt] to accept the situation.” Now, Grace sees being able to study in Sweden as an opportunity. “My dream is to become a business controller,” she says. Grace sees study as the path to a better job so that she might “take care of my mom and buy her a new house, or send her back home as she wishes, so I can take care of my sisters.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

And I think the first question is, we wait for them to be um…  OK? The first question is what kind of housing do you live in?
An apartment.

Can you describe the conditions?
It’s eh, Oh. We have a bedroom or two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a living room.

And who do you live with?
Right now I’m living with my mom but my sister come and go because they are studying outside Stockholm.

Ehm, how do you spend your time here? Do you work?
Yeah, I’m working. And after work, I’m going at the gym, make some trains and come back home. Cooking.

And cleaning?

Eh, what are some of the things that bring joy to you?
To see my family unit and yeah to be with my family.

Alright. The next question, how has life been since you’ve arrived in Europe? What’s been good about it and what’s been difficult?
The difficult part was the language, to learn a new language, and a new culture. But the good part was that to be able to study for free and get paid for it in Sweden. So, yeah that was the best part.

Can you describe how living here has made you feel?
When we first arrived, it was winter, so was the first time for me to see the snow and it was very cold. We left Kinshasa when it was very hot. So the change make me very depressed and I just wanted to go back home. But when time fly, I feel at home here. Like, Yeah, somehow.

OK, but you’re here with your family, but how does how do you feel being away from the country or maybe other relatives that, uh,
Yeah, I’ll be a little bit weird because all of my friends who I’ve been like growing up with, they also doesn’t live in Kinshasa anymore. So I feel like I don’t have anything there. So I don’t feel at home in Kinshasa anymore. So and I never return since I left. So, I don’t know how to feel about it.

All right. But you said, like when you arrived, you was a bit depressed, like depressing to be here, you went there, right?

How was, how did you handle it? How did you…
My mom forced me to go to school and um, in the like rest break, when we took a break, so in Sweden here you are, you have to go out to take a break or something. That was the biggest problem with us, me and my sister. So the teacher called my mom every time and my mom being like sad, that we didn’t enjoy being here, so to see her sad, to see her sad that make me like, yeah, ampassa mig (Swedish- adapt) like be able to accept the situation and just live with it.

Mm, so you think do you think it developed some,eh, some skills to to face these challenges?

Which was the weather?
Yes, and the language ’cause we have some family members here. I couldn’t communicate with my cousin ’cause she she couldn’t speak French or Lingala. So that was also a little bit  frustrating to be living with a person that you cannot communicate with.

Is something but now, how has covid-19 affected your life, em emotional, or?
The sad…..The sad part was that I’m going to be a godmother and I really my wish was to be there where my godson is getting birth, but I couldn’t make it because they’re living in the U.S. and a cannot flying over there to meet them. That was the biggest sad part of the covid. But otherwise I’m happy that my family didn’t get it yet and I don’t wish anyone, any one of them getting it. But yeah.

So so, um, the second part is about your past.

And feel free to not answer if you don’t want to answer.

Ehm why did you leave the country? Can you describe what happened?
Eh oh, I was like 12 years old, so my mom didn’t told me a lot of that, but we come here to uh be reunited with our father who was living here. So, yeah, I don’t remember a lot about that, because in my culture, some kids are not supposed to know a lot.

So I just wake up one morning and my mom told me we are going to Sweden. So I was like “OK”. Did they have any choice or something?

Ehm can I ask, how was the journey to Europe? Is it any experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us about?
When I left, I know we’ve flown, we’ve yeah, we flew here and I’m scared of airplanes, so that’s what’s my biggest fear. But yeah, other wasn’t any complication that what I can remember?

So I skip some of the questions like how did that make you feel? But that’s far more like if, for example, if I’ve traveled, if I walk first.

I guess. Mmm. But like you said, as a kid when you came like,could you ever imagine you could you will be able to handle this situation? New country, new language, new friends?
No, ’cause especially the friend situation. I’m a very shy person. I don’t speak to new people easily. So I was like, is afraid to be, of get bullied because I couldn’t speak Swedish or something, but I had my sister that’s make me like going through it.

Mmm. So did you did you you you and your sister, did you create any any coping with any way to to face the challenges, like?
Yeah, we looked at the many TV shows in Swedish to learn faster. And when we come home from school, we read many books ’cause we needed really to have a mom because we knew that it would take more time for her to learn in a new country, in a new language instead of us, so that was what happened. We learned Swedish after at one years, so we couldn’t help her with papers sort of things.

Ehm, I will ask a question about your dreams, but please answer like this “My dream was” and then the dream before you left home, what was your dream?
Before I left Kinshasa my dream was to be an advocate. I love everything we have to know to do. And I think it was very interesting, but, it’s not my dream anymore, so yeah.

When you were leaving your home…

At that moment.

What was your dream for a future and it wasn’t the same
Yeah. To be an advocate and help other kids in a bad situation. I told myself that.

Okay, before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strength? Have you maintain peace? If so, how? If not, why not your strength before?
Phhh. I really don’t remember my strength. I don’t know actually.

I wasn’t thinking about that, I guess.

What was, what’s your strength now if you want to describe it?
Now my strength is to get a better job. So it’s my family, I can say. To be able to take care of my mom and, yeah, buy her a new house or send her back home as she wishes so I can take care of my sisters.

Do you think you have grown in any situation? How have you grown this experiences?
Yeah. First of all, when I was in Congo, I wasn’t doing anything. We have someone who come home and make the dishes or anything like that. And when we lived here, it was my first time to wash something to wash my clothes. I didn’t know how to do it, so. Now, when I look back, I couldn’t even cooking an egg. Now I can make dishes from Congo and other ways. So, yeah, I’m thankful to be here.

OK, again, please answer. My dream is, what are your hopes and dreams for the future now?
My dream is to become a business controller. It’s something I really, really really wish that I can make very soon future.

Thanks for answering all the question. The last thing is there anything you wanted to say to the people of Europe to understand their refugee lives?
That’s important for me to tell them is like we don’t leave our country because like we don’t have any resources. We leave there because to get, to like to learn something new and maybe go back and do it better to our countries. So we’re not here just to like, we poor or something like that.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.