Heart of Treasure Valley

Heart of the Treasure Valley: 'The word peace I only read in books'

"I have seen so much. My heart hurts. Many people think what I say is fiction, that it doesn't exist, it didn't happen. ... Everything (horrible) that you can think of has happened. You look at the news, at action movies - I can't watch. Fiction is what has already happened somewhere. It's not fiction to me." Fidel Nshombo grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo until, when he was 12, war tore his life apart. He now lives in Boise, on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen. He has written a book of poems about his - and other refugees' - experiences.
"I have seen so much. My heart hurts. Many people think what I say is fiction, that it doesn't exist, it didn't happen. ... Everything (horrible) that you can think of has happened. You look at the news, at action movies - I can't watch. Fiction is what has already happened somewhere. It's not fiction to me." Fidel Nshombo grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo until, when he was 12, war tore his life apart. He now lives in Boise, on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen. He has written a book of poems about his - and other refugees' - experiences. Katherine Jones / kjones@idahostatesman.com

He writes: If it was a bad experience, look at it as a route toward your knowledge.And advise your children about it, for the next generation needs to know where their elders went wrong.If you forget (your memories), who will lead the others?

Fidel Nshombo was born into a country already used to war. Everyone knew not to answer the door at night; everyone had seen things they never wanted to.

I looked at the people and my vision dimmed,Just like a midnight dreamNevertheless; it was not a dreamBecause 10 people had already been slaughtered.Being only 14 (years old),I never remembered what happened nextBecause it was all like a dream.

Fidel was born in 1983 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the fourth child and first son of 11 siblings. His father ran a photographic studio in Bukavu, a lovely, lush city, the capital of South Kivu Province.

Usually, when there had been fighting, his family would leave together to a nearby city.

When Fidel was 12, though, the army came to his school and rounded up all the boys. Everything changed after that.

... They say,Children are the futureThey say,Children are the ones to change the world to come.But thenThey are killing usThey don't want the futureThey don't care about the future,The world has no future. ...

This time, by the time Fidel escaped and came home via a circuitous route, the house was empty and ransacked. It would be 10 years before he heard about any of his family.

The way wars are commanded in our days is excessively scaryOne look at it, you may say that no one may pull out (of it)Just like the Titanic in the ocean where the chances to survive were like tissue.Guns that can demolish a city entirely at onceBullets everywhere and tens passing in seconds.It is just like a fairy tale, unbelievable but true. There are always survivors no matter what.Therefore let them tell stories.

The fighting would escalate into the Second Congo War, and by 2008, the war and its aftermath would leave 5.4 million dead, mostly from disease and starvation. Some cite this as the deadliest conflict since World War II. Millions more fled or were displaced.

Fidel is one of those.

Many refugees and war victims have hardened their hearts for years,Hoping to forget whatever has happened to them, butThese things will hurt them one way or another.It is better to make them the platform of your futureBy educating people that are still living in oblivion.Share painful stories with others and consider them as the way to your successIt is a great form of therapy than any other.

At 12, he was alone and desperate. His story, he would say, is not so unusual. He sought refuge in a church with others until, hidden in the roof, they watched morning worshippers massacred.

Didn't know we were all oneUntil I looked in the Bible and read"God created man from his image."Why are we killing each otherWhy are we killing our own brothersWhy are we killing our own people?And if all we do is killing themAre we men or animals?Who are we that we do not have compassion.

He fled to the streets. "Mostly, I was scared all the time, " he says. One day all the men were herded into a stadium where they waited to be killed - but they were not. He fled again, canoeing with friends the length of Tanganyika Lake to reach Zambia. Five of them wandered through the forest; one died. They were scattered by police, and he proceeded alone, again.

He hid on a truck to Zimbabwe and, when he was caught, spoke the only word he knew they would understand: "refugee."

Refugees of war in a foreign countryFailing to cope,They had a home one time,And a beautiful life,But all was destroyed and they were forced out,Leaving all behind.Surely I can hear their voices cryingAs they are abused and denied their rightAnd now are living the next stage of life.

The first year was the hardest. "I was crying all the time, missing my family. I didn't know where they were. It was hard." He was the youngest in a small camp of about 300. His second year was easier. "Many people help me to grow up, taught me how to behave. The men respected me as younger brother. I forced myself to learn English in six months in high school."

Politics in Zimbabwe changed, and so did the lives of refugees. Young Fidel was part of a group labeled troublemakers.

"I was just trying to find a safer place to be, trying to find myself and my future, " he says. "Which you can never achieve in a refugee camp if you just sit around and not do anything. You have to speak out for your problems. It's always a risk in those countries where you don't have freedom of speech."

... The word peace I only hear on radioThe word peace I only read in booksListening to people crying for it, ooh God,As for me, when will I feel it?

In a protest of conditions and treatment, a group of refugees surrendered their documents. Events led them to flee to Botswana. His English skills took him to South Africa, then to Angola on business, where he was robbed. He was arrested in Zimbabwe; escorted to the Mozambique border at 4 a.m. and left in a minefield. A friend was eaten by a crocodile escaping authorities; Fidel's status went back and forth between South African and Zimbabwe red tape and finally, in July 2006, the United Nations got him a visa to the United States - to Boise.

He had lived a lifetime already. He was 22.

Courage to endure,Courage to conquer,Courage to tolerate,Courage to accept,Courage to pursue,Courage to achieve,Courage to get adapted to a new land,Courage to get used to a new culture,Courage to learn a new language,Finally, courage to accept your status: refugee.It takes courage to be a refugee.

Fidel's poems come from a book he has written called "The Route to Peace." The writing is part therapy to alleviate the pain in his heart, and part fundraiser: A year ago, Fidel found a younger brother and sister in a refugee camp in Uganda. Separated by age as well as events, they are learning, long-distance, how to be a family again. And, Fidel dreams, someday it won't be long-distance.

The reason why I am writing to youTo hear our voices in the empty spaceBlowing in the wind, seeking to catch the ears of the merciful.

Remembering his experience, Fidel sends his siblings money every month so they won't have to live in the refugee camp. He taught himself to use the computer and works as a night auditor at a hotel. Like a parent, he's putting his own life on hold to support his siblings.

"I look at what others are doing - college, getting married. It hurts me. I stop, look back again - it's for the right reason. It gives me courage. Just having family members again, it's all right. I can live with it."

I realized that there was a lot to be toldand the world had never heard the reality- convinced that it's fiction or fairy tales.That's when I decided to start writing (my) poems and stories(and those of) a few other refugees.This is just an attempt,and if the world wants to hear more…

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