T. When did you arrive in Pittsburgh?
B. Two-thousand seventeen?
T. Two-thousand seventeen?
B. Yeah it was the 23rd of February.
T. That’s around the time of my mother’s birthday. Twenty-third of February yeah that’s maybe not the nicest time. I’ve only been here since we moved here in July of this year (…) I haven’t known winter yet in Pittsburgh
T. So I think you have more experience thank I do in that respect.
T. This is the Pittsburgh refugee stories oral history project on behalf of Duquesne University, today is November 24th 2019. Thank you very much for agreeing to speak with us.
B. Thank you for coming too
T. It’s very much my pleasure. Tell me a little bit about your home.
B. Back home, actually I’m Congolese but I grew up in a different country, Burundi.
So we moved to Congo because of politics problems and we went in Burundi and (in) Burundi I studied all my high school there and, I did my high school and then I did two years university. I did clinic psychology and social to (in) university (for) two years but I didn’t finish my university studies.
T. Is that something you would like to complete in the future if that’s possible?
B. Exactly. I have a project. Actually I was going to school but I stopped because I got married.
I stopped a little bit but I was doing pharmacy technician. I have a project to continue like (in) clinic psychology because I like to work with people. Yeah to help people and in social, like social stuff so, maybe in the future I (will) go back.
T. How many languages do you speak?
B. I speak my mother tongue. I speak Kirundi where I grow up. Kirundi and Kinuranda they are similar I can speak Kirundi or Kinyarwanda. I speak French, I speak Swahili and I speak English.
T. Ah. Si tu veux parler en Francais, je peux parler en Français aussi. Je ne sais si c’est claire pour vous, si c’est mieux de parler en Français des fois? [If you would like to speak French, I speak French as well. I don’t know if that’s clearer for you, if its better to speak French sometimes?]
B. Yeah, parfois je peux parler parce-que je melange les langues [Yeah, sometimes I can speak (French) because I mix up the languages]
T. (laughing) okay!
B. Pour moi c’est bien je peux parler parce que j’ai fais mes etudes au secondaire en français. Au Burundi on a une système francophone. Je peux parler français aussi meme si c’est pas tellement claire je peux mélanger quelques [For me it’s good I can speak (French) because I did my secondary studies (high school) in French. In Burundi we have a francophone system, so I can speak French as well even if it’s not always clear I might mix up some]
T. (in French): Quelques mots? [some words?]
B. (in French): Quelques mots français, swahili, anglais tous ca, tu vois? [Some words in French, in Swahili, in English all that, you see?]
T. (switchning to English): Okay, so we’ll do the interview mostly in English because its for an English audience but if at any time you feel that you’re searching for the word and it comes to you first in French, switch over to French I can do all the translation
B: Okay that’s cool, yeah
T: Okay so you’re originally from Congo?
B: Congo, yeah
T: But you grew up in Burundi?
T: Okay and you said that you’re married. Are you still married?
B: Yeah, I’m still married
T: Okay. Is your wife here or is she back home?
B: She’s here but for now, because we have a new, because we had a new baby a month ago. Now she stays with my sister’s house which is Bahati’s house (B.’s sister is Bahati, who also contributed to this oral history project). Now she’s at Bahati’s house.
T: Ah! Okay, now I understand. Well congratulations!
B: Oh, thank you so much
T: It’s very good, ah… so tell me what was it like growing up in Burundi? What years would this have been, what years did you grow up there?
B: We moved in Burundi since I was (inaudible) years old
T: Eight or eighteen?
T: Eight years old okay
B: Eight years old and then we moved there so, (un)til I came here that’s going to be, I don’t know how many years but I came here I had twenty-six years old
B: So if you take eight years old minus twenty six you can find it
T: So about eighteen years living in Burundi?
B: Yeah, about eighteen years
T: Okay and tell me about your life back home, what was it living in Burundi
B: Like I said earlier I did school and after high school I had my own shop. Women’s dress. I own (owned) my own shop and then at the same time I was doing university so during the day I was at my shop and then in evening I do the university, yeah.
T: What caused you to move from Congo to Burundi?
B: Like I said it’s politics problems that people use.
Because if you try to check the issue of my dad he had (switching to French) il était [he was] how can I say? He used to marry so many women so, he married some (from a) different culture that’s Congolese. They don’t like exactly.
They say they’re not Congolese so they fight and then because of that marrying someone else ethnic like, how can I say (switching to French) une autre ethnie [of a different ethnicity] (switching back to English) so my dad runned (ran) away left us with my mom and then my mom passed away and then (switching to French) On était obliger de chercher pour notre père parce-qu’on ne savait pas la ou il état parti, puis, ah, on a contacté, on a contacté, on a cherché puis ils ont dit qu’il était au Burundi. C’est là ou il travail puis, on a décidé de lui suivre au Burundi [We were obligated to search for my father because we had no idea where he had gone, and… we contacted, we contacted, we searched and they said he was in Burundi, that’s where he was working, so we followed him to Burundi.]
T: And, is there much suffering in Congo? or Burundi?
B: It’s kind of because if you don’t have someone to take care (of you) it’s not easy to live, to survive.
But if you have something you can take care, if you have something you can do, it’s different where we used to live and when we moved (switching to French) il avait quelque différences quand meme, par-ce que vivre dans le village et vivre dans la capitale ce nest pas la meme chose. Il y a une différence de vie [there were some differences even still, because living in a village and living in the capital is not the same thing. There’s a difference in life (switching back to English)]
B: There is a difference to live in village and big city
T: How many people would you say lived in your village?
B: Hmmm, haha, I don’t know, because I used to live with my mom and my sisters and my uncles, you know. Back home in Africa we have this habit (of living) together as a family. Uncles, aunties, everyone is there. Same area so you can help each other.
T: Okay. And now you and Bahati you live in the same city, in Pittsburgh?
B: Yeah, yeah we live in the same city
T. You mentioned the suffering and the difficulties. The political difficulties back home in Africa. Do you believe there is a group or types of people who are responsible for this, or is it too difficult to say?
B: For sure I don’t know, I can not mention anyone it’s (who is) responsible (for) this stuff it’s like everyone has different issues you know, different cases. So I can’t exactly mention who is responsible
T: That’s fair. You mentioned before, remind me, what did you do back home? What did you do right before you came to America?
B: Used to go to school—university. I used to do university school and I used to—I owned my own business—dress, women’s
T: Women’s clothing?
T: And you were also going to school at the same time?
B: Yeah, yeah, yeah
T: A business owner and a student
T: That’s a lot of work to do! (laughing)
B: Yeah because you know sometimes I need a lot of help and then sometimes I can see (switching to French) mon père n’a pas la capacité de m’aider [My father doesn’t have the (financial) means to help me] (switching back to English)
So he can pay the school fees but he can’t give me money for dressing, he can’t give me money for (to) buy anything that I want
B: So I have to do something to cover my needs
That’s what I used to do, I pick up a shift and I just planned my life myself. I said ‘during the day I can be to (at) my shop and then after this, because I used to go—my school start(ed) at six or five pm, after five or three pm I have to go home and make dressing, make ready myself and then I go.
T: That’s impressive, most students—they only study but you were working and studying at the same time
B: Yeah. I used to do that because sometimes I have some friends help me
B: They can just stay on to (at) the shop and I can be home studying and learning, making, doing my research so I know some people that I believe they are running the shop. That’s what I used to do
T: Remind me what you were studying?
B: Clinic psychology and social
T: Clinical psychology?
B: And social
T: And what do you do now, in America?
B: In America now, I was going to school—I was doing training but I stopped after getting married. But now I’m just working
T: What do you do for your job?
B: I take care of people. Let me just say nursing home, is it houses? Is it nursing something?
T: Nursing home?
B: Nursing home
T: Okay so you help out in a nursing home, you work in a nursing home?
T: Tell me what are some of your favourite memories of home? Back in Congo, back in Burundi?
B: I don’t have many (from) Congo, because I left there for a long long time, like (I was a) baby.
But in Burundi I have so many friends. Like some part of my family, like my church its a most important, my memory that I (switches to French) toujours, toujours je pense à l’église [always, always, I think of my church] (switching back to English)
My team that I used to sing with, to lead. So that’s a big memory that I have.
T. (in French): C’est quel type d’église? Chrétienne, Catholique? [It’s what type of church, Christian, Catholic?]
B: Chrétienne… Protéstante [Christian, Protestant]
T. (in French): Et tu as chanté dans la chorale? [And you sang in the choir?]
B: Yeah, yeah, yeah
B: J’étais [I was] a leader so when I left it was a big hole
T: I understand
T: Are you part of—have you found a church here?
T: Okay, and you go with Bahati?
B: Yeah, we go together
T: Do you sing as well?
B: Yeah, I do
T: Good for you (laughs) that’s lovely. How did you come to America?
B: Yeah I came as refugee, I come the refugee way. I don’t know how to say it
T. (in French): Dis-le en français si tu veux [Say it in French if you like]
B. (in French): Ah, je suis venu comme un refugié, c’est ça le [I came here as a refugee, that’s the]
B. (in English): It’s the way that I came, it’s the way that brought me here
T: What were there problems in Burundi that required you to come here?
B: No, no, the problem is in Congo (that’s) why we ran and moved to Burundi
T: Ah, I see
B: So Burundi it’s a like a refugee country that we went to
T: That’s very helpful in explaining. I think a lot of Americans—I’m Canadian actually—I’m from Canada originally
T: But I think a lot of Americans and Canadians and Europeans, they don’t understand the geography of Africa, number one
T: And they don’t understand how people move, so the question has been--'well if you’re a refugee from Burundi why are you talking about Congo'—they don’t understand the borders are a bit more fluid
B: Yeah because where my dad came from it’s far (…) Burundi and Congo (where) we used to live we have borders it’s just like twenty or forty-five minutes drive so you can go to Congo and do your business in Burundi all day and then you go back to sleep in Congo, you see? So it’s easy for people to travel. To see if people have some thing like issues like, I can be a refugee
T: So why did you come to America, of all countries, why come to America?
B: When you are a refugee there is something I can say. They put your case in the system or they send requirements to different countries. So the country that will agree, they say ‘we need you.’
The country will take care of you, so you will be choosing to go in that country. Maybe when they put they requirements America (switching to French) m’avez accepter d’être idi, c’est pourquoi [America accepted me, that’s why I am here].
T. (in French): Okay. As-tu essayer d’immigrer au autres pays, come le Canada, ou bien en Europe? [Did you try to immigrate to any other countries, like Canada, or in Europe?]
B. (in French): Il était possible d’être au Canada, Australie, Suede, mais Amérique c’était la premier pays d’accepter mon demande d’être ici [Sure, it was possible to go to other countries, like Canada, Australia, Sweden, but it was America that first accepted my request to be here]
T. (continuing in French): Okay, puis c’était pas juste toi, mais ta soeur aussi? [Okay, but it wasn’t just you, it was your sister as well?]
B. (continuing in French): Non, non, non, ce n’était pas moi c’était les [No, no, no it wasn’t me it was the] (refers to an organization that assists refugees, but it was difficult to understand which group he was specifically referring to. He may have been saying HCR with a French pronunciation, as in the United Nations High Commission on Refugees—UNHCR)
B: How do I say? There is an organization called, in French, OIM (the French initialism corresponding to the IOM—International Organization for Migration) and RCC (also unclear, though this likely refers to a UN Regional Cooperation Centre)
B. (in French): Ce sont les organisations qui font les demandes des réfugiés, qui font le demande aux pays. Qui font accueillir les réfugiés [These are the organizations that make the request on behalf of refugees, who make the request to countries. Who welcome the refugees]
T. (in French): Ah bon, okay. Maintenant je comprends [Now I understand] So tell me a bit then about the refugee application process. Is it easy, not so easy, frustrating?
B: (laughing) I can say it’s not easy (switching to French) il y a des fois quand tu perd la patience [there are time when you lose patience]
B. (switching back to English): and then I was in process around fifteen years. Fifteen years, it’s not easy. We were supposed to be here in 2018, but we came in 2014 and then I know some people who was in process with.
They think like they’ve done everything but they still back home, you see? It’s not easy, yeah. It requires (you) to be patient (it’s not clear whether B. confused the dates of his arrival in the United States, or whether he’s referring to other members of his family immigrating to the United States)
B: Because you can think ‘now I’m done and I need to go’ but you’re still there (switching to French) ce n’est pas facile.
Parfois j’ai dis au autres je vais abandonner, je vais aller chercher la vie dans une autre pays, je vais faire comme ça. J’ai perdu la confiance, la patience, et puis, parce que tu as les parents qui dits-en ‘attend, ça va aller’ [It’s not easy. Sometimes I told others that I would abandon (my efforts at immigrating), that I’d seek a new life in a different country that I would do that. I lost confidence, lost patience, but yet, because your parents, they say ‘wait, it’ll work out’]
B. (switching back to English): you know, it’s not easy
T: What did you bring with you from Africa, from Burundi?
B: Like family?
T: Whatever you want—just tell us what you brought with you—start with your family if you want
B: I came with my parents—they’re in Florida—they went (to) Florida because they can’t survive in the cold stuff. Haha.
And then here I came with my brother, after two weeks my sister came yeah. It was a good moment to come and I came with some of my friends. We knew each other back home and we were just separated to go in different cities
T: So how many—you said your family—you’ve got parents who are living in Florida right now?
B: Yeah, yeah, yeah
T: And you have other siblings as well? You said a brother?
B: Yeah, he’s not here now, he moved in Florida because he got married in Florida
T: Were you able to bring things from back home?
B: Yes I did I just bring clothes, books, some of my books and—what else—my pictures (laughs) yeah. And my shoes. I didn’t bring a lot of stuff because I was just myself, so I didn’t bring a lot of stuff. I just brought little, little things that’s it
T: So what did you leave behind? What’s still back in Burundi?
B: That I own? No. I there I have family too. I think that’s all I have
T: Do you still have a lot of family back home in Burundi?
B: Yeah, yeah, yeah
T: Are you from a big family?
B: A very big family
T: How big?
B: We’re eleven
T: Eleven children!? Eleven brothers and sisters?
B: Yes, eleven. We’re eleven. Yes, to my mom’s side there are two, my dad’s side there are nineteen, so I came from a big, big family
T: Wow. That’s impressive (laughing)
B: (laughing) Yeah, yeah we’re eleven
T: And are they, are they mostly in Congo, in Burundi? A little bit all over?
B: Hmmmm. My dad’s side they are (in) Congo, we have just one our big sister—oh no no no no, sorry--all my family, my siblings they’re in Burundi. We just have one sister, our big sister, our older sister she’s in Congo, she’s married in Congo
T. What’s her name? Your eldest sister?
B. My older sister her name is Rahema. That means (pronouncing in French) ’miséricorde’ [misericord]
T. (switching to French): ça veut dire quoi? [what does that mean?]
B. (continuing in French): Miséricorde (B. clearly articulates the word in French to help T. understand he’s saying the word ‘misericord’—an act of clemency, pity or mercy)
T. What was the most difficult part of coming to America?
B. Let me see. I remember we finished everything and then we thought we were ready to come. They told us to buy stuff, like new stuff you know? If you’re going to America you are very surprised, very impressed, so they told us to buy clothes, shoes and suitcases.
So I bought everything and then one month passed, a second (month) passed, I was like ‘no, I can’t just keep this stuff in the house, let me start wearing them’. And then after four-five months they called me: ‘hey, now you are ready to go!’
And I was like ‘I don’t have anything new now! Everything is old!’
And then I sold my shop you know? Because I didn’t bring—I didn’t like to leave it and then start controlling it (from) afar—I just sold some stuff and then give some stuff to my friends. By this period, like five months, I didn’t have anything else to do. I stopped school and it was… (switching to French) c’était difficile, meme à vivre [it was difficult, even to live] (switching back to English) sometimes I need some things like money to buy even—in African we have a system to buy (switching to French)—les unités pour la téléphone. Y’arriver des fois je manquais meme les unités et j’ai manqué quoi faire pendant ce période, c’étais pas facile pour moi [(B. mentions a system to purchase tokens to use the phone) There were times when I didn’t even have tokens to use the phone and I had nothing to do (i.e. no work to do) during this time. It was not easy for me]
T. Since you’ve come to America—you mentioned this before—do you feel you’re a part of a community, here, in the same way that you felt back in Africa?
B. Oh yes I do!
Because when I came I meet (met) this African community, this Burundian community and Congolese community. But, in my mind, I’m a person who everyday likes to go forward. I like to improve my life because the community that I used to be in—they don’t speak English—most of them they speak Swahili. Most of them, they are people who didn’t go to school. And then I saw that I can’t exactly believe in this community because they are not helping me in anything. Like if I need to go to school, if I need to do this, they can even tell you ‘no don’t do that, don’t go there, we have to be like this,’ so I decided to go a little bit (switching to French) de m’écarter de ce communauté [I decided to depart from this community]
B. (continuing in English): But I found another community, it’s a Zambian community—because the Zambians speak English. So that’s helped me because I’d like to improve my English so I can go to school and then do better. Y’know?
T. How do you feel the Americans have treated you, since you got here?
B. To be honest, I have good friends (switching to French) parce-que, ce que je croix, c’est que je ne peux pas marcher avec quelqu’un que [because, what I believe is that I cannot walk with someone]
B. (switching back to English): someone I don’t suit with. Y’know? (switching to French) Souvent, j’ai choisi les amis pour marcher avec et parfois j’ai resté dans ma maison parce-que je n’ai pas de problèmes avec les gens [I often chose the friends who I walked with but sometimes I stayed home because I don’t have problems with people]
B. (switching back to English): If you have a lot of friends, they can influence you, in a bad way, in a good way. So I picked (chose) friends to be with. Most of my friends I can say they are good—they’re people that can tell you something and then if you do that thing you’ll see the good result.
T. Are most of your friends African?
B. Hmmmm, yes! Most of my friends they’re African.
T. Since you moved here what’s your experience been of people who were born in America?
B. I have some who (were) born in America but some of them have (switching to French) leur caractère, leur façon de vivre, crest très différent avec ma personalité parce-que ce que j’aime dans ma vie c’est de garder ma personalité—garder ma personnalité parce-que demain ou après demain—je suis en train de grandir, de faire une ‘career’ musicale so je veux garder une personnalité meme si c’est pas cent-pourcent parfaite, il faut que ça soit au moins parfait devant les yeux des autres, devant la communauté. Je veux être un bonne example au autres [their character, their way of living, it’s very different from my personality because what I like in my life is to keep my personality—keep my personality because tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, I’m growing—I’m trying to make a musical career so I want to keep my personality even if it’s not 100% perfect, it should at least seem close to perfect in the eyes of others in the eyes of the community. I want to be a good example to others]
B. (continuing in English) I don’t hang up (hang out) with—I’m telling you these Americans who were born here—even if he’s African or whatever. If he doesn’t have a good personality I can’t go with him
T. That’s understandable. What do you think of the American government? How does the American government treat you?
B. It’s a good government because I don’t have any issue with government stuff so, for me it’s, it’s good
T. Are you concerned ever about some of the things that the president says?
T: Or does that not affect you?
B. For me I (switching to French) je ne suis pas très, très, comment pourrais-je dire ça? Je suis pas beaucoup en politique [I am not very, how should I say it? I am not very much into politics (I am not involved in politics)]
B. (continuing in English) So liv(ing) in America, just do the right things that government asked to be done
T. (in French): donc t’es pas inquiet? [so you’re not anxious?]
B. (in French): No no no no… je ne m’inquiet pas [I don’t get anxious]
T. (continuing in French): pas du tout? [not at all?]
B. (continuing in French): Pas du tout: Pour moi c’est bon [Not at all. For me, it’s good]
T. (continuing in French) C’est une démonstration de confiance, et je pense que c’est bon. C’est nécéssaire au Etats-Unis d’étre très confiant, pour réussir [It’s a demonstration of confidence and I think that’s good. It’s necessary in the United States to be confident to succeed]
T. What should Americans—one of the reasons we’re doing this is because we discovered in our research that some Americans are very ignorant of refugees, and they’re ignorant of Africa—so what do you think Americans should know about refugees?
B. One thing they have to know that the refugees, they are people like everyone.
Every single person, we are equal. Because, to be here as a refugee (switching to French) ça ne signifie pas que nous sommes—ah, comment pourrais-je dire ça? Ça ne signifie pas que nous sommes des monstres. Non, nous sommes des personnes comme les autres. Parce-que nous sommes ici, ce que j’aime c’est que l’Amérique donne l’opportunité à toutes personnes [it doesn’t mean that we are—ah, how can I say this—it doesn't mean that we are monsters. No, we’re people like anyone else. Because we are here, what I like is that America gives opportunities to all peoples]
B. (continuing in English) They have to know we are here to make (switching back to French) pour nous-en sortir dans la vie aussi. Nous sommes ici pour trouver quelque chose, pour être des personnes demain or après demain parce-que être ici [to come out in life as well. We are here to find something, to be people tomorrow or after tomorrow because to be here]
B. (continuing in English): like I said now, I’m a dad here so my baby is not Congolese, he’s an American citizen, that means we are like everyone. That’s it, we are like everyone in America
T. What do you think American’s need to know about—not refugees—but about Africa entirely?
B. They have to know that Africa it’s a good place to be (switching to French) malgré les problèmes, malgré le guerre. L’Afrique est une bon continent [despite the problems, despite war, Africa is a good continent]
Parce-que nous avons tout (inaudible) Nous avons tout, tout, tout. Ce que je veux juste le demander est que un jour—si un jour ils peuvent en-aller en Afrique et découvrir qu’est-ce qui est l’Afrique, comment est l’Afrique—l’Afrique je te dis, c’est un bon, c'est un bon continent à découvrir, à exploiter [Because we have everything (inaudible) We have everything. What I’d like to ask (Americans) is that one day—if one day they can go to Africa and discover what Africa is all about, how it is—Africa, let me tell you, it’s a good continent to discover, to exploit] (B. may have meant to say explore as the French words for exploit and explore are somewhat similar, though not exactly homophones)
T. (in French): Pensez-vous que les Américains sont peut-être un peu ignorant des affaires Africaines? Penses-tu que les Américains sont au courant des affaires Africains? [Do you think Americans are a bit ignorant of African affairs? Do you think Americans are up to speed on African affairs?]
B. (in English): Some of them they are (switching to French) ils sont intéressés de savoir l’Afrique, de découvrir l’Afrique parce-que [they are interested in knowing about Africa, in discovering Africa because]
B. (switching back to English): Most of my friends I talk to—most of my people—most of the people that we meet they are very impressed to know Africa (switching to French) mais les autres, ce sont les ignorants. Ils disent ‘non’. Ils peuvent ignorer meme à t’as face comme (inaudible) mais ça ne me fait bien parce-que c’est ça la vie, tu ne peux pas etre admirer ou aimer par tout le monde, c’est ça [but some others, they are the ignorant. They say ‘no’—they can even deny it to your face like (inaudible) but it doesn’t matter to me because that’s life. You can’t be admired or liked by everybody, that’s it.
T: Do you have a dream for your life in America?
B: Yes I do, I have a big dream here. I have a big dream, big, big dream to be here. Because now I have a baby here. First I’ll have to finish my school and then I have to buy (a) house because I have all my first generation here so I have to buy a house and then I have to live here and to be good with everyone, to make my own company, that’s my big goal. Yeah, so to own my own company.
T: What would you like to do? What would your company be?
B. (in French) ça dépendrais de la futur parce-que les travails que travail auparavant je faisais le [it depends on the future because, the work I was doing previously, I did]
B. (switching back to English) cleaning.
So I had a dream to start a cleaning company, but now I’m not doing cleaning anymore so. I would like to do something that I can be there for it by myself. Because some time you can put someone and then the person doesn’t understand your dream, he doesn’t understand your goal, where you need to reach your company. So I just need to start something that I will start myself. The beginning, yeah.
T. That’s a very good set of dreams and goals to have I think. You have already mentioned you want to own a house, start your own business, own your own business, finish your studies—that’s very impressive I think. You have many dreams.
B. Yeah. Without forgetting my music career because I sing I have a couple songs on YouTube
T. You have songs on YouTube?
B. Yeah I have a couple. Like two songs. I’m planning to put another one but the person who does the stuff is not available so, yeah I have some projects that I’m doing
T. How would I find you on YouTube? (B. here gives his full name, but given his earlier trepidation about fully identifying himself, his answer here has been redacted to preserve his privacy).
T. What are maybe some of the obstacles that might prevent you from accomplishing your dream?
B. Hmmmm (switching to French) première obstacle c’est la mort et les maladies… [the first obstacle is death. Death and sickness]
T. (laughing—then in French): mais t’es quand-même très jeune [but you’re still quite young]
B. (continuing in French): être jeune oui, mais c’est—comment pourrais-je dire—allez dans des choses qui ne peut pas exactement donner l’opportunité de faire ce que j’aime. Parce-que beaucoup de jeunes, nous avons des rêves, nous avons des projets, nous avons tous les moyens de faire les choses mais l’influence [being young, yes, but it’s—how should I say this—going into things that might not give you the opportunity to do what you like. Because a lot of young people, we all have dreams, we all have projects, we all have the means to do as we like, but influence]
B: Yeah (switching to French) l’influence nous tire parce-que, tu peux être avec quelqu’un et la personne que vous êtes ensemble peuvent te dire ‘non—tu ne peux pas faire ça, tu n’es pas capable de le faire, tu n’as pas les moyens’, et les moyens aussi (inaudible) parce-que comme je te le disais [influence pulls us because, you can be with someone, be together with a person and they can say ‘no—you cannot do that, you’re not capable of doing that, you do not have the means to do that’—and having the means (inaudible), because like I was saying
B. (switching back to English): the company that I was dreaming to start (of starting) next year, in 2021, everything can (switches to French) les matériels, les machines, quoi, c’est au moins vingt-cinq milles dollars [the materials, the machines, whatever, it’s at least $25,000]
B. (switching to English) so if you don’t have twenty-five thousand that can be another
T. another obstacle?
T. But it’s important you have good dreams.
These are very valuable, and I think this would (switching to French) il y a des fois que je pense que les Américains sont un peu préjugé contre les immigrants, contre les refugiés et en particulier contre les Africains et les gens du Sud-Amérique. Il y a certains Américains qui disent toujours que les immigrants ne veulent pas travailler, mais évidement ce n’est pas votre cas. Tu veux travaillé, tu veux faire des compagnies [there are times when I think the Americans are a bit prejudiced against immigrants, against refugees, and in particular against Africans and South Americans. There are some Americans who say that all immigrants do not want to work, but evidently this is not the case for you. You want to work, you want to start a company
B. (in French): Laisse-moi vous dire quelque chose. Tu sais nous qui venons des autres pays—les immigrants—nous travaillons beaucoup plus que les Américains.
Pourquoi? Moi j’ai travaillé beaucoup avec les Américains—parce que je travaillais à UPMC—je faisais [Let me tell you something. You know us, who come from other countries—the immigrants—we work much harder than the Americans. Why? I worked a lot with Americans—because I worked at UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the predominant healthcare provider in the city of Pittsburgh)—I did]
B. (switching back to English) cleaning stuff, if you can see, I used to do the office, I used to clean the office.
There is a difference (between) my area and other people’s area. I’m not saying like everyone doesn’t do a good job but most of them—I did this job like two years now (…) The boss used to complain that they don’t do this. Some of them yes, they do a good job but some of them, I'm telling you, they are hard workers (it’s unclear whether B. wanted to emphasize the hard workers he encountered or those he felt perhaps didn’t work as hard as they should have. B.’s pronunciation of the words ‘are’ and ‘aren’t’ are too similar)
But some of them, it’s like in Africa, (switching to French) ce n’est pas tous les Africains qui n’aime pas travailler. Si tu as un projet, si tu sais où tu vas et [it’s not all Africans who don’t like working. If you have a project, if you know where you’re going and]
B. (switching back to English) If you have a path, you have to be a hard worker.
T. (in French): pour préciser, quand t’as dis que tu travaillé à UPMC [To clarify, when you said you were working at UPMC]
T. (switching back to English): you were cleaning at UPMC. Did you mean to say that you tried to make everything very clean compared to the other workers?
T. Oh okay, so you wanted to impress your boss?
B. Yeah, because (switching to French) si tu fais mieux [if you do your best]
B. (switching back to English): you have more credit: You have more (inaudible)
T. Did your boss appreciate your hard work?
B. Yeah, I always got emails from my supervisor, from my boss
T. And they said ‘good job?’
T. Good, I’m happy to hear that (laughing). So what does America mean to you?
B. Ah (switching to French) l’Amérique c'est une pays des opportunités [America is a country of opportunity]
L’Amérique pour moi c’est une pays des opportunités. Comme je te disais j’étais à la maison une fois je faisais mes travails, l’argent que je touchais là bas c'est très different de l’argent que je touche ici. C’est un pays des opportunités pour moi [America for me is a country of opportunity. Like I was saying when I was back home working, the money I touched (made) there is very different from the money that I touch (make) here. Yeah so, it’s a country of opportunity for me]
T. (in French) Votre rêve c’est de devenir un citoyen Américain? [Your dream is to become an American citizen?]
B. (in French): J’aimerais être [Yes, I would like to be]
T. Me too
(B. bursts out laughing. T. and B. then compare notes on immigration and T. tells B. of his own family’s connections to America and how he too hopes to become an American citizen)
T. I’m hopeful they’ll let us in and we can both become citizens
B. I’m praying (for) that because if you’re a citizen there is some opportunity that you can get that, for now I can’t get like, as an immigrant.
T. Would you like to go back to Burundi or Congo to visit? At some point in the future?
B. Yes, I’m planning to go because you see I have a big family, like I told you most of them—I got married here, I met my wife here so—I’m supposed to go next year but next year Burundi’s (switching to French) ils auront le vote [Burundi’s going to have an election]
B. So I stopped to go in this period. We are (now) planning on going in 2021, just to visit
T. (in French): Donc s’ils ont une vote—une éléction—c’est une raison d’éviter? [So if they’re having an election (in Burundi) this is a reason not to go?]
B. Yeah, yeah, yeah
T. (in French): pourquoi? [why?]
B. Because I remember in 2051 (Benis means 2015 and then switches to French) ils avaient le vote et c’était très violent (44:11) [they had an election and it was very violent]
T: Ah non! [oh no!]
B. (continuing in French) C’était très très violent—ils tuaient les gens—ils faisaient de quoi. C’était mystique [Yes, it was very, very violent—they were killing people—they were doing whatever. It was mystical] (it’s not entirely clear what Benis means by mystical in this case, though I believe he’s trying to convey a sense the election-related violence in Burundi in 2015 was difficult to comprehend)
B. (continuing in English): it was so, so bad. I still have the image of 2015, and as I know, the president that Burundi they didn’t like in 2015, he's still there (switching to French) c’est qui dérige le pays [it’s he who’s running the country]
T. (in French): et son nom c’est quoi? [and what’s his name?]
B. Pierre Nkurunziza. I (will) avoid (going) in this period. I will go just in 2021 when everything is
T. You expect it to be calm after the election?
T. Do you consider yourself to be a refugee?
B. It’s not a bad thing to be a refugee. To be a refugee, I remember when I was in high school if you called me a refugee I used to feel bad.
It’s like another kind of person. And the way people used to take it, it was like the refugee was another kind of people but it’s not a bad thing to be a refugee because everyone can become a refugee in the future. We don’t know what the future has prepared for us, so everyone can become a refugee, because we don’t know.
T. What has been the most memorable part of coming to America; what do you remember the most about the voyage to come to America?
B. Oh (laughs) I remember when I was in the airplane.
First of all when they taught me, they gave me a message ‘hey, you will go this day’ and then they didn’t book this trip for us, so it was ‘ahhh… these people. Again!?’
Then I remember it was the time that President Trump became a president of America. That time stopped everything
So no immigrants were to come in America, no. It was two weeks I noticed that I would come. It was so bad, and then after that, to say bye to my child (T. misheard B. here; he actually said ‘church’) it was so so bad. I cried myself because (switching to French) ce détacher avec les gens que vous vivaient ensemble pendant au moins vingt ans ce n’est pas façile. La séparation—ça fait mal. Mais, je dois accepter ça. Pour avancer il faut accepter de te détacher au certaines choses [separating yourself from the people that you had lived with for at least twenty years isn’t easy. The separation, it hurts you. But I have to accept that in order to advance you have to accept the separation from certain things]
B. (continuing in English) and when I was coming it was good because I had friends, I had people that I love, we talked, we joke so it was very, very, very good. Yeah.
T. Just to confirm, you said you left a child?
B. No no. Church
T. Ah your church, my mistake. And your child was born here in America?
B. Yeah, yeah
B. Yeah, just one month ago.
T. One month!? Oh boy!
B. Yeah, one month ago
T. You’re working very hard. You have all this and you have a child too
T. I don’t know how you do it
T. I hope your child lets you sleep through the night. I know it can be difficult sometimes
B. On the first three weeks yeah I can say in the first three weeks he used to sleep but he sleeps, actually he sleeps, he’s a good boy
T. So we’re finishing up with the interview but is there anything else that you would like to tell people about your life and your experience coming to America?
B. I just need to say, first of all just need to say thank you to god, because he is the one who allowed me to be here. Without him I couldn’t be here.
And then thank you to my family because they’re always supporting me in everything I do. And thank you to the American government because they did everything for refugees to be here because—this refugee system changed lives
For so many people, let me tell you. I had a dream to drive one day but I couldn’t have the possibility to buy a car. I had a dream to do something that—to have good clothes—actually I used to wear good clothes because I used to do that stuff but, I know some people, I know some people like (switching to French) qui vivaient dans les camps, ils ont des mauvaises vie. Je peux dire ça. Et l’Amérique aident. Ça c’est un bon chose, parce-que, cet refugee ‘stuff’, aident beaucoup de personnes [who lived in the camps who have miserable lives. I can say that. And America helps (them). That’s a good thing, because this refugee stuff, it helps a lot of people]
B. (switching to English): Another thing: they can’t just stop because there are so many people that still need to be here
There are so many dreams, there are so many goals, there are so many projects (…) But they don’t exactly know where to start and then where to go. But American does this. It’s like (switching to French) c’est très impressionnante [It’s very impressive]
T. Well, thank you very much for your time today and for sharing your story with us we appreciate it very much
B. Oh, thank you for coming and for doing this interview, I appreciate it, and I hope it will be good
End of the Interview