As we begin this blog today, we want to make something so clear:
We are absolutely humbled and honored to be able to share any bits of anyone’s story that has landed in our city and made their new home here through resettlement. We are not entitled to any parts of anyone’s story and we are honored when someone makes the choice to share with us. We are just as honoring toward those that chooses not to. This is true of all stories we share, or even listen to and never share, and is true of the story we are sharing today.
Wilondja Mashimango and I first met when he was newly resettled in NE Portland and I was a volunteer with a local resettlement agency that has become one of RCC’s key partners in this work across our city. Before landing in Portland though, Wildonjda spent all of his childhood and adolescence growing up in a much different environment than the community we now share in the Pacific Northwest.
He describes it like this: “My first home country would be that of where I was born, though I did not spend so much of my time there and so much of what I know about it is through parents, the internet, and others who were fortunate enough to stay there longer than I did. I was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and left the country in the late 90s early 2000. We were escaping the deadliest conflict in African history in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is commonly known as a power struggle over the country’s resources along with genocide in neighboring Rwanda led to the displacement of millions of Congolese people, including myself and my family.”
“Soon enough, we found ourselves in Tanzania, also a neighboring country on the east of the continent and we ended up in a camp called Nyarugusu Camp as we also earned refugee status.”
In Wilondja’s own words, he went on to describe the camp in Tanzania as, “a barren place where the red earth turns brown in the rainy season.” He continued, “It is crowded as it holds thousands of people from different countries in Africa. We had to walk at least two miles for water and carry a full bucket of 25 liters back from the communal faucet. It was usually quiet; all I could hear were the birds, except on the distributing day, when people would get crazy for food; we would receive two sacks of semolina, which was not enough to last for a whole month.”
Even amidst the beauty and complexity of this community, Wilondja’s remberance was that “People in the camp were unhappy, worried, scared, and angry all the time. The camp lacked kindness; people were envious of whatever little others had.”
Wildondja went on to explain that while he loves and misses the people and community he shared life with in the camp, there was a lot of difficulty with the ongoing “hunger and suffering” that he and others around him were consumed with. He went onto explain that there was a constant intense darkness and spirituality he and many others would experience regularly, which created unease even in the most mundane of the day-to-day.
The process of getting to the United States after nearly two decades in a camp for his family was messy, to put it lightly. In his own words, Wilondja shared: “…the beginning is always hard. With the process of resettlement, things can be very complicated, especially when you are new to it, it becomes even so hard for some people to see progress within the application/case for resettlement. Some people started their cases right when the camp was opened back in the late 90’s and still have not yet been called back for the interview.” Wildonjda shared that at times the process of who even gets to be screened and vetted feels like someone is showing favoritism.
“It is pretty much about what you can bring on the table and convince someone to hear your story….” So, this was the hardest part but my father was/is a well known person in the camp, and so he tried a lot and of course we were also in need of resettlement.”
While everyone that comes through resettlement is vetted and thoroughly screened multiple times over, Wildonjda highlights some of the difficulties of even being able to be chosen to be subjected to that security process. After making it through all of that, the adjustment process of settling into a new home in Portland is a unique one for every person that makes their way through it. Wilondja talks about his experience like this:
“I think just like I said before, when moving to a different country, like the United States, one of the many things you need to accept are changes; particularly changes in your lifestyle. It was really hard for me to make changes when I arrived here; however, I felt like I was being forced to change in order to gain a sense of fitting and belonging. What kept me going was my parents’s words. Growing up, my parents taught me and my six siblings to always carry a positive mindset, be dedicated to our goals, and possess strong work ethic. We also learned this by watching my parents deal with all of our adverse experiences escaping from the Congo. Now, their continued positive outlook is a daily reminder of the power of positivity. They have also shown me the importance of remaining dedicated to accomplishing the simplest of tasks or long range goals and the need to work hard in school, to work hard in my communities, and to work hard at any job to accumulate the necessary knowledge and skills for future success.”
“While in school, I started talking to other students, and they talked back. We shared our life stories. They got to know me, and I got to know more about them, and what they did to succeed in school. Having a relationship with teachers became my secret weapon; then I started to make connections with other great people, like Seth King back in 2016; helping translate, something that helped so much to better my English speaking practice. In short, almost all refugees and immigrants go through a process of acculturation, which is living in a biculturalism situation.
Biculturalism is all about knowing your balance and reminding yourself that you are living in two different worlds. It is also important to recognize when and where those worlds change. There come times when you might face challenges balancing your identity because of the influence of the two cultures. As a first generation refugee and immigrant, I keep a pretty stable amount of balance between my inner and outer cultures. When I am at home, I am being seen as a young Congolese man. I speak my native languages: Swahili, Kibembe and even French; eat Ugali and Maragi and practice more of my inner values. When I am out to seek opportunities, I become someone else who could only communicate in English and possibly act like an American in some ways to better fit in my outer culture, which in this case is the American culture.”
Wildonjda’s willingness to share so much with us that is so meaningful to him means the world to our community. We asked what he might want people considering giving toward and using their time to walk alongside those in the resettlement community to hear. He left us with this:
“Your help of welcoming is contagious as it helps with the inspiration of the rest of the community to help in welcoming others coming after them.”