Stories from Ten Northampton Refugees

Jasimiya, Iraq
I played with friends. I did sewing; I taught myself. When I was 16, I started to make shirts and dresses for my family. I played with dolls and told stories with friends. Fatima was my best friend. My favorite food was kabobs and fish and still is today. My brother and sister are still living in Baghdad.

I love all of Baghdad -- for the art, food, and clothing market. I love Babylon. Our history is old. I got married at 24 and I had 4 children. On birthdays we had balloons, flowers, cake, happy birthday in Arabic and English, sparklers, and dancing with family and friends. For my wedding, we went to the courthouse, and my family was there. I wore a white dress and carried flowers.

Ayoob, Iraq
I had a good life when I was little. Mohammed was my best friend. We went to school, and every day we played -- Xbox, ping pong, billiards, and chess. My big brother took us to the zoo.  I loved the tigers. Mohammed’s favorite was the wolf. Now he has a wolf and a jaguar (named Rafi) at home. Mohammed bought Rafi when he was a baby. Rafi loves him. When he sees Mohammed, Rafi plays with him in the garden.

We have a big family. Every Friday, we made dinner for our relatives and friends. Every neighbor and my aunts and uncles came to my house. I played dominoes with my sister and my Mom. Baghdad is a beautiful area. I like the rivers. My house was 5 mins from one of the rivers.  We did fishing there. I miss my house, my neighborhood. I miss everything.

Yousuf, Iraq
I have 2 brothers and 1 sister. My father died in 2000. My best friends were in my neighborhood. In elementary school, my favorite sport was soccer. I played soccer every day.  In 2003, e verything was different -- the life, the house, and the school -- because there was war.
I changed my neighborhood, because that one was not safe. Sometimes for one week I couldn’t go out. For all the people in Iraq, it was not safe to go outside. Most people emigrated to Turkey, France, Germany, or America.

Olivier, Burundi
In America, I have two brothers. There are two boys and my sister in Burundi and my father and mother. I was born in Congo Kinshasa, in Goma. We left Goma when I was one year. I lived with my family in Burundi, and I studied outside the camp, in the city. The other students didn’t like to go to school with refugees. The Burundi nationals were proud.  I played soccer with Guylain, Willy, and other friends, in the city. I played defense. I had a friend, Pops, who taught me how to make music videos with the Adobe program. His job was
making music videos. We created a video with Pop’s customers, who were famous singers in Burundi.

I had a girlfriend in Burundi in the city Bujumbura. My girlfriend and her friends came to watch my soccer and cheered for our team. She sometimes had no food at home. One time a month, Immigration gave refugees some food. Sometimes our family didn’t have enough food. We picked potatoes from a neighbor’s garden in her neighborhood at night.

First I came from Burundi to Kenya, Kenya to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to New York City. I traveled by car to Northampton. It was the first time I flew on an airplane. I didn’t like the airplanes because sometimes they dropped fast, and my stomach was not good. The food was
very different from my country. I tasted it but I didn’t like it. I just drank soda and ate cheese and bread.

Guylain, Burundi
I lived near the city of Bujumbura, Burundi. I had many friends. Willy and I grew up together.  We played soccer every week, until we were 22. We played professional soccer in Burundi. Our team was “Flambeau de L’Est” [Flame of the East].

In school sometimes teachers didn’t like strangers. They were mean. When a new student raised their hand to give an answer to the question on the board, they said, “No, sit down. You don’t know it.” The teachers sometimes hit us with a stick on the head if we asked them questions.

In Congo, I spoke French & Swahili. In Burundi, I spoke French, Swahili & Kirundi. My grandmother is from Rwanda. She taught me Kinyarwanda, too. I speak Swahili best.

Edouard, Burundi
For refugees, life is difficult in Burundi. I ate only once a day. Many other people did, too. I asked my father why we left Goma in Congo Kinshasa. My father told me it was because of the war. My grandmother and many other people in Goma were killed. My house in Burundi was not good. No electricity, no water. There was one bedroom for my mother and father. The six children slept in the living room on the floor. Everyone in the camp was poor. The refugees had a hard life. I sold clothes in downtown Bujumbura -- t-shirts, jeans, shoes, hats -- for adults and children. I made only a little money. When I got money, I gave it to my mother.

Albert, Rwanda
I was born in Masisi. My mother, my sister’s children, my brother’s children, and I walked to Rwanda when I was 26. It took 2 mos. I like cows in Rwanda. I had 1 cow. I liked the milk. Maombi says, “Me, too!” We didn’t heat it. We drank it raw.

Maombi, Rwanda
I was born in Congo Kinshasa, in Masisi, a big city. We went from Congo to Rwanda. I was 9 years old. My mother, brothers, sisters & I lived in Rwanda in a camp. I lived there 20 years. I met Albert in the camp. I came here from Rwanda with my older brother. He went to Utah. I will visit my brother in Utah -- maybe in 6 years. I don’t know if the other people in my family will come to the US.

Raissa, Republic of the Congo
We had a very small house, the size of a bathroom. We had one bedroom for Mom. Victorien and I slept in the living room. My Mom didn’t have any money for school. All the kids at school laughed at me. I was embarrassed. The Principal said, “Go home and get the money.” I couldn’t, so I stayed home. Some people were mean. When I made a mistake, and said “I’m sorry,” they were still very angry. In Northampton, when I make a mistake, people say, “It’s OK.”

Victorien is a baby. He didn’t go to school, so he didn’t learn French. I taught him French, and we still speak it at home. Victorien and I played inside. It was boring to go outside.

Madeleine, Republic of the Congo
I am originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I moved to the Republic of the Congo. Then I came here.

I left Baghdad with my sons. I didn’t feel safe there and wanted to get to a safe place. We took a plane to Turkey. It was difficult to get jobs in Turkey and live our life there. I waited 2 years and 7 months to get to the United States. In Northampton the snow is different, and it is

I didn’t know about the US -- what would happen next. I thought, “What is my new life?” We flew from Manisa to Istanbul, then to New York. I saw a big city, like in the movies. (Every movie’s about New York.) I was nervous, worried.

Jack and Chris from my Circle of Care and Father Bill came to the airport to get us. I felt good. Northampton... I like everything here -- neighbors, everyone. It’s nice when I talk with people. When I ask something, they help. Just good people. I like downtown Northampton. It’s cool. And this is a safe area. I like the library, Look Park (I’ve been there three times), the concerts (I’ve been to four -- at Smith and in my neighborhood).

When I was a child I had a good life. Now it’s like when I was a child -- it’s safe. But it’s a little bit hard because I’m working, and I’m learning a different language. Everyone says, “Welcome!” and they put pictures of my family in the newspaper. I like that.

We have more than we need. We’re thankful to everyone for the welcome...

I like people in Northampton. The Circle of Care helps me with everything. Northampton is quiet. In Baghdad there are more people, and the center of the city is not quiet. I meet many people in Northampton. They say “Hello. Welcome!” The nature is very, very nice. I was
surprised by the nature. I l ove this place. Even if Iraq is safe in the future, I don’t want to go back. This is my country -- the U.S.

I like Northampton very much. The people in Northampton are very nice and welcome me. I like Look Park, the soccer field in Florence, beautiful girls and boys, and the downtown. In Northampton, the houses, the roads, the train, the language, open spaces (like parks), and the culture in general surprise me.

The community in my Circle of Care helped me a lot and continues to help. They come to visit us, and the volunteers take us to their houses for Sunday dinners. They took us to New York City. It was beautiful -- a mix of races, many buildings, people, and cars. I watched people go fast, no time to stop or say hi. Lots of noise.

I like this town because there aren’t too many buildings. I like the food – chicken, pizza. And the rice is good. I cook at home with my brothers. I like the Pedal People – the people I work with there. I like Northampton because it doesn’t have too many people. The people here are cool.

I like all of the volunteers in my Circle of Care. They help me and my brothers with many things. I have a friend in Northampton, Ian. We like to play basketball and talk. Sometimes we go to eat together -- of course, pizza -- with a friend Chris. I miss the food from Burundi -- like foofoo. I miss my mother and my Daddy, my young brother, my sister, and my friends. They live in Burundi.

I like Northampton because it is a good town. I like Jowel and Laura from Catholic Charities, and the volunteers in our Circle of Care. I like the clothes, the chicken, the pizza, and lots of other food. In Burundi the people didn’t like refugees. They said, “Go back to your country!” The people here l ike refugees. When I came here to America, I saw the difference.

Albert & Maombi
Question: What do you like about Northampton?
- People, because they help our family & they’re nice
- No mountains in the city
- Many jobs
- Look Park, Forbes Library, and the daycare for Wilson
- The change machine next to City Hall, because we take a bus every day

We flew from Rwanda in April. First to Brazil. From Brazil to New York City. From New York we came here in a car, with Judson and Leah from our Circle of Care and the caseworker, Jowell. People from the Circle of Care were happy to see us. Judson and Leah gave us a carseat [for Wilson]. We didn’t eat in the airplanes, because it was new food. Our family did not eat for 2 days. S oon after her family arrived in Northampton… I feel comforted here and supported. I’m hoping life is going to get better.

I like to walk with my friends. I love school -- my friend Bella and her boyfriend Jamie and my other school friends. I love Keegan and Tricia, my math teacher Joan, my English teacher Kim, and my math tutor Mary. (She’s special and sweet). People in Northampton are cool.

Northampton is safe. People here are nice and friendly. If we need something, they help us. If we don’t know where something is, they say, “I can show you.” Keegan, Sarah, Elizabeth, Mike, Ben, and many other people are very warm. Northampton is good for me and the kids. I don’t need to worry about our family. I can relax. I like the library, the park downtown, and many other places. Our family likes to take walks all over. The Center for New Americans is very nice. I have three classes: Speaking and Listening, Reading and Writing, and Computer. My teachers are very, very nice.

The first dream has already come true. We’ve landed somewhere we feel safe and comfortable. For the future, I would stay here in the United States, because the people are nice.

My dreams… I need to change, change everything. Marry maybe, have kids. I want to have a coffee shop, with French, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish coffee… I will do desserts from different countries… I saved money for the business, but the money’s gone. I’m gonna study and work hard. My mother wants me to finish college and I want to , of course.

Before I came to the US, I thought I would speak English in 3 months. But it’s very difficult. Now I think two years. When I finish learning English, maybe I will work in a restaurant, cooking.

My dream, first, is to live with my whole family in Northampton. I would like to continue my education at a university. I would like a house to live in with my own family -- my wife and my children -- 2 children is ok. In the future, I would like to continue, possibly, making music

Every time I think about my future… I want to become a professional soccer player here in America… I want to live here with my wife and my children. I want to coach my kids in soccer.

In the future, I want to study in college. I want to be a car mechanic. I want a good life -- a family (with a child), a house in Northampton, and a Land Rover.

I want to study English. I want to drive a car. I need to buy a house. I want Wilson & our new baby to study in school & college. I talk to my family on WhatsApp, but I want to s ee them. They live in Rwanda. They want to come to the US, but I don’t know if they will.

After our children finish college, we will buy them a house. Maybe I will have a car. We want to have a business together -- a small market in Northampton, with food and many things. I will sell clothes that I design and sew. I will live in Northampton for many years -- m y whole life .

I want to be a soccer player, a lawyer, an actress, and a comedienne. I want to live in Paris, New York, California, Miami, Italy, Cameroon, South Africa, and Gabon -- 1 or 2 years in each place.

I want to study English. I want to buy a house for my family and another one to rent. I need a good job -- not washing dishes. I want to have a little store with food and things for the house; learn to drive; and buy a car. I want Victorien and Raissa to finish school, go to the university, and learn to drive.