The Congolese Abroad

Posted: December 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Author – Joe Mulumba

After the effects of jet lags start receding, and he isn’t as tired during his first week as he was, he would start exploring his new territory like the first explorers who came to America. Here, to make things easier on myself, I would examine the case of a young man who still has one year to finish high school and arrives to his parents’ house with two brothers and sisters. Using my creative license, I would add that the father works as a cab driver and the mother works as a nurse assistant in a nursing home. The young man is the oldest of his family and comes from Kinshasa. Born and raised in Kinshasa, more precisely in Lemba. He went to school at Mt. Amba with his siblings and his father who was a school administrator won the lottery for America four years ago and has brought his entire family to United States. And once again to build a believable narrative, I would say that Mr. Mukendi ends up in Oregon where his brother has been living for the last 15 years and works as ITT Technician at Microsoft Company.

For the next six months, Mr. Mukendi and his entire family take English classes, look for jobs and a house to move in. He is soon entered in the long list of those waiting to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. The young man and his siblings confront all the stereotypes about coming from the jungle, walking around naked and living in the trees thanks to the invisibility of ‘true’ Africans in the western media. They confront these stereotypes from peers, black and white alike while they excel academically. Sometimes a blissful ignorance coupled a good nature helps them make friends with other immigrants from Iran, China, South Korea, Spain and some white Americans fascinated with the idea of going to Africa one day. Their mother finds a back breaking job working as a nurse assistant in a nursing home. Their father works as a taxi driver and they all now live in the same house.

Their calls back to Kinshasa have decreased in the past months because their busy American life doesn’t leave them enough time between resting, working, cooking, cleaning. Their friends and family envy them when they talk to them on the phone and the more bold ones start asking righteously or not when they will receive gifts or money. The parents are the ones suffering the most from cultural shock, they know better than not to show it to their children, but their bursts of anger at strangers or silence betrays. They quickly make a habit of visiting the others middle aged ones who have been to the United States longer and who share their feelings of exile and their concerns about the future and the future of their children. Their children never wondered if they would go to college, it was more a question of entering the best universities in the country. Their majors are unquestionably the practical ones: Medicine, Business, Engineering, Pharmacy. Forget Theaters, English, Music,  you might get away with Nursing, but they have to achieve and prove themselves above and beyond their American peers to justify the sacrifices of their parents and prove them right in bringing you to the United States.

They often bring the tales of other Congolese who have gone bad: getting pregnant and not finishing school or getting pregnant by the wrong guy (African American, white, or any non Congolese); moving to another state and not visiting; always talking to parents in English instead of Swahili, Lingala, French, Tshiluba, Kikongo et j’en passé. The young man dates Asian, white, Latino girls as he tries to get his engineering degree, but he knows already that none of the girls he’s dating will be approved by his parents, so he never reveals himself in these relationships. The few Congolese girls he meets, he doesn’t know how to negotiate the patriarchal culture he comes from and the new found freedom of women in American society. But worse than not knowing how to act, he doesn’t realize either that the Congolese girls he’s meeting are also struggling with the same issues. Rather than to attempt to bridge and reconcile these differences, he marries a white girl from Texas who is heads over heels for this smart, exotic African man with a nice accent and great dance moves. Her parents are hesitant at first, but he wins them quickly with his charm. His parents are disappointed, but they change their minds when they see their mixed grandchildren.

This of course is a fictional story which provides a very rough sketch of the Congolese abroad. The story has so many openings that could take different directions, but this suffices for now. I base it from my experience and from the people I know.

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