From Burundi, Student and Translator.
[Generose left her native Burundi in 1994, at the age of 32. A small country in Africa, Burundi is considered the poorest country in the world, and has been wracked by internal genocidal conflict for over 40 years between extremists of the country's two predominant ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi. Generose and her family initially fled to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and then to Zambia, before requesting relocation from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was then that she, her husband, and their three sons became the first Burundian family to settle in Portland.—eds.]
"In my country there was internal genocide for a long, long time. The one that is most widely known was the one that started in 1994, after the Tutsi killed the first president who was democratically elected. So I had to leave my country. We didn't have to be involved in the conflict directly, because Tutsi were killed, Hutu were killed, and people who were mixed were killed; everybody was killed.
"I was the head of a school for the deaf. I was the first teacher to start such a school. People didn't understand that you could teach the deaf. I had to fight that. And when the school closed, I didn't have any work. We went to Zaire, because that's our neighbor—it's now the Democratic Republic of Congo. I went with my husband and children and some of my in-laws, and my mother. At the time we left, it was just like you were moving, because it was so close. There was an awful civil war in that country, and we lost everything. We had to flee to Zambia. I had lost my job. My husband lost his job too—he was a computer programmer. We applied to the UNHCR for relocation. When you apply, you don't know where they're going to put you. They told us to go to the United States. I was very excited. They said we were going to Portland; we didn't know anything about the USA, so any place was okay.
"I expected that when I came here I would teach. But when I came here and tried to find a job working with the deaf, it didn't work. Now I'm studying human development at Warner Pacific. I keep on looking for a job that I want to work. I know it will happen.
"I'm a Christian, and when I was in Zambia, they told me that I wouldn't be Christian when I came to America, but I swore I wouldn't change. There are so many people who come to America who lose their Christianity, maybe because of the life change, the excitement. It's not because Americans don't pray. But for me, no. I traveled a lot when I was the head of the school, I managed to go to France, it's not like I was someone who'd never been anywhere.
"The only negatives are that I don't like the weather. Every fall I have to be sick for a week. The first year I was in the hospital for five days! In my country we never wore coats, no, no, no. Also, the diet: You have a lot of chemicals in your food. I was used to eating organic food from a farm. My youngest boy, who's 11, likes the food, but I even stopped eating meat. Sometimes I'm hungry and the food looks good, but after one bite... no.
"When we came, we were the first Burundian family to come to Oregon. Now there're seven. I don't feel as though I'm discriminated against. I never see it. I hear people say, 'Oh, they're discriminating against me' and I say, 'How?' I don't discriminate. I know we are the same people. My mother is a Tutsi, my father is Hutu. I don't understand how you can discriminate. You are just killing yourself." (MS)