From the DRC to Washington DC

Context: Last week a friend and I split a ride back to Alexandria from Washington DC. After some light-hearted conversation with Francois (not real name), we talked about the situation in his country of origin, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC is still recovering from a conflict that has been referred to as “Africa’s First World War”. In a country as large and rugged as the DRC, it is difficult to know how many people died although estimates are as high as five million –not just people who were killed by warring groups but also those who could not access health care, clean water, and services that are taken for granted elsewhere. Conflict continues to simmer in the eastern portion of the country.

 

Melaku: How is it going? Your name is Francois? Where are you from?
Francois: I’m from the DRC

Bryan: We have a Congolese friend in our Rotary Club. He’s a good guy. How is the driving going?

Francois: It has been all right. When there is demand, things are good. But traffic makes it hard sometimes – if it wasn’t for the traffic, it would be possible to have many more passengers in the same amount of time.

Bryan: Do you have any funny stories?
Francois: So many! It is hard to pick just one. One day I took someone to the southeast. The guy lit up some ganja in the back-seat. I didn’t notice until I smelled it. I opened the windows and everything but the smell was still pretty strong. I told him to stop and he did. But then I picked up someone else and he said “Hey man! You smoke weed! You shouldn’t be smoking weed and driving. Go outside of the car and do that”. I told him it wasn’t me but he didn’t believe it – he said I shouldn’t be smoking anymore. But that when I left he asked if I could give him a little marijuana because he wanted to try it. I told him again I didn’t smoke, but he probably thought I was lying.

Bryan: That’s funny! Any others?
Francois: I have to think – another time, I picked up a guy and he was with a woman. He said that his girlfriend had taken him out to a restaurant because it was his birthday. Later in the month, I picked up this same guy and he was with a different woman. The woman said they were out celebrating because it was her husband’s birthday!! Can you imagine how old this guy is having two birthdays in the same month?

Bryan: You meet a lot of different people and collect a lot of stories doing this!
Francois: It’s true – but I often feel alone. I am by myself. Just me and this job. I am an asylum seeker. I worked for the United Nations in the DRC, trying to improve the human rights situation. It is very challenging. I tried my best. When human rights violations happen, we need time to confirm them. But in that same time you are trying to confirm, the perpetrators are still killing.

Bryan: When do you expect a decision on your status?
Francois: I’m supposed to get my answer in June. I have a lawyer but I don’t really understand the whole process. It is very complicated. I find that no one understands the reality of life in my country.

Bryan: Unfortunately, a lot of people around here could not find the DRC on a map. They don’t understand how many people have died or that there is still conflict.
Francois: It makes me sad. I didn’t think my life would wind up like this. I would like to be doing meaningful work. I have a graduate degree in project management. But I know for certain if I had stayed I would have been killed. Just like they killed my friend. I never thought I would be an asylum seeker. I don’t think anyone expects that. But maybe even someday in the United States people will need asylum somewhere. You never know, this can happen to anyone. We can’t see the future and everything can happy for everybody. Everything can change.

Bryan: This is a very tough situation.
Francois: It is. I feel blocked. I want to go to school to improve my English. But I cannot because I am an “alien”. This not a good word. Why call someone that? I did not come here from another planet. I came from the DRC because my life was in danger.

Bryan: I hope you will have a good decision in June.
Francois: At least I have this job driving. I have had other jobs but the pay is better as a driver. Plus there is less pressure and I can be myself. I am saving up some money and trying to improve my English. Being a driver helps because I can talk with my passengers. I want to write books in English. I have many things to so about the situation in my country. I could write in French but then I think most Americans won’t read it.

Bryan: To get started maybe you could blog in both French and English?
Francois: That’s a good idea. Hey, you said you belonged to a Rotary Club. What does your club do?

Bryan: We do volunteer work in and around Washington DC, we raise funds for projects in other countries as well as global causes like eradicating polio. Rotary also provides a lot of funding for exchanges and scholarships. Why not join us next week?
Francois: That sounds good. I’d like to make more friends around here.