Eva’s Story | Part 1 of 3
Eva’s Story | Part 1 of 3
My name is Evariste Emmanuel. My friends call me Eva. I work for Seek the Peace. This is my story.
I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1988. I have 4 brothers and 3 sisters. We lived in a city called Kalemie until 1994, when we moved to a city called Ubundu. In 1996, the war started. My mom was the first one to be killed. If you ask anyone who lived in the DRC at that moment—in 1996—many of them will tell you they had a mama killed. Then I ended up separated from three of my brothers and my three sisters.
In 1998, life got difficult for me and my brother. When I was 10, I ended up joining the rebels. I was thinking that being a rebel—a child solder—was how I was going to survive, to get food, stuff like that. But it’s hard to be not good. You know, killing. I took a lot of people’s lives. My uncle was working for the rebels too, but his job was different from mine. I was a soldier and he was more of a spy. In 2000, someone told him that I had joined the rebels. I was so young—at that point I was 12—and my uncle was like, “No, come back home.” So he took me out of the rebel group and brought me and my brother to his place, and we lived with him for 7 months.
I didn’t like that lifestyle as a rebel. The only thing pushing me to live that kind of life was starvation, needing to feed myself. But I didn’t like my uncle’s lifestyle either, because in order to survive he had to betray people. He used to walk with a little radio, talking to you about the rebels, but he wanted to get what you were talking about and tell it to the rebels. There was this group of people who heard about my uncle, and they were thinking, “This is not cool. He caused a lot of people’s death. So instead of him continuing to take people’s lives, we are going to take his life.” One night he was watching TV in the living room, and my brother and I were in the bedroom. These guys just came in and slaughtered him. We hid ourselves under the bed and watched him die.
It’s simple for me to say, but once you see somebody die, it’s different feeling. I lived a life that for me, music was bullets. Anytime I heard the gun, it was like notes of music. When you drive in your car, you listen to music – for me bullets were the music. I just grew up listening to this kind of stuff. I didn’t choose that, but it’s war, you know. There was nowhere to go.
The next day, we told my uncle’s friend, and he came over. He said, “Those guys will come back for you two. They killed him, and the next people will be you.” And then he said, “I have a friend who is a truck driver. He transports fish from country to country. I’ll ask him to give you guys a ride and take you to a safe place.” So that same day, the truck driver told us, “I’m going to unload these fish and you can get in the back of the truck.”
So we got in the truck with the fish. Yes, it’s crazy. Sometimes, when you want to survive, you have no options, no choice. You do a lot of crazy stuff for your own life.
We slept in the truck for two days. We ended up in Nairobi, Kenya. The driver dropped us off and said, “I don’t have a place to take you guys, but this is the only place that I think is safe.” We saw a flag that said UNHCR—United Nations High Council for Refugees. That was December 25, so the office was closed, and we didn’t know anything. I was 13 by that time, and my brother was 17. My brother’s kind of shy. After being a rebel, a child soldier, I’m not really shy. Once you have the gun, you don’t think like you’re young—you think like an old man. But I was a little bit nervous. We were there with no money, no nothing. It was the first time we were in a country where we don’t know the first thing about ourselves. Then we told a UNHCR security officer that we came from Congo. We didn’t know any English, only French, and he couldn’t even understand us. But he said the office wasn’t going to open until January 5.
We thought, “This is disaster. This is really disaster. We don’t know anybody. Where are we going to sleep?” In Africa we have these little areas of open kiosks, with no doors. Sellers will come at 6:00 am, hang their clothes or merchandise, and when it gets dark around 5:00 pm, they take all of the things and go back home. So we thought, “We’re going to turn this into our house.” So we timed the sellers. Once they left, we cut up pieces of moving boxes. No blankets, only boxes. My brother had one and I had one. That’s where we slept.
To eat, I start asking people for money. Begging was the only option I had, other than becoming a thief—and becoming a thief in a country you don’t know is very dangerous. So I started begging people for money. People who had the heart to give, they gave; other people slapped me, stuff like that. You didn’t want to put your hand up because some people would spit on you, and you cannot do anything. I used to cry every day. I even cussed the day I was born.
On January 5, we went to the UNHCR office. They gave us an appointment to meet the protection officer, but we had to wait three months. You have to be accepted to be a refugee. They wanted to find out why we chose Kenya instead of going to Rwanda or Burundi or the other closest countries to the DRC. We didn’t even know where we were going when we left. So we waited for three months. We had no place to go.
So that was my daily life. Begging. Homeless. We would wait for those guys to go, and then take over their space. It’s just wide open, wide open. It was very cold – that was wintertime in Nairobi. And 5:00 we had to wake up. If you didn’t wake up, you got in big trouble. This is Africa; they don’t need to call the police, they can take care of themselves. They would beat you. You don’t have a watch, so you have to kind of sleep with alarms in your head. You listen to the Muslim’s prayer – if not that, then you listen to the chicken’s crow.
After three months, we went back to the UNHCR office. But there were problems within the organization, and they had to postpone our decision date until July. I lived in Kenya for a total of seven months, homeless. Finally, we were approved as refugees and sent to the refugee camp, which was probably 2,000 miles from Nairobi.
Read Part 2 of Eva’s story here.