The Democratic Republic of Congo, also referred as DRC or Congo-Kinshasa, was also named Zaire after the Belgian colonisation era. The word ‘zaire’ is an adaptation of the Kongo word of ‘nzere’ or ‘nzadi’, meaning ‘the river that swallows all rivers’. The DRC is the second largest African nation in central Africa and home to more than 250 ethnic groups. The country is the most biodiverse African country with five of its national parks listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is the territory of many rare and endemic animal species such as bonobos, African forest elephants, silverback gorillas, okapis and white rhinos.
The DRC is replete with foreign and traditional customs and this great diversity has made Jessica, a young Congolese in Melbourne, very proud of her country. Having been in Australia for 7 years, Jessica still fondly remembers her country of origin.
Born on the banks of Lake Nzilo in Kolwezi (South-West of Congo), Jessica grew up in Lubumbashi, the second largest city of the country. Although Swahili is the most spoken language in her region, most Congolese communicate in French. Jessica left her country in particular circumstances and was never able to say ‘goodbye’ to Congo but was just hoping for a ‘see you later’. “In 2007, my sister and I went to visit my mother in Zambia who was doing business there. I was so excited to see my mum who had worked in Zambia for four months for this business and it was planned to visit my uncle and cousins in Australia. As school was about to start, I asked about going back to Congo and I was told “it’s your new life now”. Jessica is very much convinced that her parents were looking for a place with more opportunities and it made it impossible for her to forget about Congo.
At first she thought “Australians were too different. I felt disrespectful when looking into people’s eyes when talking or calling elderly people by their first names instead of ‘madame’ or ‘monsieur’. Learning English from scratch was a challenge and the language school was too tedious for Jessica’s level of education. Despite these challenges, she demanded to be placed in a high school where the difficulties of finding new friends and constantly studying English shaped her routine. She remembers “I was here, but I felt I wasn’t meant to be here. I was missing home”.
Although it was hard to adopt Australia as her new home, Jessica has put all of her efforts to make it through and has overcome some of the biggest challenges. After two years, she made friends, became appreciative of Australia and all the opportunities that were open to her. She expressed “I always feel I was brought to Australia to go back and make Congo a better place. I know Congo is not as great as Australia, I know it is not as modern but I was sent here for a reason. Maybe I’m not going to make an impact, but little things can make a difference”.
As said earlier, Jessica is from Lubumbashi, capital of the region neighbouring the Kivu region. This region receives much media coverage for the tensions and violent acts perpetrated along the Rwandan and Ugandan borders. However, Jessica insists “I have never seen war or a soldier in my life. I know some things are happening in the Kivu region and it brings political instability“. What she also means is that violence reported by the media doesn’t extent to other Congolese regions and communities.
Although she left the DRC at the age of 14, Jessica isn’t ready to say ‘goodbye’ to Congo. Proud of her roots, she stresses “I don’t feel African Australian but Congolese Australian”. While she awaits to make a difference in the DRC, she also realised and sadly felt touched by young Congolese who demonise the country and its people. “I decided to create a Congolese youth group where all the young ones could meet and know about our stories”. “There is no need to be a fan of the DRC but at least they know where they come from”, she adds. She believes she can play a crucial role in gathering a small group of Congolese youth to share positive and cultural stories about their native country.
“If none of us know about Congo then things cannot change for the best over there. We need to know where we come from and people should go and see for themselves before hearing external voices deterring them to do something for the country”.