Claire Mukundente

Transcript of Claire Mukundente
Interviewee: Claire Mukundente
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren, Richard Ludka
Date: March 6th, 2015
Place: Pan-African Association - 6163 N. Broadway
Transcriber: Richard Ludka
Total Time: 10:16

Copyright © 2015 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Today is March 6, 2015. My name is Dorothy Nygren of the Edgewater Historical Society. I’m here with my colleague Rich Ludka interviewing Claire Mukundente who is at Pan African Association. We’ll start the interview by asking Claire to restate her name, her address where she lives, and where her country of origin is…

CM: My name is Claire Mukundente. I live on North Winthrop and I’m from the Riwandi region…from Rwanda.

DN: Can you talk a little bit about your experiences in Rwanda before you came to the United States, Claire?

CM: My experience in Rwanda…I was young and had a family of four. I was the first-born and life was good. We had genocide in 1994 which changed totally everything. I ended up leaving the country and being in seven countries before I came to Chicago as a refugee.

DN: What year did you leave Rwanda?

CM: I left Rwanda in 1994 during the genocide.

DN: 1994 because of the genocide. Now did you grow up in a village or in a city?

CM: I grew up in a city, the capitol of Rwanda [Kigali].

DN: Did you say there were four people in your family?

CM: Yes, I was the first-born and I have three siblings.

DN: When you left Rwanda because of the genocide did your whole family leave?

CM: No, actually the genocide started when I went to my grandma’s house. It was spring break time. When the genocide started we weren’t able to go back to the capitol. Me and my sister were able to skip from the back door and we started to travel - three days with no food and we moved to another country called Burundi.


DN: What was your experience when you left Burundi? I’m sorry. What was your experience when you left Rwanda and went to the refugee camp?

CM: It was not a good experience; I do not wish anyone to see what I saw at that time.

DN: Which refugee camp were you at?

CM: I went camp in Burundi. There was just one refugee camp, I don’t remember the name. I was young and lived in the camp for one year.

DN: You said you were in seven different countries?

CM: I was in seven countries as a refugee. From Rwanda I went to Burundi. From Burundi I went to Congo. Congo had a war and we went to Tanzania. Tanzania had a lot of refugees’ they couldn’t even give us a tent at that time. Os we left Tanzania and went to Malawi. In Malawi they didn’t accept us as refugees because we crossed another country. They gave us thirty days to leave that country. We then went to Mozambique and in Mozambique it was really good. It was the best camp ever to be inside. But, the life as a refugee - you’re always in line to get stuff.

We thought to go to South Africa to find a job. So we went to South Africa and lived there for two years. Then I tried to go back to Rwanda to see if my parents will still alive, but I was pregnant. I couldn’t make it to Rwanda. I end up passing through the Congo because my in-laws were living in Congo. And finally before I got to Rwanda there was an outbreak in the Congo. So I had to turn back. I was so scared to go back to Rwanda. I turned back to go back to South Africa but I didn’t reach South Africa either. I ended up in Zambia and I lived in Zambia for two years before I came to the [United] States.

DN: And what year did you come to the United States?

CM: I came in 2000.

DN: Did you come to Chicago?

CM: I came to Chicago, to Edgewater.

DN: To Edgewater. How did you find Pan-African?

CM: Around 2003 I found Pan-African because it wasn’t too far from us. In 2007 I started working for Pan-African.

DN: So between 2000 and 2003 who gave you help once you came to Edgewater?


CM: When we came I came though World Relief. I was so blessed to get sponsored through the Church of the Redeemer. So there were people to show us around, teach us different stuff, and yeah… it was like a family affair.

DN: When you came here did you come by yourself or with your family?

CM: I came with my husband, two kids, my little sister, and I was pregnant with another child.

DN: So you came with a whole family that that needed adjustment and help and support?

CM: Yes.

DN: You said you’ve been working here since 2007. How do you find that, as far as being able to stand with one foot on the side of being an immigrant and refugee and on the other hand being a staff member who can help people like yourself?


CM: It makes my day every day because it was kind of my dream. When we go through something, somebody who comes [like] you, you always like to teach them what to learn for them. Or, I think you understand them better because you went down the same road. Sometimes I meet some refugees that were in the same camp but I was able to come before them. I always feel like it was my purpose to come before so I can teach them what to learn. So I’m always happy to do what I am doing what I am now. I am grateful to do it.

DN: Where did you learn your English?

CM: Just here in the States. When I came I understood a little bit because I lived in South Africa and was using English then. When I came [to Chicago] World Relief they kept us somewhere around Berwyn. I wasn’t able to go to school for awhile because I was pregnant. From there I went to Truman College a little bit.

DN: Your English is excellent. What other languages do you speak?


CM: I speak like, I think six languages. I speak Rwanda, Burundi, and Swahili. I speak Nyanja from Zambia. I speak Zulu and some French (a little bit).

DN: You’re a big asset to Pan-African because you have all those populations here at Pan-African. How old are your children?

CM: My first-born is nineteen, then sixteen and the baby is fourteen.

DN: How do they find adjusting to the United States when they first came here?


CM: My kids found it easier because they came when they were four, and my son was two. They were able to study in preschool and kindergarten so to them it was an easier adjustment. For the kids it is always quick because they learn the language quick and everything.

DN: What would you say was the hardest thing for you to adjust to?


CM: The language is the first thing that challenges you when you come. You can’t say what you want to say to somebody. I think the language was really a challenge.

DN: You said you lived in South Africa so you had some experience living in a cosmopolitan area, but was there anything strange when you came to Chicago?

CM: Actually I didn’t see anything really strange because South Africa had almost everything.

DN: What about the weather?

CM: Yeah, the weather was a challenge. The first time I was so excited to see snow. Snow was something I wanted to see badly. But so far I’ve seen a lot of it in Chicago. Sometimes we don’t love the weather, but I do love Chicago.

DN: This is your interview, Claire. I’ve asked you a lot of questions. Is there anything else you’d care to share with us?


CM: Something I can share - to be living in Edgewater. Now my parents live here. I [was] separated from my parents. As I told you when the genocide started, I was at my grandma’s house. For seven years I thought my parents and all my family, there was nobody alive. But in 2001 I found out my parents were alive after seven years. In 2006 Oprah Winfrey’s organization moved my family. Now my family; they live in Edgewater too. They live on Kenmore.

DN: That is wonderful. That is very warming. That’s great because so many refugees don’t have that experience. It must really make you feel wonderful to have the family together again.

CM: Yes.

DN: One question I didn’t ask you…what is your job at Pan-African?


CM: I work as a health interpreter. I work two days in the clinic, Wednesdays I work with “I Face,” a program that deals with refugee trauma. Thursdays also we do home visits. We help with the work program or they need help with the hospitals. Fridays we do women’s groups, workshops and different things.


DN: Do you feel at home in Edgewater?

CM: I love Edgewater. One time I moved to Rogers Park and moved back to Edgewater because it was very convenient with the train and with the bus, and the people of Edgewater. When you come to Edgewater you feel home because everybody is in Edgewater, so if you are wanting to see somebody…. I love Edgewater. I loved when Dominick’s because it was easy and open 24 hours. But Walgreens is still there and now we have an Aldi, which is good.

DN: Thank you very much for your interview Claire. We really enjoyed you sharing your story.

CM: Thank you so much.