Urban voices – Jean-Baptiste:
“I depend on myself”

The following story was originally compiled for the Mixed Migration Review 2020 and has been reproduced here for wider access through this website’s readership.[1]

The main reason we left Congo was the war. When rebels tried to capture Goma, the city where I was born and raised and lived with my parents and siblings, we spent two weeks inside our houses. A lot of our friends died. There was a lot of looting, every day people come to your house. If you had no money, they would kill you. The war also meant that we could not get jobs. I finished my studies, but it was difficult to get a job. I thought Nairobi would be a better place for work and also there is more security. I love Goma so much. If the war would stop, security improved, and job opportunities came up, I would go back.

I travelled alone and arrived in Nairobi April 2019. I used a temporary Congolese passport to travel via Rwanda and Uganda but couldn’t use it to enter Kenya. I contacted some Kenyan friends who linked me to a smuggler in Kenya. This way, I was able to enter the country. I also did not have the $50 that was required as visa payment for Congolese nationals. I consider myself very lucky because I had no issues crossing the borders. A lot of people complain they have had difficulties. Throughout my journey, I used buses. It was quite expensive because I spent about $80 for the trip. I didn’t have enough money for everything so I prioritised paying the transport, so I could not afford the food I wanted.

Initially I stayed with a friend and later managed to get my own place. My family later joined me the same year and stayed at my house, but I later moved elsewhere within the same neighbourhood.

When I first got here, it was really hard because I didn’t have documents and the police would ask me for money. Several times, I was locked up in jail. I did get asylum documents later. The process is difficult and took quite some time but eventually we got our papers. I felt very bad during the process to the point that I wanted to return home, it took so long. Unfortunately I was robbed some time back, so I need to get them replaced.

I depend on myself. I have never received any assistance from anyone or group. I am employed at a church where I play the piano thrice a week. Leaving from home to work is expensive; I spend close to 200 Kenyan shillings (almost $2) on transport. When I’m not working there, I teach people the piano where I stay, or I go to where they are. In the future, I would like to establish a music school and teach our traditional music because Kenyans love Congolese music. From the earnings I get, I am able to support my family. My parents also work when they get some opportunities here and there.

Kenyans are welcoming of foreigners in general. You even see Congolese -Kenyan couples. I have very many Kenyan friends among the people I teach music to. Many Kenyans have been very accepting of the Congolese community here, but some are not, especially when they learn about one’s status, and also when it comes to work. So, I usually don’t talk about my status.

When I was learning English at an institution some days back, the people there were talking badly about refugees. I felt discriminated because they didn’t seem to understand why I left my home. Even the time we were applying for asylum, I felt discriminated because of the nature of the process. It took so long. Some Kenyans have openly told me I am not like other Congolese, especially the Banyamulenge because they are proud, and that I am much nicer. So it is possible other foreigners are being treated differently.

I feel Nairobi is a safe place especially compared to Goma. There you cannot be outside past 7 pm. Here, you can work until midnight. I think all these issues in Nairobi (theft, robbery, break-ins, etc) are common to any place.

The money is very good here compared to Goma. It is also much easier to find a job, although work permits are hard to get. But once you have one, you can get a good job. The living conditions compared to Goma are also much better. Although we could get food while in Goma, it is much easier to access here. Security is better here as well. I think education in Kenya and Nairobi is much better than in Congo so it would be a great advantage to my siblings.

The only reason my family and I are still here is because we are waiting for an opportunity to go to Canada. I believe Canada has good schools and that’s why I really want to go there. I’m just waiting for an opportunity to go and pursue my music career.

[1] ‘Urban Voices’ presents seven stories from migrants and refugees living in cities drawn from detailed individual interviews conducted by MMC. They often illustrate the non-linear nature of so many migrant and refugee journeys – characterised by the twists and turns in many migrants’ erratic lives. They serve to offer evidence towards a new concept recently introduced in migration studies of circumstantial migration to describe how “migration trajectories and experiences unfold in unpredictable ways under the influence of micro-level context and coincidence.” [Carling, J. and Haugen (2020) Circumstantial migration: how Gambian journeys to China enrich migration theory. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.] MMC did not record the names of respondents and all names in this ‘urban voices’ series are aliases.