Taking Refuge

Disclaimer: This photo is not of Riziki's recipe.

Fighting for Freedom from War and In-Laws

Written by Logan Hurley, a summer communications intern with Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM) in Lexington, Kentucky

Edited by Becky Allen and Anne Marie, a staff member with KRM

July 26, 2015

It's 1996. Riziki Nzibonera is twenty-three years old. She lives in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with her toddler and hubsand. Her belly is swollen with another child on the way.

In a Romeo and Juliet-type saga, Riziki had fallen in love with her husband, a man of a different tribe, and married him three years before fleeing. Plagued by verbal and physical abuse from her in-laws -- in addition to the stress and fear of living in a warzone -- Riziki made a choice for her family that day in 1996. They were leaving -- fleeing -- the DRC.

After being processed at the Tanzanian border, Riziki and her husband were transferred to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). From there they traveled by train to a refugee camp where Riziki says they were given, "a few sticks, a tent, and a plot to put it."

Life in the refugee camps was difficult, largely because it was nearly impossible to provide for your family. Opportunities were scarce and aid supplies meager.

As Riziki puts it:

By the grace of God, I gave birth, but it [the child] was very weak. After a year and three months, I lost the child.

To complicate matters, Riziki was given neither space nor time to mourn the loss of her child. Her husband's family -- who had also sought refuge in Tanzania -- accused Riziki of being unable to birth healthy children. Perhaps due to his family's influence, her husband became abusive. He beat Riziki frequently.

Still, Riziki -- the strong woman whom she is -- persevered. She became a nurse in the refugee camp and used that income to provide clothes and food for her family beyond the small rations from UNHCR. She gave birth to two more children, all while negotiating the complexities of life in a refugee camp with an abusive husband.

During Riziki's fifth pregnancy, her husband beat her into unconsciousness. He was arrested, but promptly escaped and fled back to the DRC. Riziki has not seen him since.

Several times her in-laws pressed for custody of the children. Their harassment made life in the camp nearly impossible, but Riziki knew there was no going back.

[I] was not even going to think of going back to the Congo because of the trouble there.

In order to protect her family from yet another threat against their unity, Riziki made another life-changing decision in 2004. She applied for resettlement in the United States. It would take seven years of patient endurance for the request to be processed. But, in 2011 her family was granted protective status.

On April 29, 2015, nearly a decade since her initial resettlement application and nearly two decades since fleeing her country, Riziki and four of her children arrived in Lexington, Kentucky. Her eldest son then joined them a few weeks later. KRM case worker Lauren received the family at Blue Grass Airport and they have been busy starting their new lives in Lexington since.

Riziki and her son are waiting for the documentation necessary for them to begin working, and her younger children are eagerly waiting to start school in the Fall. In the meantime, Riziki is putting her nursing experience to good use by helping her neighbor, a fellow Congolese refugee, recover from a recent surgery.

Riziki in her home

Riziki and her son on the day they were reunited in Lexington, Kentucky

Riziki (left) with a KRM staff member who helped interpret Riziki's story

Beef Soup Roti

Riziki cautions that this dish can only be called roti if the meat is cooked "excellently."
Serves 3

  • 2 lbs beef
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 2 spoonfuls of tomato paste
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 leaves of parsley

  1. Cut the beef into 2-inch squares and boil them in water for 20 minutes or until thoroughly tender.
  2. Take the beef from the water and place it in a frying pan filled with oil. Fry the beef.
  3. Cut up garlic, tomatoes, onion, and parsley and place it in the pan with the frying beef.
  4. When all ingredients are fried as desired, add water to increase soup volume.