Taking Refuge

Fleeing Congo's Conflict

February 20, 2016

Just like the United States, Daphne's birth country is gearing up for a presidential election. But unlike our nation, hers has little doubt as to who will assume leadership for the next several years.

Born in the Republic of Congo in 1995, Daphne lived through four years of conflict before her family became refugees in Cote d'Ivoire. Though often overshadowed by neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo has suffered from on-and-off violence and political unrest since its first civil war in 1993.

With its presidential election approaching on March 20, the Republic of Congo's conflict shows no signs of abating. President Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled for nearly three decades, making him one of Africa's longest-serving leaders. He first took power in 1979 and ruled until 1992 when he lost in the country's first multi-party elections. Following civil war, Sassou Nguesso resumed power in 1997 when his forces defeated the then-president, and he has maintained power since. Seeking to extend his stay in office, he succeeded in securing a constitutional change last fall that will permit him to run for a third consecutive term. The move has only incited further violence in Daphne's home country.

While we can all appreciate that it is never easy to leave one's country, the recent history of the Republic of Congo makes Daphne's personal history more comprehensible. At age four, she moved to Cote d'Ivoire with her parents. Her father, a farmer, was a prime target for rebels in Congo and her family had had no place to live, leaving them to wander the country.

During the eleven years that Daphne spent in Cote d'Ivoire, her parents gave birth to her little brother and sister. She remembers a happy childhood - pointing out that at least she had her family, whereas many others lost their parents to war - but doesn't discount the challenges she endured.

I [already] spoke French, but the accent was very different. And my parents worked very, very hard so we could go to school, but going to school I was seen as a different person even though I studied hard and got good grades.

Of course, that only applied to when Daphne was able to attend school.

I attended primary school and secondary school, but couldn't finish secondary school because it was very expensive.

Daphne's parents tried hard to provide a normal life for their children, and managed to sustain a life outside of refugee camps. However, Cote d'Ivoire was economically fragile and suffered from social polarization. Competition for natural resources - especially agricultural land - was fierce, which proved a struggle for her family, as they made their living from farming. Daphne's family endured that struggle for eleven years.

Then, when Daphne was fifteen years old, she learned her family had been accepted to resettle in the United States. On May 20, 2010, they boarded a plane for America. Daphne describes her mixed feelings:

Coming here was a whole different environment. Houses were bigger and beautiful; people walked differently, they wore closed-toe shoes...I was very excited at the beginning, but then I had to learn English and get accustomed to the food, the transportation...I had no way of communicating with other people.

Daphne enrolled in ninth grade the fall after she arrived in the United States. She began in a special ESL program, but by junior year of high school was transferred into regular classes.

Currently, she is a sophomore at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, where she is studying agriculture and agronomy. An active student, Daphne is president of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). She also conducts research, analyzing plants from the campus farm. And, like father-like daughter, she helps her father run his farm in the United States. "It's new," Daphne explains, "but we try to do home deliveries. I help him communicate with customers because he doesn't speak English very well."

Daphne hopes to use her degree to help refugees around the world with food access. In the meantime, she recently started a blog, where she hopes to inspire people with her writing. Check it out here.

When she's not at school, helping her father, or blogging, you might find Daphne at the gym, where she works out to relax.

It's very different [here]. I woke up at 5:00 a.m. everyday [in Cote d'Ivoire]. We didn't have what you call 'lazy days;' we always had something to do, either cleaning or studying.

Of course, whether working out at the gym is part of a "lazy day" is up for debate...

Mayaka (Cassava Roots)
  • About one pound of cassava roots
  • Banana leaves
  • Wood fire or coal (for cooking)
  • Water
  • You will also need a piece of clothe, a bag, or a pillow case, string, and a very big pot

  1. Peel the skin off the cassava.
  2. Soak the cassava in a big container filled with water for 1-2 weeks, depending on how hot it is, so that it becomes completely soft (almost fermented).
  3. When the cassava are soft, remove them from the water. Use a strainer to filter out the cassava with lots of water, which will make it become like a paste.
  4. Let the filtered cassava rest for 3 hours until you see the paste has deposited at the bottom of the container. Remove the water, being careful not to shake the container too much.
  5. Use a bag with small holes, a piece of cloth, or a clean pillow case to completely filter the water out. You can use something heavy to add pressure to the bag or pillow case. This will accelerate the filtration.
  6. Pound the cassava paste until it becomes very soft and does not feel gritty.
  7. Boil the cassava in a bag, until it is halfway cooked.
  8. Take it off the stove and mix it ver well. Then separate it like big loaves of bread.
  9. Wrap each loaf in multiple layers of banana leaves and use string to secure the loaf from sticking out.
  10. Add the wrapped cassava loaves into a big pot. Fill with water and place on the stove.
  11. Allow the loaves to cook for 5-6 hours, depending on how big the loaves are.
  12. When ready, remove the loaves from the water and allow to cool.
  13. Cut into medium pieces and serve way anything, such as stew or barbecued or fried fish or meat.

After the cassava has soaked in the water

Preparing to boil the cassava in a bag

Here are the cassava loaves wrapped in the banana leaves and tied with string.

Daphne recommends serving the cassava with barbequed fish.

The complete meal.