My parents, Fidel Munyanganizi and Felicite Nyirakaratwa, were born in the village of Masisi in the province of North Kivu on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of their parents were farmers. My dad’s parents had two farms that covered about 40 hectares (a hectare is about 2.5 acres). My mom’s parents’ farm was about four hectares.
Even when they were very small, my parents were taught how to farm by my grandparents. When my parents were eight, they would fetch water from a nearby river, carrying it in large containers to water crops. They would haul the tools to their parents in the fields. Then at age 12, they were able to plant the fields, cultivate the vegetables and harvest the crops. They helped my grandparents take crops to the market. They took care of the cows, which are the most important part of a farm. They milked the cows and helped the cows give birth.
Metro occasionally contracts with community members to write about newsworthy topics from their perspective as a member of a historically marginalized community, such as people of color, immigrants and refugees, low-income residents and people of varying abilities. These pieces are intended to provide important points of view and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Metro or the Metro Council.
Thierry Ndayisaba is a sophomore at Parkrose High School. This is his first article.
My dad said recently, “I was born twice: first in our house and then on the farm.”
When my parents were married, they worked in my father’s parents’ farm and then inherited the farm. They grew beans, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum, corn, tomatoes and other vegetables. After harvesting, they carried bags of vegetables to sell in town. With this, they were able to buy everything they needed.
But genocide happened in Rwanda in 1994, and then a decade of war came to Congo. A lot of fighting happened in North Kivu. In 1997, a Hutu militia attacked my family’s village. Everything was destroyed, even their house. The things they loved were taken and a lot of people died. My parents left their farm, left their cows and fled Congo.
They went to Rwanda with nothing. They ended up in a refugee camp called Gihembe. As refugees, they weren’t allowed to work outside of the camp, and there were few jobs in the camp. Gihembe was small and there were a lot of people, and life in Rwanda wasn’t good.
They were given a garden. It was behind their house and about the size of a small bedroom. They wanted to sell the plants they grew, but the garden was too little. They didn’t make a lot of money. It did help feed us, though.
My family spent 20 years in the refugee camp in Rwanda. It’s where I was born, 16 years ago. In about 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees started to send people to the USA. In February 2018, my family was told we would live in Portland. We had never heard of Portland or Oregon.
When we came, most things surprised us. It was all new. But a lot of our friends from Gihembe were here. That made my parents feel more comfortable, and they taught us a lot about Portland.
When we arrived, my parents never thought they could have a garden in the United States. We were in a city! After we had been in Portland for one year, we learned from our church that Adventist Health Portland had a community garden near their campus. My parents were offered a plot.
When they first went to the garden, they said it was a miracle. My parents were so excited, so happy to have a garden again.
When you walk through the gate at the community garden, you see green everywhere. There are many different plants growing. It’s hard to tell the individual plots apart, but when you know what to look for, it’s easy to see which ones are grown by Congolese families. The Congolese gardens grow the same plants, including corn, amaranth, squash, potatoes, beans and cabbage. The plants are close together, and each row has several types of plants growing together. The rows go right to the edge of the plots, and plants like potatoes and squash grow over the narrow paths between them.
The Congolese’ garden looks like a farmer’s field. These are gardens that feed families, grown by people who used to feed countries.
My parents’ garden is small, about the size of a soccer goal box. They wanted to see if they could plant what they did in Congo. They can, but it hasn’t been easy. In Congo and Rwanda, there are two growing seasons but only one here. It gets much hotter and much colder here, so the plants grow differently. In Congo, the rain irrigated the fields. Here, we have to water, which can be hard because the garden is far from our home.
When they first got the garden, we didn’t have a car. So my parents took the bus. Luckily, there were tools at the garden, but when they harvested their crop, they had to bring the bags home on the bus.
My parents’ garden is next to my dad’s best friend’s garden. Canisius Gafishi, who we call Caniziyo, he’s also from North Kivu and was also a farmer. He and my parents met in Gihembe. They also speak the same language (there are more than 300 languages in Congo). They help water each other’s plants and tell each other when crops are ready to harvest.
My parents brought me to the garden for the first time when the plants were ready to harvest. I had helped with the garden in Gihembe, and I was excited to see this garden. It was beautiful.
My siblings and I helped Mom harvest ripe amaranth leaves. We have a big family, so the harvest was fast. It was great.
I always want to go to the garden. Even when it’s hot. Even if it gets me dirty. It makes me grow up so I can become a better person.
This garden is important to me because I can learn exactly the work my parents did when they were in Congo. It’s important to me because I can learn how to work hard on my own. It can make me a better person. It’s hard work, but once you finish, it’s fun.
The last time I went to the garden, my parents cultivated the field while my brother, Innocent, and I brought good, dark soil to mix in. Canisius, his wife Charlotte and her sister, Esperance, were harvesting their potatoes while we worked. I helped them gather potatoes and put them in the car.
I asked them why they like the garden, and they said it’s because when they were little their parents taught them how to farm, how to grow new things. It connects them to Congo. It’s the same as for my parents. And for me, even though I’ve never been to Congo.
Even if my parents live in Oregon, the garden reminds them that they are Africans. It reminds me that I am African.