Most of us take for granted the luxury of having fresh, clean, pressurized water available in our homes. But until a few months ago, Bakita had lived most of her life without such a convenience. Bakita’s village in the Maniema Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo had no running water, which meant that each day she and her fellow villagers would walk 5 miles to the Kaligala River to fetch enough water for drinking, cooking and bathing.
Then they’d make the trip back, balancing water containers on their heads as they walked the path through the forest.
But Bakita doesn’t look back on those days as a time of hardship. In fact, no matter how much she appreciates the convenience of having running water available at the turn of a faucet in her Rochester apartment, Bakita wishes she were still making that daily 10-mile trek. For Bakita, trips to the river meant time spent with family and neighbors. Her entire village would walk together, sharing stories, laughing and singing. Her mother would walk beside her, offering wisdom about love and marriage and family life. Her father, strong and protective, would make the trip, along with her brothers and sister. The talking would continue among the men, women and children at the village as each group waited its turn for bathing.
Bakita can still imagine these faces and hear their voices in her head, but she wonders when she might see her friends and neighbors again. She had to flee her village more than 10 years ago, during the civil wars that killed more than 5 million people in her country. Bakita landed briefly in Uganda, then in Kenya, before being accepted as an immigrant refugee in the United States.
These days, Bakita’s daily trek consists of bus rides from her apartment to and from the Refugees Helping Refugees school at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit. As she sits, bundled in a heavy coat, she sees no familiar faces, and the sounds of laughter and playful gossip no longer ring in the air. Bakita, 36, works at improving her English—her fourth language. Grammar had been her favorite subject in school, and she’s making steady progress. Her fellow students, mostly Somalis, share her identity as refugees forced from their home countries by unspeakable atrocities, but they dress differently, worship a different God and talk of a different homeland, hundreds of miles from Bakita’s beloved country.
Her father died protecting her, but Bakita hopes her mother remains in her village and that one day she might bring her to the United States to live with her. Until then, she will continue her daily bus rides, study her lessons and look for work so that she can build an independent life in her adoptive country. Along the way, she hopes to find new friends, so that she might once again fill her days with familiar, smiling faces, laughter and stories.