Jackie's Story


I promised to share some of the stories of the children here at Jacob's Ladder. The following is the story of Jackie, an eleven-year-old from Burundi, Africa. Jackie and her family moved to America when she was 5. They are refugees from Burundi, the African country that sits below Rwanda. Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world and has been marked by civil war since the middle of the twentieth century. The war is a result of unrest between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Jackie and her family fled the country shortly after a neighbor's newborn baby was poisoned by an enemy. Since their arrival in the United States, Jackie's mother has nearly been poisoned.

This summer, Jackie has taught us all about her culture and how different Africa is from our land. She has taught us traditional games and songs in the Kirundi language. In a session with the RAs, she simulated an African classroom. She handed each of us a worksheet printed entirely in Kirundi and spoke only in her native language. As we struggled to do our work, she showed one of the RAs how the punishment for forgetting one's supplies is a slap on the hand with a ruler.

After that exercise, Jackie explained that we had just felt what she experienced when she first came to America. She was tossed into public school and expected to do the same work as every other student, without knowing a bit of English. Jackie has progressed a great deal in her short time here in America. Her English is fantastic - and we remind her of that every chance we get.

She also shared with us a true story of her childhood in Africa. She remembers some of her life there and chronicled part of it with the following piece.

"Stories of Africa"

When I was a baby, I liked to cry because I really wanted sugar cane. Every time I cried for sugar cane and my mother didn't have any, an old man would come by. He was a friend to everybody.  He would tell me, "Urashaka Umuguba?" which means "Would you like some sugar cane?"  I would always say, "Ego" which means "yes" and he would give it to me to make me stop crying.

When I got older, I used to go around with my grandfather into the woods of Africa.  There were lots of wild animals that lived there.  One day, I saw a baby cheetah.  My grandfather told me the baby cheetah was a female, so I named her Mwiza; that means "beautiful".  I remember the day my grandfather went to work.  He said that when he dies one day, that I will have to remember him in my dreams.  I asked him to tell me why he said that.  He never did answer my question but I do dream about him.  Later, he took me into the store in our village and bought me an African dress.  I hugged him so hard, until he said, "Stop, Jacqueline - that's enough of that!"  I said, "No, I want to hug you because you are special to me, Gambu."  That means Grandpa in our language.

As I got older, I kept Mwiza, my cheetah.  I liked to ride on her back and we always had so much fun.  Sometimes, my Mwiza could even say a few words to me.  We were very close friends.  Every time Mwiza tried to talk, my grandfather would tell me that there was something very special inside of me.  I loved him so much.  He used to buy me something from the store all the time - even expensive things.  My Auntie said that when I was small I had some ripped holes in my shirt and when my mom watched me cry, he would go buy me better things to wear.

When I turned 5 years old, my great, special grandfather passed away - but I believe he is still looking after me.  I still dream about him.  Shortly after he died, we were told we were going to America.  They told me I couldn't take Mwiza so I ran into the woods to give her a hug.  I hugged her so much and kissed her on the cheek and told my friend to look after her.  I said goodbye to all the people there and we climbed on the truck and headed to the airplane.  "Goodbye, Mwiza!  Goodbye, Africa!"

- Jacqueline Ndayizeye