Many people with completely different stories live among us. Some of them are completely ordinary, but some deserve a book. Francis fled to Russia from DR Congo 5 years ago, and here is what happened…
Francis and I met at the Kursk railway station and I offered him to sit down and have lunch at the Atrium.
– How many years have you been in Russia?
– I have been living in Russia for 5 years.
– Did you manage to get used to the local weather? This summer in Moscow is scarce when it comes to hot and sunny days…
– Yes, that is a good observation…(laughs). Yes, I think I am more or less used to it. Of course, it is sometimes very cold in winter here…Before coming to Russia I have only seen snow once when my parents took me to Italy as a young child. I was thrilled – you cannot see things like that in Kinshasa. But I miss the local weather a lot; I really miss the African heat. During the summer in Kinshasa you cannot even leave the house sometimes, the sun is merciless…But I loved it and I love it still. Moscow weather is not for me.
– As far as I know, you studied medicine in Kinshasa.
– I am an ophthalmologist. At first I spent 8 years studying to be an ordinary therapist, and then I received my specialty. In total, medical students in the Congo spend 10 years studying.
– Did you graduate from university a long time ago?
– I was almost 30 back then; I think that was the distant year of 1999.
– Did you live well in Kinshasa, did you have any problems with money, work, housing?
– No, there were no problems, I had and still have a wonderful house there, I have always had a job. I cannot say I lived poorly or badly needed something.
– Nevertheless, you are in Moscow now. What made you leave home?
– A long time ago, I had big trouble with one person. A general close to the president. Once I knew him only as a colonel, nowadays he occupies a rather high post.
– What was the trouble?
– I refused to obey this man, I could not.
– Can you tell me more about what was happening back then? Do I understand correctly that this is somehow related to the war in the Congo? Tell us, what is the war even about?
– Yes, it is related to that. A long time ago the second president of the Congo started his reign, his name was Mobutu. Mobutu was a dictator; he remained in power for 32 years. A dictator and a cannibal. Then a man named Kabila appeared, he went into the forest, he was a rebel. He decided to overthrow Mobutu since he did not like the way he was ruling the country, but he did not have any resources, weapons or soldiers. Then Kabila decided to ask the leaders of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda for help, these countries are to the east of the Congo.
Kagame, the president of Rwanda, agreed to provide help, but said that when Kabila becomes president, he will have to hand the east of the Congo, a very rich region, to Rwanda. Kagame came to the Congo and Mobutu left – he died in Morocco. When Kabila became president, he rejected the deal with Kagame and refused to give up the eastern lands. Then Kagame decided to destroy everything he can see there.
– So, if I understand correctly, Rwanda attacked the Congo?
– Nowadays the president is also Kabila, but he is the second of their dynasty, the son of the previous president. His father, being in power, had no army, and his whole army was from Rwanda. Then he decided that he should have an army consisting only of Congolese.
I started working in a military camp to which Kabila Jr., who was a general during his father’s rule, recruited young men no older than 22-25 years. Back then the Congo was divided into 11 parts, and in each of them a certain number of young boys were recruited to serve in the army. Kabila Sr. decided to expel Kagame from his country and said that he would not give a single piece of land to Rwanda. All the soldiers from Rwanda left the Congo and returned to their homeland, and after a while Kagame declared that he should receive the promised land.
You should know that there are two ethnic groups in Rwanda: Tutsi and Hutu. Hutu look just like the Congolese, you can easily confuse them. Kagame sent young Hutu soldiers to the Kivu region of the Congo under the guise of Congolese soldiers. When we arrived at the camp, something strange was happening, because Rwanda was receiving information about our location and activities all night long.
I did not understand what was happening. That platoon of 600 people was arrested the same night. The general called me and said, “Francis, I need you, come to my headquarters immediately,” so I went to his office. He said: “There are spies here.” I began to ask: “Where, how many, what kind of spies?” The general replied, “We have a unit, 600 people.” It was a really big camp…
– So they were soldiers from Rwanda, but they looked like the Congolese?
– Yes, exactly. The general asked me to kill them and said, “I do not need noise. Kill each of them, step by step, part by part. You have 3 months for this. You are a doctor and you can kill them with poison.” I tried to argue, “Isn’t it easier to execute them with weapons, you have a huge number of guns and ammunition, we are at war, this is normal,” but the general replied once again that he did not need any noise. I resolutely told him that I could not do it: “I know what poison is, I am a doctor, I studied at university, but I will never do that.”
Some time has passed since then. One day after that incident one of my friends came to me and told me that the general had planned something bad for me. You have to run, you cannot stay here.
– Where did you go?
– I returned to Kinshasa. I had a house there, but my father forbade me to stay there, he said that they would find me and kill me. He told me to rent a flat. In the end I always lived in different places, I rented flats all over the country: in Kinshasa, in Brazzaville, near Angola, etc., no stability. The general came to my father’s house many times to ask where I was. My father always answered that he did not know and thought that I was working together with the general at the camp. When my father asked why they needed me and what had happened, the general would always reply only that I was a good doctor and they needed my help. I could no longer work in public clinics, because it would be too easy for him to find me there, so I worked only in the private ones. I tried to leave the Congo. I have been to many embassies of different countries – no visa.
– What was the problem with the visa?
– For us, the Congolese, it is very difficult to obtain a visa to the US, Canada and Europe…At first I had no thoughts of going to Russia, I wanted to go to a country whose language I know.
One young man from the Belgorod Technological University told me, “Big Bro, go to the Russian embassy in the Congo and find a person named Alexander. Give him $50 and he will give you a visa.” After the interview, I was already halfway in Russia. Almost everyone who goes to Russia receives their visa in 3-5 days, because the Russian embassy is terribly corrupt. I got mine in a month. The Russian consul told me: “I don’t care about you and your problems, they are not mine, they are yours.” The next day after receiving my visa, I arrived to Belgorod. When I arrived, the general came to my father and said that he knew where I was.
– What happened next? Have you tried to leave Belgorod?
– Following the advice of my father, I moved to Moscow. There are many Congolese in Belgorod ready to do what the general orders. I went to the UN office, where they sent me to you, the Civic Assistance Committee. I was settled in Podolsk.
– What happened in Podolsk?
– In Podolsk I was attacked by 3 Russians. It was very weird, because I lived in the same apartment as 4 more Congolese, but they only attacked me. It might have been a message from the general.
– Tell us about the attack.
– It was December, it was quite cold. I was walking in the street when 3 Russians ran up to me and started yelling, “Hey, n*****, come here.” These people spoke very good English. They tried to make me hand them my jacket, but I refused. I have scars from that incident (points to his stomach where there is a scar stretching from the chest to the navel).
– Did they try to kill you?
– Yes. They cut my stomach open and left, thinking I was dead. I woke up at the hospital. Look at my teeth (only three front teeth are left in the lower jaw). They broke my jaw bone and knocked out all my teeth. My head was like a watermelon.
– Nevertheless, you are alive and talking to me now, has someone helped you?
– I was in the hospital for 10 days. When I woke up, the doctor was very surprised and said that God loves me. After these 10 days, the doctor said that I had to leave the hospital because no one could pay for me. Together with my jacket I lost all my money and papers among which was a document from the fund that I was a refugee. I lost it. Before that I could show that document to police and despite me being an illegal migrant, they would let me go. I did not have it anymore. I went to the Civic Assistance Committee with my scar because I was kicked out of the hospital, and in the evening I felt a strong headache. In the morning I came back to the hospital and asked the doctors to scan my head, because something was clearly not right. I was told that they would not do the scan, I just had to buy pills and everything would pass. I replied that I was a doctor and knew that something was wrong with my head. I showed them my passport where it was indicated that I was a doctor, and only then did they agree to perform an examination. I had a huge hematoma.
– Did you return back to the apartment in Podolsk after the hospital?
– When I returned to the apartment it turned out that the man who was renting the apartment to us sold it. I went to the fund and said, “I am homeless now. I have a scar”. I was sent to the Rimskaya metro station to a homeless shelter. I was sleeping on bare floor with my scar.
– But what about your scar, it could not have healed by that time…
– So it happened that a few days later one kind young girl Masha came up and asked me in very good English, “Francis, are you a Catholic?”, to which I said yes. Then she said that she knew two Indian Catholic sisters from the church of Maria Teresa. She called them and asked them to come to me. When they arrived and asked me to show them my scar, they wept and asked, “Francis, what is this? How could you let this happen?” I responded that I slept on the floor. I went with the sisters and spent one month with them. There were many sick people in that place, I think it was somewhere in Lyublino…A month later the sisters came to me and said that they apologized, but I could no longer stay there.
– Did you go to the Committee again?
– One friend of mine, Timofey, sent me to Sergiev Posad. It was still winter. I approached the abbot of the monastery and told him, “Boris, it is always very cold in Russia. Please find me a job so I do not die of cold. I cannot break ice, carry things or clean, I am sick and I will only get worse”. He refused me and said no way. “Francis, go shovel the snow”. I got pneumonia.
– Did you end up in the hospital again?
– Yes. When I was in hospital with pneumonia, pastor Anton came to visit me. He is a Protestant. I told him that I did not want to return to the monastery anymore because Boris would not understand me and asked him to help me find a place to stay. He said that he knew one place in Naro-Fominsk where drug addicts were being rehabilitated. I had to agree, so after the hospital I went to Naro-Fominsk.
I spent two years there. I was the senior in that center. None of the people there could understand why I was appointed as a senior – because I wasn’t a drug addict, an alcoholic or for some other reason – so they beat me many times. Once one of them showed me a tattoo on his back and told me, “I am a yakuza. If you tell the pastor about the beatings, I will beat you again; break your arms and legs”. I still told the pastor. Of course, that yakuza beat me up. I was totally depressed.
– Where do you live now?
– I live at the pastor’s dacha with his family. I worked as an English tutor for his son for 3 months, but then they left for London. The day before yesterday they came back, I met them at the airport…Unfortunately, he sends me to a hostel often, so I spend a lot of time there. He constantly reproaches me for being unemployed even though he knows that I am an illegal migrant, my visa has long expired, as has my passport.
– Do you have a family?
– Yes, I have a daughter. My wife died in labor. I was in a fury, running through the hospital and screaming, asking my colleagues how that could even happen if everything was fine during pregnancy…I cried, I shouted, I went to the professor and demanded explanations…He only said that sometimes this happens, “Francis, you have to understand. Perhaps this is the will of God,” he told me.
Tomorrow it will be exactly 14 years since the moment of my daughter’s birth and my wife’s death. My daughter lives there, in the Congo, with my parents, now she goes to school and studies well! Aside from her and my parents, I have two sisters and a brother, they are in Belgium now. They were able to obtain refugee status and now live and work there.
– Why did they manage to obtain that status and you did not?
– There is a tradition in the Congo, a very stupid one in my opinion. The point is that the eldest son always has to stay beside his father so that he can pass all his affairs on to him when he dies. My father did not let me go until the very end and I could not leave with them, and later it was very difficult to obtain this status due to the corruption of the UN in Kinshasa – their office cooperates with the authorities.
– Do you keep in touch with relatives?
– Yes, I contact them through WhatsApp. I rarely manage to talk to my daughter, since I ask her grandmother to take away her phone while she is at school, but since now it is the holidays, we communicate more often, almost every day. Every time I call her, she cries and tells me not to stop praying for even a second. My brother helps me occasionally and transfers small amounts, but he has his own wife and kids, so he cannot help me constantly.
– Do you have a dream?
– Of course. My main dream here is to live here legally.
– I was asking about a dream which you had before all these events. Something common that you would like to achieve.
– I wanted to be a professor of ophthalmology in the Congo. I was so close to this, but because of the general I did not have the time. Now I just wash the floor in the pastor’s house, running errands for him. Sometimes my blood pressure rises and I feel sick. If I had a Russian doctor’s license and the general would disappear from my life, I would return to the Congo, become a professor, then come to Moscow and begin a new life here. I would find a wife and start working.By the way, another option to obtain a legal status here is to marry a Russian woman.My mother won’t understand that, but I have been through so much.
– Are you a religious person? How often do you pray or make confession?
– Yes, constantly. When I regained consciousness in the hospital after the attack, the doctor approached me and was very surprised. He said: “You are alive. This is incredible. God loves you too much. We were sure that you could not survive.” My mother and daughter pray for me constantly.
– So the Congo is a religious country?
– Yes. People in the Congo believe in God. We are Catholics and Protestants, but on the outskirts there are also many different pagans – voodooists. All our presidents, for example, professed voodoo. If you want to be in politics or become a major official, you have to follow the president, you must also practice voodoo. A large number of people in the provinces support it, since the world’s major religions are only practiced in the centre. Voodoo in the Congo is, first of all, cannibalism. All our presidents were cannibals. Voodooists are devil worshipers, they know what you think, and the strongest of them can read your mind.
– So you believe in voodoo? But you are a Catholic.
– Yes, I believe in voodoo, because every person should know that the devil exists. For me, the devil is voodoo. They can curse a particular item and put it in your bag. If you come home and touch it and then go to sleep, most likely you won’t wake up ever again.
– Do they openly eat people?
– No, of course it is prohibited by the Constitution. But everyone knows everything. Mostly they fetch people from prisons. Vodooists believe that the best food is a person who hates you. That is why various opposition activists often disappear. You can come to prison and say you are looking for your brother, who is behind bars, and you will be told he died the day before. If you ask to see his body, they will respond that they had burned it, and if you ask for the ashes, they will simply give you the ashes of some other person. In reality the body of the deceased is sent to the presidential residence, where he makes a sacrifice and eats the body of that prisoner, drinking his blood. Great power. So they become very powerful. I can come to a voodooist and talk to him, but he will never understand me, he is on the other side, on the side of the devil. They will say that if you, the doctor, want to become influential, powerful and rich, you should forget Jesus, forget Christianity and believe in the devil and you will see that you are wrong.
Francis needs help. He wants to work. The official language in Congo is French, so he knows it perfectly. In addition, he had been studying English at the university for 10 years, so he also knows it well. This interview was conducted in English. Francis is looking for students to teach them French or English, if someone is interested in learning French or English, message me on VKontakte.
Aside from Francis, there are hundreds of refugee families in Russia who need help. If you are able and willing to provide that help, the Civic Assistance Committee is currently raising funds on Planeta – that money will be enough to support 300 families for 4 months. It is especially important now, since winter and cold weather will come soon.
Dearest thanks to all those who respond and help.
Text and pictures: Anton Ereskovsky, “Civic Assistance”