- No matter how long the night is, the sun always rises. – French Proverb
When I was a child I was afraid of the dark. I used to think the boogeyman was coming to get me. My mother would reassure me: “The sun always rises.” It was a reminder that I had the power to choose between fear or faith.
My story starts in a small, rural village called Masisi in Zaire (what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in central Africa. Picture a beautiful pastoral setting with rolling green fields, rivers and clean, fresh air.
Most residents worked as farmers or raised livestock, including cows, goats, ducks. Nestled in the foothills of a nearby mountain range, Masisi was said to look very similar to Switzerland (everything but the chocolate!). In fact, the name Masisi comes from the French “Ma Suisse Afrique” which literally translates to “My African Switzerland.” Because locals had a hard time pronouncing “Ma Suisse,” the mispronounced Masisi became the official name. Even today, my mom, who was born and raised in Masisi, will tell you that it is a paradise on earth.
It was a heavenly time in my parents’ lives as well. They met in 1990 and I arrived the following year. My father had just earned his doctorate and veterinarians were in high demand. The president of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, envisioned agriculture to be the future economic weapon of the country and veterinary doctors played an essential role. When my father got a call from OXFAM and PNUD, two internationally renowned nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that fought hunger by promoting agriculture and farming, he was elated. It was a dream job for any veterinarian, fresh out of school. Our young family had it all.
Unfortunately, the following year, when I was only a year old, two local ethnic groups started a dispute over land ownership and it escalated into a civil war. It was my first exposure to turmoil and chaos, and although I don’t remember much of it, my mother still paints a vivid picture of the events and experiences we had in Masisi. My parents decided to move to a city called Goma.
In 1994, when I was 3 years old, our neighboring country Rwanda was dealing with its own turmoil. The genocide against Tutsis saw almost one million dead in the span of one hundred days. I remember when I was a little older, a local TV station showed the archival footage of bodies being buried in mass graves. In 1997, another war began. The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo
(AFDL) overthrew Mobutu, who had been in power for 32 years. That’s when the Republic of Zaire became the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was a victory celebrated by the whole nation and it held the promise of hope and possibility of a new era of peace.
I would love to say that the war of 1997 was the last one of my lifetime, but sadly, it was just the beginning. Conflict became a near constant. I remember my favorite toys growing up were guns, pistols, and AK-47s. I didn’t have to bother my parents to buy me one, because every kid in my neighborhood knew how to make one out of scrap metal. Years later I realized that because I grew up in war, I idolized rebels and soldiers because they were heroes and saviors.
Subsequent wars took my father’s life and forced my family to flee in Uganda. When we thought we were finally catching a break and life was going back to normal, we went from bullets and grenades to the invisible enemy of disease. HIV and AIDS came, followed by a cholera pandemic, then polio, leaving kids my age physically disabled. Then, just when things were settling down, the Ebola virus made its reappearance. At times it felt as though I had cried so much that I was unable to produce any more tears.
It seemed as though we were in a never-ending nightmare. One minute we were hiding under the bed to escape gunshots and bombs, and the next we were learning about death tolls from the latest outbreak of disease. Some nights were longer than others, as we waited for the hope and safety of sunlight and a new day.
My parents did their best to protect me. Despite the chaos, I still believed I had a normal childhood and did what any kid in any part of the world did. I enjoyed life and played outdoors when I could. I adapted, emotionally arming myself for whatever hardship was around the next corner. And with my family, I learned to have hope and faith that “no matter how long the night is, the sun always rises.”
I hope this story, my story, will inspire you during these challenging and uncertain times. We all have the choice between fear and faith. And, thankfully, we can all play a role in making our communities safer: we can wash our hands, stay home as much as possible, practice social distancing and know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Five years from now, we’ll look back and smile, enjoying the sunshine.
About the author: Arnold Mukwanga Mikolo was born in the Northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and lived there until he was 11 years old. Arnold’s family moved many times and ultimately left the country due to political instability. After graduating from high school, Arnold went to Uganda for his undergraduate studies. Upon returning home from school, he realized that his family was scattered all over the place. Because his father was a renowned social justice activist in the region, it was too difficult for him to remain in the Congo. Unfortunately, his father was a victim of the cruel civil war and the corrupt government. His mother, who still lives in a refugee camp, has been his rock. In 2012, Arnold came to the United States as a permanent resident immigrant (Green Card holder).
He is now a U.S. citizen. Arnold Mikolo is the President and CEO of his Language and Social Enterprise Business Excel Connect LLC, which he co-founded in 2019. To give back to the community, Arnold volunteers as an Advisory Board member at the YMCA as well as with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, where he serves as a housing tester to end housing discrimination. Arnold is currently the new treasurer of the Manchester NAACP chapter. Arnold won the “Civic Leader of the Year” in 2016 with Stay Work Play, “40 under Forty” in 2017 with the Union Leader, “2018 It List” with the New Hampshire Magazine, and was featured on the front cover of the 2019 Manchester Advantage Magazine with the Greater Manchester Chamber.