My name is Matthew and I’m a follower of Christ. My story begins in Central Africa, in a country known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was born in DRC but was forced to leave when I was around 5 years old due to the civil war that was taking place. I ended up spending the rest of my early years in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. My family moved through these African countries in search of a better life as our home country DRC was going through a lot of turmoil. Our time in these countries exposed us to various cultures/languages and I currently speak 10 languages as a result! Fine, I’ll tell you which ones they are (I know you’re dying to know) so here goes….Swahili, Lingala, French, Ndebele, Shona, Spanish, Titwana, Zulu, Chiluba, and English…in short, You can call me a “Human Google Translator”.
Although we were forced to flee our home country, I found that there was a blessing even in those difficult circumstances. My favorite part about being able to live in all those countries was my exposure to music and diverse cultures. I always learned something new through these two avenues. On the other hand, the hardest part about moving around so much was that we missed things from our country. We had no choice but to take on someone else’s country as our own, we had to call the new countries we lived at home even though our true home was elsewhere. Our physical bodies were present in all these different countries we journeyed through but our hearts were always in our own home country.
The possibility of losing ourselves with every country that became part of us was also something we had to be aware of. One can easily forget where they come from if they are not intentional about remembering where they come from. My mother played a major role in ensuring that this didn’t happen to us. She would always say “never forget where you come from even though you’ve been forced to leave your home.” Her words got me in the habit of constantly reminding of the land that I was forced to leave as a child but will someday see again if it’s God’s will. Another hard part about moving around as much as we did was that we constantly had to form new relationships. I thank God because I have a big mouth so I could get along even with the mosquitoes in the deserts. I used that God-given ability I had to get along with people and that takes a lot of courage because we met various types of people along the way. We had to make a lot of sacrifices, had to come out of the small world that we had created, and be open to exploring and evolving. It’s just like when you move houses or apartments, you eventually start knowing who your neighbors are, what the community is like, and such. We had to open ourselves up to the experiences that came with constantly moving around and my biggest blessing through this action was when I got exposed to the world of music.
Music for me is an addiction. Just like someone that’s addicted to cigarettes has to have cigarettes, someone that’s addicted to alcohol has to have alcohol and music for me became my outlet whenever I felt stressed or when words weren’t enough to express the things that flooded my heart and soul. Music is my escape when I want to feel closer to my home country, it reminds me of who I am. It takes me back to my early days as a child, my mom always tells me how I was one of those kids that would make music out of anything around me. I’d be eating and using the table as a drum, anything I could get my hands on I turned into an instrument. There’s certain music I will play even today and it will instantly make me say “I’m at home” even though I’m oceans away from my true home. I play the drum or piano and every beat will carry so much Peace with it. I will be running and listening to music and in those moments I’d feel like I was unstoppable, like all the limitations around me was non-existent as every stride I took intertwined with every note that hit my ears.
I also love dancing, this is something that anyone that knows me would attest to. Dancing is also a form of self-expression for me. I just dance because it’s in my system, I’m the type of person that will hear a certain song for the first time but will dance to it as if it’s my favorite song in the whole wide world. Music and dance are part of my who I am. All the moving around and my interactions with different people have also exposed me to various cultural dances. People are always amazed when I ask where they’re from and then proceed to dance their traditional dances. I didn’t just magically know these things, I sacrificed time and put in the effort to learn so that I can help people value their cultures, even more, when they meet me (someone that’s from a different culture) dance in a way that they associate with. It’s one of the ways I love to connect with others.
In the year 2012, my family and I embarked on another journey to a country we’d soon call our new home. We were privately sponsored by a local church In Winnipeg, Canada that worked with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). I was so used to moving around at this point that I was already mentally prepared to start from scratch when we got to Canada. I just had very limited expectations but I soon came to realize that the system wasn’t much different here too but I realized early on that I had to push through no matter the cost. I had no other choice so I pushed through. I made sure from my very early days in Canada that I surrounded myself with good people. I made connections with people through the church and community that showed me around and made me feel welcomed. I have special friends from those early days that are still my closest friends. They are friends that have turned to family and I will never forget them as they have always been here for me. One of them is a best friend of mine called Jeremie, I call him “Jeremie Mwenye Mbuzi” (loosely translates to “Jeremie the owner of goats”). This was a nickname I gave him when we first met in high school and were both newcomers to Canada. There’s also another friend of mine called Hussein that I met and we instantly became family. He became a brother to me as well and we connected through music. I also got to meet two special ladies that became family, they’re called Faven and Almaz and then I eventually got to meet other people, and my social circle expanded from thereon. I was blessed in finding myself in good hands when it came to the friends that I surrounded myself with because my story could have played out differently if I had met the wrong people who led me to a path that led to bad choices.
In coming to Canada, my passion for music increased even more. Music to me can be classified as a language of its own. We all can speak music it’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet. When I’m having a conversation in French, the response I get back will be in French too. I can communicate in Music and whoever I speak to in music also can respond in music. The connections I made with my closest friends was through music, that’s how you know it plays a huge role in my life.
Music also plays a huge role in my spiritual life. I love playing and listening to gospel music and in these moments I’m assured of my purpose. I’m reminded that I was created to praise God and there’s no other identity out there that I could be more proud of than having the label of a worshipper. I use the gift of music to serve my church as I play various instruments there….I call myself a “One-Man-Band!” Serving my purpose through music reminds me that I’m called to be the head and not the tail. There are so many people out there that can look at my humble beginnings and say that I can’t do this or do that. My mom used to tell me that “If I can talk then I can sing, If I can walk then I can dance,” she used to say this to me when I was a child and it never really made much sense to me then. I now realize that every word that rolls from our tongue have a tempo, every step we take as we walk has a tempo, everything we do on this earth has a tempo and it’s because of this reason that I see music EVERYWHERE I go.
-Remind yourself of where you come from
-Never put yourself down
-Fight for your freedom because freedom isn’t just handed out. What you wish to be set free from will require sacrifice and the will to fight through everything along the way.
I recently had to leave my comfort zone in Winnipeg (my very first home city in Canada) and make a bold move to Vancouver. A wise man once said, “when you plant a Guava tree, don’t expect to get a mango fruit from it.” You can’t always live a certain way and expect different results. The reason why I left Winnipeg is that I felt like my time there had come to an end. Life became so repetitive and where I wanted to go in life was now being limited by my surrounding. I had to step out of my comfort zone and start fighting for where I wanted to be in life. Many people told me that I wouldn’t even last 3 days in Vancouver because of how expensive life would be, loneliness and so many other things they had on their lists to convince me to change my mind. I made sure I didn’t take what they said to heart, I was adamant that I would at least try. I knew that I needed to make sacrifices to get what I wanted and this was the type of attitude I wanted to define my character. So many of us are walking around with a long list of goals but nothing to show for how much we’re willing to sacrifice to achieve those things on our lists. Our surroundings play a huge role in how far we go and how long it will take us. Surround yourself with people that dream big and there will be no limits to what you can envision. Every choice that we make either takes us closer to our goals or further away from them. Be careful with the beats you’re making because you’ll have to dance to them someday!
My advice to African Youth in the Diaspora would be the same thing my mother has always told me. “Don’t forget where you come from”. Everything else is linked to this, home is always home. I might be in Canada today but every generation that comes from me will know that their blood is connected to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Knowing where I come from is my motivation for everything I do. No wind that comes my way will blow me around. I know that I’m destined to play a role in the betterment of my home country DRC and the African continent in general. My faith in God and my identity is my compass.
Let us have the spirit of an eagle, an eagle soars so high above the clouds but is so alert that it can dive in and take out a fish that is swimming in the water far beneath it. Let us not be caught up in the little things when we’re meant to soar and take hold of our destinies with the swiftness of an eagle!
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