"It was as if I was a
butterfly, floating about in nothingness, not knowing what
I was doing, or I was to go."
That's how Anselme Sadiki once
described how he felt as a refugee, dead to his family for four years
in the aftermath of Mobutu's 1990 ethnic cleansing in what is now the
Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), during which the
National University of Zaire in Kinshasa was burned to the ground.
Sadiki doesn't know how many of his friends and colleagues at the
University died that night. He only knows that somehow, through
something that he believes might be fate, he survived not only that
night but the subsequent hellish years in and out og refugee camps in
northern Kenya. In characteristic humility, he says "I accept my
existence today as an omen that there must be a reason and purpose for
Having been accepted with partial
funding to the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at
Columbia University, it is clear that several other people think there
is a reason and purpose for Sadiki's survival as well. But we are
getting ahead of the story.
In 1994, with the help of aid workers
and an American professor who recognized something exceptional in the
young refugee, Sadiki came to the United States. "I had never
even considered coming here," he says now. "I was so
surprised when the professor sent word that my passage was
cleared." The alternative, of course, was slow starvation in
refugee camps where for four years Sadiki helped to bury the newly
dead on almost daily basis, and otherwise merely existed, "a
butterfly, floating about in nothingness."
So, armed with " the useful
survival language of Swahili" which he had picked up in the
camps, Sadiki ended up in Iowa. From there, he was able to relocate
his family, now in Rwanda. "We got word to my brother that I was
alive and would call at a specified place and time. I guess they
didn't believe that it was really me. But my brother agreed to take
the phone call, saying, 'Okay, let's just see who this guy thinks he
is.' I called and said 'yeah, it's really me! I am really
alive!'" Sadiki's eyes shine with fresh tears as he talks about
the moment. "You really wouldn't have believed it," he says,
laughing. "We were on the phone for two hours, and we
hardly talked. All we did was cry!"
When he arrived in Iowa, Sadiki's host
family had already decided to take a new job, at Idaho State
University in Pocatello. Still struggling with English, Sadiki went
with them. "I didn't know 'Pocatello, Idaho' from Timbuktu!"
he quips, a past master already at American idioms. Now, six years
later, having confronted the "mysteries of culture, snow and
ice," with a bachelor's degree in social work under his belt, the
University's new African Student Recruitment Program to his credit -
as well as under his directorship - and the good will of a growing
hoard of Americans and Africans alike behind him, Anselme Sadiki is
taking on New York. Eventually, with a master's degree in
International Affairs from Columbia (SIPA), he'd like to get back to
Africa and try to change that world, too.
However, his acceptance at Columbia is
a mixed blessing. The partial scholarship would allow him to live
frugally in New York but does not provide for tuition, a figure
approaching $25,000 per year including books and fees. Sadiki's former
position at Idaho State University allows him to support his parents,
siblings, nieces and nephews in Rwanda. But that, too, grows more
His sister, Anonciata, was suffering
from chronic and painful digestive disorder that has eluded diagnosis.
Doctors thought the offending organ might be her appendix. So Sadiki
paid for an appendectomy. Unfortunately, the surgery solved nothing
and seriously weakened the already emaciated mother of two. He thought
that maybe if he brought Anonciata here, just for a few months,
perhaps she could have got the treatment, clean water and rest she
needs to make a recovery.
To that end, Sadiki's friends and
supporters in Pocatello founded a gastroenterologist in Salt Lake City
willing to donate time and expertise if a sponsor willing to pay some
of the costs of diagnosis and treatment can be found. Local musical
talent organized playing benefit concerts in Pocatello to help raise
money. Continental Airline has agreed to bring Anonciata from New York
City to Salt Lake City if KLM or British Airways would donate a seat
from Kigali (Rwanda) to JFK.
Consequently, so much to
people's great chagrin, the mission failed when she was denied at the
American Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda.
It was a Monday morning that my
roommate Anselme came back into our apartment from SIPA, saying our
usual 'yo!', but in a tiny hoarse voice. I felt something wrong......Anonciata
passed away, October 7, aged 34.
State Journal ...Article on Anonciata's death.