Lance Buruka still longs for his native Congo, despite the circumstances of his departure
A quiet, unassuming man, tall and slightly built, the Bangala-born Congolese left his war-torn country with dozens of other refugees to Britain,13 years ago, separated from family, friends and everything he held dear. He was 22.
Now 35 and a father of three, the son of a former politician resides in a foreign country where he tries to rebuild his life. The opportunities are there but things are not as easy as he thought. Even so, he is eternally grateful to those who gave him a new life.
Yet, the Congolese is fiercely committed to his country in spite of his rough experiences and longs to return and assist in nation building.
Buruka lives in Grays, Essex, and works as a team manager with one UK’s largest retailers, Tesco, in London. Before that, he was in Birmingham working with Land Rover.
He shared some of his experiences in the UK with Face2Face and also spoke about the senseless war that displaced him millions of other Congolese and finally drove him out of his motherland.
“My greatest challenge when I came here was language,” the French and Lingala speaking Buruka said in a whisper, chuckling and stressing he couldn’t speak a word of English prior to getting to the UK.
“I needed to get out of my skin to learn how to speak and write English. Once I broke that language barrier things started falling in place. But it was challenging at the beginning but when you have a passion for something and a determination to achieve, you’d squeeze out the best out of your life. I didn’t have a choice. I had to learn how to speak English so I could go out there express myself and be understood.”
He got a chance to study English free of cost at an institution and even went further to learn about the British society.
“I just grabbed the opportunity and did my courses, all the levels required. I wanted to do more I wanted to understand the British society so I moved from there to another college in Birmingham. I learnt the laws of the land, just random knowledge of the land and geography. I wanted to know where I am and the culture of the people and all that is helpful.”
Buruka whose family was dislocated in the war also shared how he was reunited with his sister in the UK. They were separated at home six years earlier.
“When I came here to the UK, we were placed in hostels where you also meet other people from your country. Naturally, you start telling stories about home, one thing will lead to another but it didn’t just happen like that,” he said, snapping his finger.
“It took time, talking to people here and there. And then, one day someone said there was a person who had a similar name as me because the Congolese community is one that does not easily integrate, they stick together because of language and do everything together and the news got out quick and with the help of mobile phones, I got to know my sister is here too.”
He paused, looked up for the first time and continued.
“She came before me six years earlier, was married and had children. That was the most exciting day of life – a most beautiful day and I cherish those moments I met my sister, my family, my blood. She was in Birmingham married with family and helped introduce me to the British society. I lived with her for two years and then I grew my own wings and flew away,” he added, joyfully.
Buruka may have met his sister but not the rest of the family. He thinks his mother “must be dead”. Tragedy struck when they rebels arrested his father, a known politician, and threw the entire family into chaos. Buruka found himself alone and in a part of the region and was there until airlifted to the UK. Hear his story. .
“It all began in 1994, when the eastern war started. We look a lot like Ruwandese so we became targets and things started to get rough for us. They will confuse us with Ruwandese and attack us. It was a really a dark period for my family. To cut a long story short, we got attacked in our house one day, a nightmare. Our dad got arrested and we never saw him anymore. The family scattered. I just found myself by myself. I was in the Congo but alone. I didn’t know where the rest of the family was,“ he said, shaking his head.
“The next thing to do was to show yourself to the United Nations so you can tell your story hoping they will arrange documentation so that you can – you can get out of the country. I didn’t know where my family was but by the grace of God after some years, we kind of got back together but we are now in different countries. I thank God I have my sister here, my two brothers and one of my sister are in South Africa and another brother in Paris with the UN helping refugees.”
What’s next for Buruka after 13 years in Britain? What’s the plan and where does he see himself down the road?
“Politics,” he said, surprisingly, “I see myself back home and in politics because I think Africa needs leaders. It doesn’t just need people who can lead with their heads but those who can lead with their hearts as well. I want to give back some of what I have received. I see myself being in that environment, serving my people, giving back and being part of that big puzzle called Africa,, particularly Congo. I am studying, reading books and getting connected with people who matter,”
A fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, they say.