My name is Dikembe. I was born in Brazzaville, built on the right bank of the river Congo, the capital of the Republic of Congo. Across the river, on the left bank, is Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. While Brazzaville is very poor, Kinshasa is a wealthy city – at night, it is Kinshasa’s illumination that lights up Brazzaville.
I think that was when it started. The desire for a better life that brought me here must have come from staring at that better life, just across the river, throughout all of my youth.
I moved to Portugal illegally, with a brother-in-law of mine. We travelled for days in crammed trains and little boats, mostly during the night, and we never slept, for the fear of being caught and sent back in humiliation.
Once we arrived, we settled in with other illegal immigrants, in a tiny house with no conditions. They were glad to welcome us and help us find jobs – it was not hard to find work, but people took advantage of our legal status, and we had to take some very bad jobs for very little pay.
After a few years, much discussion and a few frights, we worked up the courage to apply for an immigration visa. We spoke some words of Portuguese and we had finally found honest people who got us decent jobs, unloading crates at the harbour. We had even managed to get a lease of a tiny apartment, and, no matter how small it was, it was ours, where we had our plates and our curtains and our own boxful of dreams. That alone was beautiful.
We sent for our wives a few months later, once things were stable enough for us to say that they would stay.
It has not always been easy to reach out for this life, or to face some people who are not happy with our presence here, but we have tried to be strong. I have two children now, and they have a better life than I did at their age. That is my reward.
Despite all the difficulties that I have faced and all the things that I have lost, I am thankful for what I have gained – and I am, above all, proud to have taken this, so to speak, wide step across the river.
Marta Silva, 11ºH