College Essay: On the right path, after tragedy and turmoil

Elizabeth Rypa, St. Paul Harding High School
Elizabeth Rypa, St. Paul Harding High School
St. Paul Harding junior Elizabeth Rypa reads her college essay during ThreeSixty Journalism’s College Essay Boot Camp celebration on April 7 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Photo By: University of St. Thomas

Bam! Bam! I heard this sound early in the morning. People screaming, “Mungu nisaidie” (God help me). My body shaking and numb. My face hot. I knew how to run at the age of 3. Should I run, or stay and wait for my parents? They were in the fields, working, when the chaos began.

I heard a voice calling me: “Da-eli, kimbia, nitakua nyuma yako” (Sister Eliza, run! I will be behind you). My legs could not move one step. I later find the courage to run through the woods. Then bam! A body fell to the ground behind me. It was my 18-year-old sister, Faisa, shot dead. I stood numb, again, with no one to turn to, again. I mourned for my sister, and then my cousin Bwamungu reached around my waist and picked me up.

My eyes swollen, I heard voices, laughter and talking. The boat was crowded, sweaty and stinky. A teardrop fell from my eye. I was frightened but knew I was safe, because Bwamungu and Fatuma, another cousin, were with me. When the boat landed, my life and parents were still in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we were in Zambia.

In Zambia, children my own age bullied me for not speaking Nyanja or English. I learned how to take a slap and not give one back. Five years later, Bwamungu was arrested. Fatuma was in boarding school. I was homeless.

“Nini kimetokea?” (What happened?), an old Congolese man asked me one day. I was quiet, and then I told him. My cousin was gone, taken by the police, I said in Swahili. “I have no place to go.” He took me to his house. I trusted him, because he was Congolese. I lived with him for five years, and he paid for my school. All of a sudden, I only had to eat, go to school and take care of myself. It felt like a miracle.

“You will be going to the United States on Monday,” the old Congolese man—now “Grandpa”— told me one day. I was in eighth grade, and those words hit my heart like a bullet. I was sad. I wanted to go to the United States to be with my only living family member, my uncle Bantari, but this was fast. I would be leaving in four days. My face wore a smile, but inside I felt dead.

Fatuma would go with me. We said our goodbyes to Grandpa and his family through tears. The first time I got on the plane, it scared me to death. What if there are snakes on the plane, like the movie? We arrived in the United States at 8:04 p.m., Tuesday, June 3, 2014.

Nearly three years later, I live in St. Paul with my uncle, his wife and children, and Fatuma. I am a junior at Harding High School and I am on the Student Engagement and Advancement Board. I plan to go to college and become a doctor.

Why a doctor? When I think of my sister laying on the ground, shot, I feel empty, like something is missing in my life. I still feel helpless because there was nothing I could have done to stop her from dying. It makes me think, “What if I was there now? Could I have helped her?” I know I could have if I had been a doctor.

Right after her death, my life could have gone in so many directions. With the help of Grandpa, I got on the right path. He always told me this: “In life you can be whatever you want. Just make sure you make me proud.”

I will, Grandpa.

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