9/11 Memories: Arlette Kitenge
Arlette Kitenge left Rwanda when she was four years old. It was a brutal time of fighting between Hutus and Tutsis, two tribes within the country. Her family came to the United States searching for freedom and happiness. "My parents wanted to provide a home where we would be stable, be able to go to school and not have to move constantly as we had done for so many years after leaving Rwanda." She was in the fourth grade when terrorists struck sites in the U.S. and she "really got terrified because what came to mind was the war's happening all over again. The war has followed us to the United States." We spoke to Arlette in 2011 for this story.
(Locator: Nashville, Tenn.)
"My name is Arlette Kitenge. When 9/11 happened I had been in the United States for one year and I was coming from Rwanda, Africa escaping the genocide war that had been going on there for years and on-going. I was in the fourth grade. I really got terrified because what came to mind was 'The war's happening all over again. The war has followed us to the United States. Where are we gonna go now?' My parents, when we left Rwanda, they told me and my sisters that we're going to a country where things are a lot better-where there's peace, there's freedom, there's happiness. And for me that day it felt like the world came down crashing on me 'cause I thought this was our sanctuary. When they showed us on the TV the towers falling and the planes crashing into the buildings and all that stuff I got so scared to the point where I hid under my desk. And my teacher had to come over and calm me down and tell me and remind me that this is happening thousands of miles away and it's not gonna happen here in Tennessee.
So, I called my mom. And I was in tears and frazzled and all that and she was wondering what's going on 'cause she hadn't heard anything. She was in her cubicle working when everyone else was glued to the TVs and all that. She really didn't know what was going on. She was like. 'What's going on?' And I told her 'Mom, the bad people are coming for us. They're coming to get us again. Where are we gonna go now?' And then she was like, 'Honey, it's gonna be okay. It's gonna be all right. Nothing's gonna happen to us. We are in a safe place. This is probably the safest place we could be at this moment. It's all gonna be okay. It's a big, big country. Nothing's gonna happen to you. And you are in a safe school. And I'm safe at work. And I'm sure your dad and your sisters are okay. It's all gonna be okay. Just calm down and pray. And God will be with you, and everything's gonna be okay.'"
In 2011, Arlette was a senior at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee pursuing a degree in social work.