My father had a retail store in Kongolo.  One of the items he sold is beautiful African Raffia fabric by the yard.  In Africa, woman wore Raffia clothes.  Raffia is an African textile designed by the Congo people.

Our home was situated near the shop, as I am a daring person who takes risk; I decided to test my German Shepherd dog “Rita”.   I saw two ladies walking towards my dad shop, and I gave commend to my dog “Rita attack”, and in my surprise “Rita” went after the ladies and rip their raffia clothes.  I got scared and run in the house, hid under a table in the living room.  I knew I was in big trouble.

My father was not very happy with me.  He apologied to the ladies, and gave each one of them a new Raffia fabric of their choice.  I am glad he did not hurt the ladies.

My lesson is don’t ever test your dog on people.


Aurevoir Rita

It was another day, coming home from school, my German Shepherd “Rita” was tied to the tree.  As I approached the house, I climb the tree, took the hook off from the tree still holding the chain and said “okay you can go, Rita” at the same time, she see’s a cat and runs after it.  I am still hold the hook from the chain, which rips off my finger.

I was screaming and crying, my dad runs over picks me up and takes me to the doctor.

My lesson, never say to your dog “okay you can go” unless you are really ready.

Rita was my friend, she was our protector, she was our guard dog, but the day we had to rush and leave our home with what we were wearing, I knew then at the age 10 years old I will never see rita again.

A Village in Kongolo

The Village with the Round and Square Houses in Kongolo

The map of Kongolo

Kongolo, in the summer of 1958 laying on my bed under a mosquito net protecting my sisters, brother and I from the mosquito bites and 4 oil cans of Texaco to each bed post filled with Manioc flour and water protecting us from the Siafu ants or African ants.

We would hear the sound of the drums coming from the village of the round and square houses. “Get up dears” mother’s voice called, “we are going to the village and watch the Congolese Dance”.   My family would follow the sounds of the drum towards the village just to watch the African Tribal Dance. As we got closer and closer, the drums will get louder and louder my heart will start beating harder and harder and I started getting scared.

Dance in the Congo is part of everyday life, it’s about expressing their emotions through rhythmic movement, it energizes and re-fresh your body and spirit. They would wear mask and paint their faces and body, dressed in multicolored African fabrics and colorful beads. The most popular is the Bembe Cote bead, a deep maroon color. My parents loved to watch them dance in the village. You experience their culture, traditions, and lifestyle. It’s like going to the movies but you are in the movies!

Being the youngest, I was afraid to watch them dance with their traditional lifestyles, animal skin clothing, handheld shakers, rattlers around their ankles or waist, colored they face and body so I decided to stay in the car where I felt safe not my sister Olga she was not afraid.

One night, when I was staying in the car waiting for my parents, a little African girl with a beautiful smile came near the car and started to talk to me in Swahili, a native language spoken in the Congo she held her hand out and invited me to watch them dance with her. This little girl age 6 taught me to overcome my fears and decided to follow her towards the direction where the music was coming from and from that day on, I followed my family to watch the tribal dance in the round and square houses.

This little girl from the village taught me to trust myself and not to be afraid of new adventures, and opportunities coming my way.  For others entertainment was going to the movies, and for us it was going to the Village with the Round and Square Houses in Kongolo.




My Life Journal

It all started in the Belgium Congo where my parents had migrated from Cyprus, in search for a better life during the building of the railroad.  My name is Nikki, and my sister Olga and my brother Christos were born in the Belgium Congo except my older sister Anna she was born in Cyprus.

(By the way, I am the fourth one sitting in the canoe starting from the back from the picture I posted.)

My parents moved to the Belgium Congo for a better and safe life. The town that we lived in the Belgium Congo was named Kongolo near the Lualaba River.

I remember Kongolo surrounded by an endless forest of natural beauty, a forest with oil palms, and acres of cotton plants.   We spoke French, Greek and the native language Swahili.

When my sisters and brother were old enough to go to school, my parents sent them to Belgium.

I was ten years old when the Congo Civil War, or Congo Crisis became a complex political turmoil that began just days following Belgium’s granting of Congolese Independence June 30 in 1960.

The Escape of the town of Kongolo in the year of 1960

It was late afternoon, the Belgium army went house to house and told us to leave right now or you will be killed.   I remember getting in the car with my mom, dad, brother and I with only our clothes we were wearing and drove to CFL (Compagnie des Chemins de fer du Congo) near the Lualaba River. It was a full moon that night the first group that arrived started to walk in a single line towards the Lualaba River; two barge boats waiting for us. The first boat name was “ Le Kadia” and the second one “The Baron Janssens”  to take us to Kabalo. We were the second group because my brother knew the area very well; he was the one that was assigned in the front line guiding us towards the Lualaba River waiting for us the second boat “ The Baron Janssens”.




“The Baron Janssens” with 300 passengers was a very old Barge boat. By the time we were all in the boat, women and children squeezed in a cabin and the men hid wherever they could find refuge, my dad was in a small lifeboat. The Congolese started to shoot towards our boat.   My mother lay on top of me protecting me from the bullets. Unfortunately, because the boat was so old it was moving very slowly so they contact the first boat to come back and with gables they pulled us faster away from Kongolo going towards the town, Kabalo.   It was a miracle because our boats sail nearby a military camp. Every one of us took cover and kept quiet until we arrived in Kabalo. The boat was sailing opposite direction from the military camp to keep us safe from them. When all the shootings occurred still nearby Kongolo and my father was in a lifeboat he decided to move in a different area and a Belgium gentlemen took his place on the lifeboat few seconds later, he got shot on the head and died instantly. When we arrive in Kabalo, we had 1 death and 2 casualties.  (the person that died could had been my father if he hadn’t moved from from the lifeboat)


In Kabalo, a train awaited for us to take us to Albertville from there on, we went to Dares Salam then Nairobi where the Red Cross took care of us with clothing and food, and from Nairobi we settled for two years in Bristol, England.   In Kabalo, Lieutenant Jacquemart ordered everyone with guns to put down our riffles before entering the train. His soldiers including the Congolese soldiers were waiting for us to escort us to our destination. It was in the train, I realized we will never go back to our home in Kongolo and I will never see my German Sheppard dog again, and I started to cry.   Scared what will happen to us, and scared of the unknown.

Once we arrived in Nairobi, my dad send my mom, brother and I to England.  We went to live in England because my mum had a sister living in Bristol and at that time Cyprus was a British colony. My two sisters were in Belgium at the boarding school joined us in England. You can imagine how scared they were not knowing if we were going to make it! My dad stayed back in the Congo.   I will never forget a Congolese at the train station going to Albertville said to my father “we don’t want you to go Mr. Chakas we like you” He was respected by the Congolese people and stayed until he was 80 years old.

In the meantime, he restarted several businesses and the Congolese government took it away from him and they said “you will be working for us from now on, we own the shops now”. Then the last straw he brought a state of the art equipment to make bread.   When he went to Greece on vacation, the Congolese totally destroyed all the equipment to make the bread and the building. That’s when he decided it was over for him and moved to Greece.   After the war in the Congo we only saw our father the most one week and maybe 5 times for the rest of our lives.

War destroys families and destroys relationships.

Second time a refugee now in Cyprus

Before 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus I remember hearing the Turkish planes flying low, I was inside my house alone. I heard people running afraid something wrong is going to happen. I immediately took an ivory cutting paper and pointing it to my heart. Yes, I was ready to kill myself. I said to myself, “I will not let the Turks take me away”. My mum and I lived in Famagusta in a house my dad bought for us and several land in Famagusta for my sisters and I.  He wanted to make sure we are secure and always have a home to come, too.  Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and invaded my town Famagusta and left it as a ghost town for 42 years. For the second time, we became refugees. It took me several years to stop the nightmares but I did it.  I remember I use to wake up screaming.

Famagusta was once the most glamourous resorts in the Mediterranean, a favorite of stars like Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot.  Right after the war, Famagusta became a ghost town overnight when its inhabitants fled from the invading Turkish army.

My sister Olga married an American from Ohio, moved to Ohio before the invasion took place in Cyprus.  In the meantime I moved back to the Republic of the Congo with my dad and step-mom. I worked for two years at Importlux, a retail Boutique store as the store manager and buyer.

When my sister became an American, she wanted for me to move with her in Ohio because she had no families of her own plus things in the Congo was not stable for the young.

When I moved to America, I went to college, I became an American citizen and followed the rules.  Everything we do or happen’s in our lives is a journey filled with lessons, joys, hardships, heartaches, celebrations and special moments that will ultimately lead us to our destination, and our purpose in life.  Oh yes, some of these challenges have tested my courage, my strengths, my weaknesses, and my faith.

If the war did not started in 1960, I would probably still be living in the Congo, or back to Cyprus, but look at the bright side, the many people I have met in my journey, the stories I heard, the places I lived, in the Congo, England, Belgium, Cyprus and now in America from one continent to another.   Memories are priceless and treasures that we can cherish forever in our hearts, and they also enables us to continue on with our journey for whatever life has in store for us.

We all have a story to tell, and mine is a life lesson to share, and a wealth of knowledge.