New to America

It's obvious that Frieda Nsabimana is shy. She puts her hands over her mouth when she giggles. Her words, coated with a French accent, are soft and jumpy.

But Nsabimana's voice grows lively when she speaks about Independence Day.

”This day is something great,“ she said.

On Friday, Frieda Nsabimana, 37, a native of Burundi — a small African country the size of Maryland wedged between Congo and Tanzania — will celebrate the Fourth of July for the first time.

People in her native country celebrated their Independence Day by dancing and beating drums.

”We really celebrate this day,“ she said through a translator. ”I'm curious on how Americans will celebrate their Independence Day.“

On Friday, Nsabimana will celebrate the good times she's had in America.

But her life hasn't always been so good.

In 1972, when Nsabimana was a very young child, a war broke out in Burundi, forcing her family to move to neighboring Rwanda. She lived in Rwanda for 21 years, received her high school diploma, and took some distance-learning classes from a university in Belgium, where she met her husband, Tite Niyoni.

Then, she had to flee from Rwanda, leaving behind everything, and start over in Congo. There, she lived in a refugee camp with 45,000 other people for three years.

The camp felt like ”prison,“ Nsabimana said, ”because nobody could leave without permission. We were not free to move or do other things.“

Nsabimana said she was always fearful for her life and couldn't sleep at night.

”I was very, very tired,“ she said.

Next, she moved to Tanzania and lived there for 11 years in another refugee camp.

Same issues, different country, she said.

”We had nothing to help our children, because we are running all the time,“ Nsabimana said. ”When you have a child you must do something for him.“

That was then.

Now, Nsabimana is beginning a new life, and hopes to give her children a secure future. She has been in Kentucky for seven months.

”I want to save money for my children. If you live in a refugee camp, you can't do that,“ she said.

Nsabimana still keeps herself rooted in her African traditions.

She gave birth to her son, Frank Niyonyishu, about a month ago. He's the first American in her family.

”When I look at Frank's birth certificate I laugh because he is an American, and I'm not,“ she said, smiling.

She has five other children who attend local schools. Her husband, Tite Niyoni, 44, works at

She says everyone in her family has a different last name so that they can't be linked to their family during a political conflict like the one in Rwanda. It helps the family stay neutral.

”For safety, everybody has own name,“ Nsabimana said.

But in America, her family is protected.

And she has one message for people who have had such protection and freedom all their lives: ”I hope Americans don't take this day for granted.“