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Refugee Family Baby

Lisa Kabamb sits with her newborn daughter Juliana Divine and 8-year-old son Christian, 6-year-old daughter Olivia and 1-year-old daughter Gloriana, right, on Monday in their home in Missoula. Kabamb and her family arrived here in July from a refugee camp in Namibia, and soon found out that she was pregnant.

Lisa Kabamb thought she and her husband, Gloriano Musehenu Makanu, would have a baby in America after they had lived here two, maybe three years.

But soon after the couple and their three children arrived here in July from a refugee camp in Namibia, she had a medical checkup and learned she was four months pregnant.

"I was like, surprise," said Kabamb, who is Congolese. But she isn't the type to be frantic. "Oh, let it be. It's fine."

Last week, just one day after Christmas, little Juliana Divine was born, 8 pounds, 3 ounces, curly hair, perfect skin.

"The first night, she cried, but not that much," said Musehenu Makanu.

Monday, the last day of 2018, Juliana Divine pursed her sweet lips and slept her way toward 2019 wrapped in pink pajamas and a cozy blanket, surrounded by siblings Christian, 8; Olivia, 6; Gloriana, 1 1/2, and their collective giggles.

"I know that she will be a good girl, she will go to good school, she will be someone in life," Kabamb said. "She will have a better life than the one I was having in Namibia.

"I was a refugee in Namibia, but she won't be a refugee. She is full American."

The year 2019 will be the family's first whole year in this new country, and Musehenu Makanu has a resolution to go with the new year.

"To make sure that we have got a happy family. I'd say that's the objective of the whole thing," he said. Of course, the appearance of Juliana Divine will go a long way toward helping them meet that goal. "Having a baby at home puts a smile on your face."

***

The Kabamb and Musehenu Makanu family is one of an estimated 75 refugee families resettled here since August 2016, said Sophia Bay, director of development and communications with Soft Landing Missoula. 

Roughly half of the 250 or so individuals arrived in 2018, and as far as Kabamb and Musehenu Makanu are concerned, Missoula has been a warm and welcoming place.

"I just want to say that I like people from Missoula. They are really good, very good," Kabamb said. "They know how to live with people."

Musehenu Makanu said being a refugee can be stressful. Families leave behind everything they have, and they wonder if they can really make it in a new place. "Sometimes it scares you a lot."

But he said people in Missoula give him good ideas, strength and inspiration, and he, in turn gives them a grade of more than 100 percent — 190 percent.

"The good thing about Missoula is people are friendly, and they are ready to help you out. They are open-hearted and open-minded," Musehenu Makanu said.

Life already is offering different experiences for the newcomers. The children have rolled snowballs, made snow angels, and tasted the flakes. "It's like cold water."

The cold has presented challenges too, and Musehenu Makanu hopes he will grow accustomed to the weather come next year. Already, he has had to clear snow from his car before heading into work.

"This sometimes [ticks] you off, especially when you are not expecting it," he said.

Just an hour or so after Juliana Divine came into the world at Community Medical Center, Kabamb informed Bay she was ready to get her driver's license and get a job, like her husband. Musehenu Makanu is a merchandiser for Sheehan Majestic, a wholesale distributor. 

"No more babies. That's enough. No more babies," Kabamb said. "I have to work hard for them to have a good life."

She also wants to have adventures now that she's not pregnant. Until now, Kabamb has gone to and from home to Walmart, and to and from home to Soft Landing, where she volunteers most days.

In 2019, she wants to ski. She also wants to find cassava. She plans to turn the page on hardships from 2018 before she left Namibia too.

"It's the year I left Africa to America, so it's like I put my past of refugee aside," Kabamb said. "So I'm having a new life."

Musehenu Makanu is skeptical about skiing, but he'll at least watch the fun. If his wife can learn how to ski properly, he may learn from her.

"I don't want to hit myself. But it's a challenge. Sometimes you have to look forward to [the challenge]," he said.

In three months, the family will celebrate a big milestone, a custom from Africa. That's when Juliana Divine will have her first outing, a visit to church for a prayer, a blessing and baptism.

She's had many visitors at home, but after her visit to their Methodist church, the littlest sister will be ready to go out into the world, where her siblings are already busy.

Olivia likes to watch cartoons at Soft Landing while her mom works, and Christian plays soccer. Gloriana knows how to stick out her tongue at the camera and grin at the same time.

"Refugees are good people," Kabamb said. "They are kind. Very strong. They can work hard." They are not that strange compared to other people in Missoula. "We are all people. It's only different colors we have."

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