Chapters 1–3

After surviving a massacre in her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ten-year-old Sandra Uwiringiyimana came to the United States to start a new life. In this harrowing and affecting memoir, she recounts her childhood, her experiences as an immigrant in America, and her humanitarian work.
Copy this list to... Buy the Book

Start learning with an activity...

  • Practice

    Answer a few questions on each word. Get one wrong? We'll ask some follow-up questions. Use it to prep for your next quiz!
  • Spelling Bee

    Test your spelling acumen. See the definition, listen to the word, then try to spell it correctly. Beat your last streak, or best your overall time. Spellers of the world, untie!
  • Vocabulary Jam

    Compete head-to-head in real-time to see which team can answer the most questions correctly. Start a Jam and invite your friends and classmates to join!

Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. refugee
    an exile who flees for safety
    At the time, we were living as refugees, driven from our home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo because we belonged to a minority tribe, the Banyamulenge.
  2. intimate
    marked by close acquaintance, association, or familiarity
    We knew one another intimately, like family.
  3. massacre
    kill a large number of people indiscriminately
    The men seemed to think they were on a mission from God to massacre us.
  4. pelt
    rain heavily
    The sound of rain was always loud in the tent, as the raindrops pelted the tarp like little torpedoes.
  5. douse
    wet thoroughly
    It had not begun to rain, after all: The tent had been doused in kerosene.
  6. wary
    marked by keen caution and watchful prudence
    I stayed a few steps behind, wary.
  7. loom
    come into view indistinctly, often threateningly
    The shadows of the men loomed in the doorway.
  8. decimate
    kill in large numbers
    I emerged in the decimated camp, standing for a moment, frozen.
  9. machete
    a large knife used as a weapon or for cutting vegetation
    I saw men with guns, machetes, torches.
  10. province
    the territory in an administrative district of a nation
    My parents grew up in these towering mountains, the Hauts Plateaux, in a province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo called South Kivu.
  11. idyllic
    charmingly simple and serene
    But today when I see pictures of the region, known as Minembwe, it looks like the most idyllic place on earth, with lush, leafy mountaintops scraping the clouds and miles and miles of green.
  12. lush
    produced or growing in extreme abundance
    But today when I see pictures of the region, known as Minembwe, it looks like the most idyllic place on earth, with lush, leafy mountaintops scraping the clouds and miles and miles of green.
  13. intrigue
    cause to be interested or curious
    He was intrigued by the idea of an educated woman.
  14. dowry
    money brought by a woman to her husband at marriage
    To arrange a wedding in my culture, the man’s family gives the woman’s family a dowry, usually a number of cows in exchange for the woman’s hand.
  15. affair
    a vaguely specified social event
    The two married in a low-key affair in a church, more like a business arrangement than a romantic wedding, although my mother’s bridesmaids did pamper her in the days beforehand, slathering her with lotions, making sure she looked beautiful.
  16. pamper
    treat with excessive indulgence
    The two married in a low-key affair in a church, more like a business arrangement than a romantic wedding, although my mother’s bridesmaids did pamper her in the days beforehand, slathering her with lotions, making sure she looked beautiful.
  17. stately
    refined or imposing in manner or appearance
    My parents made a striking pair of newlyweds, both tall and good-looking, my mom with a stately, confident air, and my dad, soft-spoken, gentle, and sincere, with an easy smile and a long, straight nose.
  18. ostracize
    avoid speaking to or dealing with
    My mother had a very difficult time in those early years of marriage; she was a teenage girl, ostracized by the adults around her.
  19. turbulent
    characterized by unrest or disorder or insubordination
    My tribe’s migration came amid the time of European colonialism, and life was violent and turbulent across the region, as Africans were seized as slaves and forced into hard labor.
  20. vie
    compete for something
    Different groups vying for power would come after my people to get them to fight for one side or another, and chaos reigned.
  21. languish
    become feeble
    So many of my people today are languishing in refugee camps, belonging to no country, always in limbo.
  22. limbo
    the state of being disregarded or forgotten
    So many of my people today are languishing in refugee camps, belonging to no country, always in limbo.
  23. makeshift
    done or made using whatever is available
    He taught me to play soccer with his friends, using makeshift balls made from wadded-up plastic bags and rubber bands.
  24. quirky
    strikingly unconventional
    She also had a quirky sense of humor and loved to clown around; I remember her cracking up at fart jokes during dinner.
  25. clique
    an exclusive circle of people with a common purpose
    She and her friends often got into gossipy tangles, and she was always in a cool clique.
  26. kiosk
    small area set off by walls for special use
    Chris would often take me to a little kiosk down the street, where a man sold things like matches, candles, and candy.
  27. concoct
    devise or invent
    We shared girly things too, like our collection of soft fabric dolls that we would dress with outfits we concocted from cloth remnants.
  28. remnant
    a piece of cloth left over after the rest has been used
    We shared girly things too, like our collection of soft fabric dolls that we would dress with outfits we concocted from cloth remnants.
  29. amorphous
    having no definite form or distinct shape
    Our dolls were lumpy and amorphous, fun to cuddle up with in bed.
  30. cacophony
    a loud harsh or strident noise
    We went to sleep to a cacophony of crickets, their chirps floating through the windows.
  31. malaria
    a disease caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite
    Dad would sometimes give us shots to prevent malaria.
  32. coarse
    rough to the touch
    I was envious of her hair because mine was coarse and harder to maintain.
  33. feisty
    showing spirit and courage
    I was more stubborn and feisty, like my mom.
  34. telltale
    disclosing unintentionally
    Our skin would look ashy from the residue, a telltale sign that we had been swimming.
  35. oblige
    provide a service or favor for someone
    Alex would oblige, but not without rolling his eyes.
  36. customs
    money collected under a tariff
    My father was often away in those early years, working at different jobs to support the family, including a job in customs and immigration at the port.
  37. obscure
    not famous or acclaimed
    Everyone knew her by name, even the most obscure outcasts—a lady with swollen feet and a cloud of flies around her, a strange drooling man with a lisp.
  38. lisp
    a speech defect that involves mispronouncing "s" and "z"
    Everyone knew her by name, even the most obscure outcasts—a lady with swollen feet and a cloud of flies around her, a strange drooling man with a lisp.
  39. meander
    move or cause to move in a winding or curving course
    On the holidays, scruffy children would meander into our home, along with homeless people.
  40. ingrained
    deeply rooted; firmly fixed or held
    Eventually I came to understand that there was a spirit of unity among my people, a deeply ingrained sense of helping those less fortunate than you because you could lose your own good fortune at any moment.
Created on June 22, 2018 (updated June 22, 2018)

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.