‘I’ve lived in utmost fear’: WSU football player’s dangerous journey to Pullman

Cosmas Kwete shaped by war and refugee camp

Cosmas Kwete went from dodging bullets to chasing quarterbacks. Forced from the war-torn Congo, raised in the dangers of a refugee camp, he’s found safety in Pullman playing for WSU football.

“If I look back just like four or five years ago like how I was, how I was going to school, how I was just like living life, just to live another day. How I got here, it’s pretty crazy.”

Where Kwete lived just 15 years ago is even crazier. He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while it was serving as the battlefield of the deadliest conflict since World War II, the Second Congo War.

“When war broke lose my dad and my mom they said the best opportunity for us to live another day is to leave and go live in a refugee camp.”​​​​​​

Leaving the threat of armed fighters or thieves breaking into their home late at night. The family of nine bussed south to Zimbabwe, where they traded a life of danger for one of uncertainty.

“Electricity, you get a schedule of ‘it comes this time,’ ‘it goes this time.’ Clean water, there are specific places you can go to get clean water. If you want bath water or anything, you have to go somewhere else. Schooling is not in the best conditions, but if you want to go to school, you have to use what you have.”

What he also had was rugby. A sport he and his two brothers alll fell in love with. The sport took them away from their dangerous world, where they forgot about all they didn’t have.

“Us, having a chance of like escaping that, even though it wasn’t the best of life, i also thank god for that opportunity.”

Imagine being grateful to spend your entire childhood in a refugee camp. But after 13 years in Zimbabwe, the family’s most life-changing opportunity came knocking.

“My dad told us that we get a chance to relocate to reset in America, a really good chance for us to start over. When I heard that news, I almost broke down I was so happy. Like what I watch on TV, how the American life is, you know that’s something you want to be a part of.”

He would become part of something very American right away, when a coach at his new high school first spotted Cosmas and his brothers.

“The football coach asked us what we wanted to do, and we said we’re here to play soccer and rugby. He said ‘oh you play rugby?’ You’re gonna like football.”

With his size, speed and rugby-mentality, Cosmas was a natural on defense. Other things took a little practice.

“They started putting the pads on us, so the girdle, like the inside pad, I put it like the other way around, I didn’t know, I had to look at the other guys how to dress up.”

One small obstacle in a life full of them. But all he’s ever focused on is turning them into opportunity. Football scholarship offers from all over the country started rolling in, but he wasn’t making a decision on his new home without his family.

“I love my mom I’m really close with my mom. I’m not a momma’s boy but I love my mom. So when I came out for my visit, my mom loved the school, loved the coaches, the environment, she thought it was the best situation for me.”

Just a few years removed from their old situation, where safety was never promised. This quaint college town, tucked into the hills of the Palouse was the perfect opposite.

“Coming to Pullman, you know Pullman is like one of the most secure places, it’s like, you can walk in Pullman any time of the day you want any time of the night you want, it’s most likely nothing will happen to you.”

Alyssa: “This is the first time you’re away from your brothers and your family, has it been hard?

“It’s been hard,but sometimes we talk and he tells me like we’ll meet again some day but we gotta take care of business first.”

Business means getting a degree in civil engineering, determined to bring hope to a place that had none for the Kwete family.

“One of my goals is to go back to Africa, go back to Congo because you know how the infrastructure is really poor, just studying on foundation and building stuff over there and start building. I want to take care of my people.”