Immaculee Umugwaneza was born in Nyanza district of Rwanda and moved to Maine in November 2019. She remembers that she arrived in the evening. Her husband, who was already in Maine, had told her to expect cold weather, so she arrived wearing a coat and a hat. Even so, she says her first experience of the cold was unforgettable. “It was very, very, very cold,” she said. Three winters later, Immaculee said she is now fine with the cold. “I have experience. I know how to go slowly outside in winter.”

Immaculee said she is glad she came to Maine. “People are friendly. If you have language issues, people understand and they go slowly. We come without material goods, but people here are good people. They give to you. They are helpful. This helps newcomers resolve their problems. I like the community. Maine people help newcomers integrate into the system. For example, if you are sick and need to go to the hospital, or another administrative office, there are interpreters there. This helps newcomers a lot. For me, I speak Kinyarwanda and French, and can take either interpreter, whichever is available.”

She spoke Kinyarwanda as a child in Rwanda, then added French when she entered the school system, and continued to speak French all the way through her bachelor’s degree in management. She spoke a little English prior to coming to Maine, but only a little. So when she got here, she looked around for English classes. Through a friend, she heard about In Her Presence and met Claudette Ndayininahaze, the executive director. Because of the pandemic, the classes took place remotely, and Immacule had to wait quite a few months until a place opened up for her. The lessons have been very helpful, she said. “Teacher Mary” has given her the essentials of the language.

In November 2020, Immaculee started working at Abbott Labs. She was laid off in June, but by mid-August she was in training at Goodwill, in the department of direct professional support. Immaculee doesn’t really remember how old she was when she started to cook – in her family everyone grew up helping prepare meals. She lost her parents, a brother, and a sister in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, and moved in with an aunt, who also took in her two sisters. The aunt had her own children as well. She enjoyed cooking and wanted all the children to learn, too. Immaculee enjoyed learning how to cook from her aunt and still enjoys it. She prepares African food and encourages her own children (a son, 17; two daughters, 15 and 12) to cook. But at this point they prefer to prepare simple foods, like pasta, rice, and omelets, and complain about cooking dishes that take a long time to prepare.

Isombe / cassava leaves


2 packages frozen cassava leaves
2 trays of cubed beef, approximately 1 lb.
1 bouillon cube (Maggi or other)
1 large eggplant
1 green pepper
Leeks and scallions
Olive oil or palm oil
4 Tbsp. peanut butter

Place cassava leaves in a pot, cover with hot water, and bring to a boil on high heat. When the water is boiling, add the cubed beef, vegetables, and bouillon cube, and cook for three hours with the top on the pot. Add two tablespoons of oil (olive oil is healthier than palm) and stir until smooth. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes more. Lower the heat and add peanut butter. Mix and cook for a few more minutes.

This dish is delicious with rice, potatoes, or fufu. The dish takes a long time to make, but can be enjoyed for a few days. This is very popular in Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. Cassava leaves are a healthy vegetable. Some people prefer using ground fresh peanuts instead of peanut butter. In Congo and Burundi, many people prefer to use palm oil