ST. PETERSBURG — The beauty of her smile strikes at you first. For a moment, one realizes that something uncommon just happened to them. The moment is not met with fear or guardedness, but that of appreciation that they’ve been somewhere, although they remained in the present.
Such is the time when your space has been entered by an African princess who graces the walkways of Eckerd College singing melodies within her inner spirit while freely vocalizing tunes outwardly.
“In my country, there is plenty of pleasure in all that we do. There is a strong sense of community, family and neighbors all around,” said the Princess Noela. “We are a happy group of people who love music and God. We go to church, eat wonderful food and appreciate nature. Life is a wonderful thing.”
Noela Lokolo is originally from two tribes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The first being the “Lokele Tribe” found in Kisangani and the second being the “Mongo Tribe” found in Mbandaka. Both tribes are known as “water people” because they live near the water. She is the great, great granddaughter of Chief Lobanga who was Chief of the Lokele Tribe, which makes her a princess.
The princess came to the United States because she felt it was the best choice for higher education. Being born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lokolo clarifies that “unlike the belief that we live in a jungle, I live in the capital city Kinshasa. Living at home is a joy; there is a lot of love.”
Once a site of fishing villages, Kinshasa is now an urban area with a 2014 population of over 11 million.
“I love the people because there’s lots of culture. Most people speak three to five languages.”
Lokolo is well educated, but it didn’t happen without challenges. She now speaks English, Chinese, French, Lingala and Swahili. Her education began at Sacred Heart, an all-female Catholic school where she attended kindergarten through seventh grade. There she was taught in French. She then went to The American School of Kinshasa, which was one of the international schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She wanted to attend The American School of Kinshasa so badly that she actually applied without her mother’s permission. It wasn’t until the school contacted her mother about the tuition that she gained knowledge of what her little princess had done.
With her mother’s support and willingness to pay a high cost for her daughter’s education, Lokolo began school where she continued speaking French and added English.
“And there is where my struggles started,” she laughingly said.
The transition from French to English was difficult. It was her first time being surrounded by so many people from outside of her country. There were students from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States.
“The cultures were different and it was very challenging,” said Lokolo. “My mom encouraged me and told me not to look for differences, but to look for similarities.”
Her tenacity comes from having a lineage of strong women in her family and even more strength from her mother, Bernedette Tokwaulu, who is a lawyer, writer and politician. So amazing is her mother that Lokolo has never known the family to lack in anything.
Lokolo’s grandmother lived with them and cared for her siblings, providing hot cooked meals. The family nannies took care of the house chores. This arrangement allowed her mom to work and do community demands. Their faith in God was the glue that kept it all together.
In July of 2014, the princess came to the United States to attend Eckerd College because she felt it was the best choice for a higher education. She learned about Eckerd College through a high school physical education teacher in the Congo who had graduated from the small liberal arts college.
Lokolo is currently a junior at Eckerd majoring in International Relations and Global Affairs. She also has a double minor in Chinese and Political Science with her eyes set on completing undergraduate studies and continuing to graduate school for Global Affairs. She sees a future in peace building and peacemaking with a focus on international security. She desires to one day work for the United Nations.
Lokolo, however, is not all work and no play. She finds great comfort in dancing and cooking. She is as graceful on the dance floor as she is waltzing the walkways of Eckerd. However, her cooking is where she makes the best moves.
“I make an amazing pig feet dish,” she said. ”My main dish is cassava leaves cooked in palm oil. Maboke is a delicious fish dish, which commonly contains catfish, with tomatoes and pepper, either boiled or grilled in banana leaves. In Congo, fast food is a luxury, so we eat lots of fruits and vegetables.”
Lokolo said life is an incredible journey and so far it has been nothing other than amazing.
“I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me. I hope that one day I get to impact this world in a positive way. I am proud to be who I am.”