In June of 2014, we first told you about a new place that was under construction in Boise where refugees and others would soon be able to own small businesses. Last April we introduced you to some of them as the Boise International Market celebrated its grand opening. But over the weekend the market burned. All businesses inside were destroyed.
One of the business owners we met last April was Kutakira Mberwa. Most days, up until the fire, you could find Mberwa and her three small children at her small shop just inside the market front door. They sold African clothes and jewelry as well as vegetables her husband grows. Now, she’s at a table in the parking lot next to the blackened remains of her business. Her kids are playing around her like nothing is different.
“Right now, we’re trying to get rid of all the vegetables,” Mberwa says. “So we’re hoping people will come, give us some donation and get whatever they can before it goes to waste.”
Mberwa says she learned about the fire at about 3:00 Sunday morning. She heard someone pounding on her apartment door. Mberwa says she peeked out the window and saw her friend who owned the Mexican home décor shop next to her own shop.
“Her eyes were red. Her face was all red,” Mberwa says. “She tells me the market has burned down. And from there I was out of words, just shocked. My husband was upstairs. I ran back up and told my husband. [I] just broke down in tears, because I didn’t know what to do, what to explain, where to go from. I was like froze. [I] just sat there crying and crying. I didn’t know what to do.”
Then, she says she stopped crying and decided to go to the market.
“I didn’t put no shoes on,” She says. “I told my husband, ‘we’re going to the shop. So take me.’ So we came over here. There were the firefighters putting the fire down. As soon as I saw the store [I] just broke even more into tears, and more frustrated. And the firefighters were holding me down. My husband was holding me down. I just, I didn’t know what to do. I just love this place.”
Mberwa looks into the building through the missing front windows. The only thing recognizable where her shop was is some squash her husband had just picked Saturday. Its orange guts may be the only color visible in the building.
“It used to be so vibrant with colors,” Mberwa says. “Everybody being so happy. It was so pretty. Now it’s like everything burned down into ashes. Everything is pitch black. All the colors that were in here, they’re all gone. There’s no color. Everything is gone.”
She takes a long pause and adds, “It’s just gone.”
Mberwa says this fire is not the worst thing that has happened to her. As a child her family fled war in Somalia. She spent years in a refugee camp in Kenya. Eventually she was settled in the U.S. then came to Boise to get married and start a family. She has a lot of experience starting over.
“So, for what happened, I think it’s just another step for me,” Mberwa says. “For everybody in there, it’s just another step for us to build it bigger and better than it was before. And I want this building, because this is what people know. This is the building where it all started and this is where I want it to continue to be. If we can rebuild this whole building all over again and have it here, that would be absolutely amazing. We made a whole lot of memories in this space.”
On the other hand, Mberwa says, if the market is rebuilt somewhere else that will just be another journey of many she’s taken. So far there are no firm plans on where, when or if to rebuild the Boise International Market.
A campaign on the website GoFundMe is raising money for the vendors. Organizers plan to divide the money among the market’s business owners to help them pay their bills while they get back on their feet. Organizers says people can also donate at Idaho Central Credit Union branches.
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio