Celebrating Sekou’s citizenship: The Koné immigration story

Independence Day has special meaning for the Koné family as it marks the anniversary of Sekou Koné, Alicia’s husband, becoming a U.S. citizen. This July 4th marks Sekou’s 16th year as a U.S. Citizen – we hope you enjoy reading their reflections.


L-R: Sekou poses after neighbors dress him up in Lady Liberty garb; surrounded by family, L-R: Alicia’s dad John, Sekou’s cousin, Aunt Char, Devin holding Isaac, Sekou, Alicia holding Zoumi, 2003.


Sekou: I am the second to youngest of seven siblings spanning 20 years – born to Mamadou and Yadio Koné. My father, Mamadou, was born in Sirana de Odienne, a small inland village in northwest Côte d’Ivoire, bordering Guinea. This is the “Koné village” – nearly everyone with the name Koné comes from this area. My father left home as a young man and travelled south  to   the  sea   where   he   found  his  livelihood  as a merchant marine and his wife, my mother Yadio. She was 16 when they married, and had never been out of Tabou, one of the small fishing villages dotting the 600 miles of beautiful beach along the Cote d’Ivoire coast. After their wedding, my father sent his new bride to Abidjan by boat, where they raised our family and lived out their lives.

Sekou and his siblings, back row L-R, Ibrahim, Adam, Amidou, Sekou, Zoumana; Front row, L-R, (a cousin), Tata, Mariam.

Sekou and his siblings, back row L-R, Ibrahim, Adam, Amidou, Sekou, Zoumana; Front row, L-R, (a cousin), Tata, Mariam.

Like my father, I, too, have an adventurous spirit, and as a young man decided to head to the United States – New York City – and claim my own adventure. This was in 1994. Although I wasn’t initially planning to emigrate, I sensed there was a better life with more opportunities for me out in the world. My brother, Adam, had already made the move, and welcomed me to stay with him.

Alicia: Sekou has incredible self-confidence. Whereas in western culture most people need their surroundings or a home to feel grounded, Sekou has a sense of self and is grounded no matter where he is.

Sekou: Yes, my reason for coming to the United States was to see for myself – not out of any sense of desperation – I knew I could make my way at home or abroad. Not everyone comes here as a refugee – and I always knew I was going back home eventually.

After three years in New York, I was tired of working seven days a week to scrape by. I knew there was more to the U.S. and I wanted to see it. I was considering Los Angeles, Portland, or Seattle. I pretty much threw a dart at the map and chose Seattle. I had enough money saved up for a Greyhound bus ticket and two weeks of lodging and food.

Within my first week in the city, I’d met a fellow West African who helped me get a job as an insurance courier in downtown Seattle and a place to stay. Within a few months, I bought my first car - a little economy sedan - and rented my own studio apartment. I felt accomplished because for the first time in my life - I was really living on my own.

Alicia: And then Sekou and I met in 1998 and were married the same year; Sekou became Dad to my son Devin who was six at the time, and two years later, in 2000, we had Isaac, followed by Zoumi in 2001.

Sekou: 2000 was a big year; in addition to Isaac’s birth, I visited home – Abidjan – for the first time since leaving in 1994. It was a joyous and emotional reunion. I was pretty much a stranger in my own country. Things had changed. My friends had grown older. Their children who were babies when I left were young men and women. I barely recognized even my own nieces and nephews. I could no longer even drink the water - I had to buy bottled water like the Europeans. I didn’t realize how much I had changed.

I learned it is possible to have your heart live in two places.

2003 was another big year, because after a long process that started in 1999, I finally took my oath of citizenship on July 4th surrounded by family and friends, at the base of the Space Needle at Seattle Center. I had been a permanent legal resident since Alicia and I were married, but citizenship was important to me because I wanted to able to vote so I had influence over how the taxes I paid were spent, and who was making the laws governing our country. I also wanted the freedom to travel the world that comes with the privilege of a U.S. passport. Today I feel I belong here as much as I belong in Côte d’Ivoire. I take pride in how I help people here in the U.S. as a registered nurse, as well as being able to help the people in Côte d’Ivoire by contributing my own resources and encouraging cultural exchange with  Americans.

Alicia and the boys’ first visit to Cote d’Ivoire and the Koné Compound, 2011

Alicia and the boys’ first visit to Cote d’Ivoire and the Koné Compound, 2011

Alicia: I have had the pleasure of visiting Sekou’s family and childhood home in Abidjan a few times over the past 20 years– I always feel welcome, and so fortunate to have such a wonderful extended family. Which is why we are so excited to share our Abidjan with you through our upcoming Travel With Purpose project. It will be an honor to introduce fellow travelers to Côte d’Ivoire.

Sekou: This has been a long-time dream for both of us. I am looking forward to sharing my Côte d’Ivoire with Americans, just as I am excited to share my American culture with the Ivoirians. Together we can bridge understanding and make a better world for all!

Happy Independence Day from our family to yours!

The Koné Family on a recent trip to Côte d’Ivoire, 2016. L-R, Isaac, Sekou, Alicia,  Zoumi, Devin.

The Koné Family on a recent trip to Côte d’Ivoire, 2016. L-R, Isaac, Sekou, Alicia,
Zoumi, Devin.

Countdown to Côte d’Ivoire
We are over 75% booked!

The countdown has begun and space is filling fast for our New Years’ Service Trip to Côte d’Ivoire, just 6 months away!

Save $500* when you register with a $1,500 deposit by July 5th!

  • What to expect when you register to Travel With Us –

  • Excitement and an urgent desire to start packing

  • Eagerness for more information about planning

  • A compulsion to read the itinerary several times a day

  • A desire to tell all your friends and strangers about the Katiola Orphanage – stay tuned for our blogpost on the children and their needs

This intimate tour is limited to 20 travelers to ensure your best small group travel experience.  Come spend 14 amazing days packed with cultural sights and experiences, including two service, learning & leadership workshops collaborating with community members on a special project.

*Register by July 5th

$500 registration saves your spot, or $1,500 guarantees our introductory price of $3,495; trip price increases to $3,995 after July 5th, 2019. Tour price includes airfare from the US, hotel, meals (all breakfasts, 13 lunches, 7 group dinners), scheduled tours, tips, and local English-speaking guides.

If you can’t join us in December 2019 please stay tuned as we will be sending updates for future trips!