My brothers: From left, Santino, Malou and Yai
For thirteen years, I’ve been blessed to be on a journey of sisterhood with my Sudanese brothers. With these men, often referred to as The Lost Boys, I’ve redefined family and expanded my soul. I’ve been moved, elevated – heck, shoved all over the place – when it comes to learning about identity, space and place.
I met these young men on 9/11, fresh and wide-eyed from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Having no idea about their own strife as a naive volunteer, I recall them saying to my heap of a weeping self, “We know what you are experiencing today.” I also recall replying, “No, you cannot possibly know.” Naivety – check.
During our time together, I’ve taught Malou how to drive a straight drive (remember those?), which included plowing down bushes as we headed for a lake. I’ve escorted several guys to purchase a suit to repeatedly explain why purple was not the optimal color choice. We’ve talked about dating and girls, as well as politics and care of the elderly. All the while, I remained cognizant of identity, space and place. As a female in the South Sudan, the dialogue would not occur.
Sudanese celebration: Far left, Malou, Mabior and Santino
Over the course of time, one brother earned a bachelor’s degree from UNCG and joined the service, one obtained an associate’s degree and countless others have acquired U.S. citizenship.
Upon the South Sudan’s declaration of an independent state in 2011, we plotted, planned and saved money to send men home. Some were blessed to see their parents for the first time since fleeing as young children. Some were not as fortunate, having lost their parents during one of the longest civil wars in history.
A few months ago, I saw an episode of 60 Minutes on the ongoing assimilation of these men. The segment also provided an update on the current state of affairs. Some believe that without a united front of fighting for independence, the people of the South Sudan continue to struggle to find a shared national identity. What seems to come easiest is tribal identity, thus the division, particularly in the government.
So I take it back to the notion of space and place, as it relates to identity. I see this with the guys as they continue to assimilate yet hold true to their own cultural background, as well as their new home state trying to find its own way. If you want to know more, I encourage to read this post from Max Fisher with the Washington Post.
Yin aca leec (pronounced in-sah-leech), which is thank you in Dinka.