Finding my way with The Lost Boys

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The Lost Boys and CoolDeb

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.

The Lost Boys and Cooldeb

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.

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helen · at

Another meaningful post. It’s a beautiful relationship. You’ve gained so much from them as they have from you. Thanks for steering them clear of purple suits.

Sandy · at

Debbie, you are amazing. God bless you for all that you have done and continue to do for these boys.

Merlyn · at

Deb, you have been a blessing without question, and truly a reflection of God’s love, grace and divine favor. There is no such thing as serendipity. You and the bros were meant to share in this time, this space, and in this place. You rock!

cooldeb · at

Ladies, I appreciate your kind comments but I have to say, as Helen mentioned, I have learned far more from them. My post is intended to highlight their accomplishments as they struggle with assimilation issues, which ties back to identity. I have learned so much about how this feeds your dialogue, interactions, engagement with others and decision making. You carry that with you no matter where you go. Thank you for reading the post. The whole world should know about these men. Happy to serve humbly as a communication steward.

Theresa · at

I could read about your life with your Sudanese brothers all day. I find it fascinating that any child could survive those experiences and as a counselor I seek to know more about there lives and coping strategies. The assimilation process that you mentioned is ongoing for these men. It is wonderful that you have been in a position to help and serve and love. You are a remarkable woman and your brothers are Gods children that I believe will wear special wings in heaven for all they have had to endure. I want to know more!! Keep writing!

    cooldeb · at

    Thank you Theresa. I know you read ‘What is the What’ by Dave Eggers (plug: one of my favorite books ever)! Even with my personal experiences, the semi-autobiography of their journey changed me and I live my life differently. I appreciate your curiosity as a friend and with respect to your professional background. And yes, if there was ever a group of people designated by God to fly in heaven, it is them. The humility and joy that emanates from within is nothing but mind boggling.

kevinshoffner · at

I’m always fascinated by your dialogue about this connection. I’ve recently started to work closely with a family from Myanmar/Burma, and I have so much to learn about life…

    cooldeb · at

    thank you for working with the Burmese. As a cultural community, they are gentle, kind and humble. Andrea and I assisted a family for a year and we learned so much from them – the learning goes both ways. Thanks for being an educator and getting educated. : ) Cheers!

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