Story of an Immigrant
Length: 1760 words (5 double-spaced pages)
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The focus of this paper is Shimma. His tribal home is in Sudan. He is believed to be 21 and has resided as a refugee in the USA since August 2001. He is known as a “Lost Boy of Sudan.”
I met Shimma while shopping at Wal-Mart in central Phoenix. I had been fascinated by the reports of the Lost Boys that I had heard on TV and read in the newspapers. I knew that some of the Lost Boys were being relocated to Phoenix and hoped to meet some of them along the way on my travels through out Phoenix. I had seen them at bus stops and around the city walking. They have a very distinctive appearance, not your typical African-Americans. They are tall and thin with high cheekbones and dark black skin tone.
While shopping at Wal-Mart I rounded a corner and there he stood tall, dark and smiling. I got excited about finally meeting one of the Lost Boys and began to ramble. I introduced myself and inquired into his status as one of the Lost Boys. He introduced himself and confirmed that he was indeed one of the Lost Boys I had been reading and hearing about. I asked him for an interview and he offered his name and telephone number. I repeatedly tried to contact him and weeks later he agreed to meet me at a local restaurant. The day of our interview after many phone calls he arrived over an hour late, which I accounted for as cultural time difference. Shimma is a very busy man. He works at Wal-Mart and attends ESL classes two days a week at Phoenix Community College.
Much of our study in this anthropology class has centered on voluntary immigration due to economic circumstances. Shimma did not migrate for economic reasons, he is a refugee seeking safety and sanctuary from his war ravaged country. The book that we read in class about refugees was a case study that considered the plight of the Hmong in Wisconsin. The Hmong are refugees from Laos who fled after US forces pulled out of the Vietnam War. I also read a book about the Hmong that dealt with a case study in California and a little girl of Hmong descent that encountered great difficulties with the medical institutions after she was diagnosed with Epilepsy.
This book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a great study in the difficulties present in refugee communities in the US.
The Lost Boys of Sudan have a very different history then the Hmong. In the early 1980’s 17,000 boys fled their homeland without their parents. The civil war in Sudan was turning their villages into burning heaps, killing the men and sending women and children fleeing for their lives. If the boys remained they would have been recruited into the army of the Northern Muslims or killed. The boys choose the dangerous alternative of walking across Sudan to Ethiopia. Many boys lost their lives on the journey.
After walking for three months across Sudan they arrived at a refugee camp in Ethiopia. 12,000 boys made it to the camp where they lived for four years. When civil war broke out in Ethiopia they were forced at gunpoint to flee once more. They were chased to the Gilo River and forced into the water. Those who could not swim drowned or were killed by crocodiles and hippos. More than 2,000 boys died trying to cross the Gilo River. Some were shot as they attempted to flee. Bodies floated everywhere.
They once more began to walk across the desert in Sudan. Only 10,000 boys made it to the refugee camp in Kenya. There they lived for many years on a little food and a lot of hope. By the fall of 2000, hope faded as the war continued and the idea of repatriation seemed futile. The US government agreed to bring 4,000 of the Lost Boys to the US for resettlement. The International Rescue Committee assisted in these efforts and helped resettle these boys turned men into the largest cities in the country. Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Phoenix, Slat Lake City, San Diego, Seattle. Tuscan and Washington DC became home to the Lost Boys of Sudan. Assistance consisted of a few months rent, job assistance and the barest of basic living neccasitys. They were left much of the time to fend for themselves and figure out how to survive in this new world.
The term refugee is understood in broad terms to mean persons fleeing war, civil strife, famine and/or environmental disaster. The concepts of exile, asylum, refuge, sanctuary and migration are old as man himself. International law protects refugees through the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees. Many organizations help refuges from small private charities to large international institutions, some are faith based and others are governmental organizations. One African proverb sys it takes a village to raise a child. In this case it takes thousands of people to save refugees.
Shimma was given the birth date of 1-1-82 because there is no birth certificate or official date of birth for a tribal child in Sudan. His middle name is Gatkuoth, the name of his father and his last name is Puot the name of his grandfather. He speaks five languages beginning with his tribal village language of Nuer, his next language is Anoak a Sudanese language and then Amaric, which is Ethiopian. He also speaks Arabic and English. His family was large, his father had six wives and 21 children. Shimma was born to his third wife along with 4 sisters and 3 brothers.
If Shimma had been able to remain in Sudan his life would have been very different from the American culture that he lives in today. He would have joined with the groups of patriarchal elders who lead the clans. He speaks with affection of his native peoples kindness and generosity. He tells of their willingness to kill and share a goat with travelers encountered in the area.. Sub-clans such as the Bantu, Lounuer, Gajioke and more, surround his tribal village of Nuer. His family and neighbors were all interrelated through geographic identification.
When young men reach the age of maturity they are brought into this rite by the tribal custom of pulling the lower incisor teeth and at about the age of 21 or manhood scars are placed on the forehead signifying his manhood.. Boys were sent to the fields to herd cattle and the women and girls remained in the village. This is how many escaped the massacres in the villages. Marriage required a long courtship. Years of simple conversation culminated in asking permission of tribal elders for permission to marry. Wedding tradition demanded that cattle be given to the men in the wives family in exchange for the wife. Fathers, uncles and brothers all received cattle in exchange for the bride.
Southern Sudan is predominately Christian and Northern Sudan is populated by Muslims. This is the cause of the civil war between the North and south Sudanese. Shimma claims that the first Christians arrived in Sudan in 30 AD. In 1906 a spiritual prophet arrived to lead the Christian people of Sudan. His son was born in 1927 and he also became a leader to the people. The war continues although political science reports in 2001 may indicate the totalitarian grip of the Islamic regime may be disintegrating.
Shimma's Christian village was burned and destroyed by the Islamic regime army. His father was killed and Shimma barely escaped after being shot in the leg. He escaped with his uncle who helped carry the injured child across the dangerous deserts. Many dangers awaited them in the deserts of Sudan. Tigers, lions and poisonous snakes took the lives of many of the boys on the journey. Shimma and his uncle survived by eating the root of the Deony tree. He does not know how long they walked he just knows that it was a long, long journey to Ethiopia.
When they arrived in Ethiopia they were given an ax with which to build a shelter and survived on one meal a day of lentils and wheat.. He still rarely eats more then once a day even in a land of abundance. During his stay in the Ethiopian camp by some strange twist of bad luck he was hit by lightning and paralyzed on his left side for months. He has recovered completely. When the regime changed in Ethiopia they were sent out of the camp at gunpoint, some were shot, others were forced into the river and drowned many were attacked and killed by crocodiles and hippos. Shimma's uncle constructed a grass mat that floated down and across the river. He returned 7 times saving many lives through his courage and heroism.. He rescued many from the literal jaws of death.
After being forced back into Sudan Shimma attempted to locate his mother and siblings. No body had heard of their where abouts or survival. He began to walk again this time his arduous journey led him to Kenya and a huge refugee camp in Kakuma. Of 17,000 boys only 10,000 remained to make the journey to Kenya. The rest died of starvation, thirst, and attacks by wild animals, bombings and despair. The war continued and hope of repatriation faded, Shimma remained in limbo, between countries and homes, life and death until 2001. The refugee process is long and many along the way to the US assisted him.
Today Shimma lives with friends, other Lost Boys in an apartment at 27th Avenue and Northern. He has learned to ride the bus, drive a car, and hold a job. As in the Transnational Villagers he hopes to return home someday and continues to send remittances to his uncle who is attending university in Ethiopia. He sends 300 dollars a month out of his meager Wal-Mart earnings. He plans to achieve the highest degree possible, a PhD and return to Sudan to help his people. He likes burgers and burritos. He hates the noise of the city and has no interest in drinking or drugs. He attends Phoenix College taking ESL classes two days a week. He is respectful and kind. His faith is so strong, he believes that God saved him and God willing he will one day return home. I believe he will make it. A tall, dark man will one day return to Sudan, Shimma PhD will return and help all those that were left behind.