A customer comes into my store and I ask him where he is from? I can tell that he is probably from Kenya or the Sudan. We visit awhile and then he offers his origins, he smiles and says “I am a lost boy from the Sudan”.
His name is Chang Riang and he is probably thirty nine years old, his birth was never recorded or was lost in his flight from the Sudan.
A couple of days went by before we could go out for lunch together.
His journey started in 1983, at three a.m we awoke to machine gun fire. He vocalizes the sounds of the machine guns. “pop,pop,pop, bang,bang,bang” it is not far from his memory. He was ten years old living near Malakal, Sudan. His community Nasir, sits on the banks of the White Nile. Soldiers came on land and by boat down the river to attack his community. For three years he lived under constant threat of attack and warring factions.
At thirteen years of age they came again and the situation grew intolerable. His father was in the military and had to defend their community. Chang and his young brother found themselves fleeing the only community they had ever known. Chang’s brother was only two or three years old and they left on foot. No parents, no relatives, no understanding of where they were going. They were part of the lost boys of the Sudan.
“We walked for seven days, no food, no water, nobody guiding us.” “We walked east toward Ethiopia and found just enough water to survive.” During their flight they were attacked by Northern Sudan helicopter gun ships. Hiding under bushes and small trees they survived the people that were intent on killing these fleeing motherless children.
Chang wondered why he was on this journey? Where were his parents? And now he is taking care of his younger brother. At the border of Ethiopia they found some hope and were allowed to enter a country that showed some compassion.
Chang and his brother were taken in and accommodated by the United Nations in a refugee camp. They were housed and fed and even educated while spending their time in Adis Ababa. You can see the gratitude in his eyes when he says “the U.N. saved me and paid for me to survive.”
Eventually they were asked to choose, where do you want to go? Home was no longer an option, violence was everywhere. Chang did not know of any other home. Forty eight hours later he stepped off a plane at O’hare field in Chicago. It was a raging blizzard and Chang had never seen snow before.
His helper took him to a store that sold winter clothes, sub Saharan couture wasn’t appropriate attire.
He was befriended by an older women in Chicago that made sure he was not forgotten.
Chang graduated from high school and found himself in Norfolk Nebraska graduating from community college in 2006. The past four years he has been commuting from Sioux Falls, SD. to Worthington, MN. for his employment, his younger brother is going to the University in Ames, Iowa. Chang has heard that his mother has died. He has had no word about his father since leaving the Sudan so many years ago.
He has been lucky to find some part of the world that would accommodate him and his brother.
It is a time when we are enticed to find suspicion in people that are different from ourselves. It is a time when we are called upon to withdraw our humanity and stand fearful with those that feel threatened. The United Nations has continued to be a force providing humanitarian aid.
I sit across the lunch table from Chang appreciating his harrowing story and realize that I needn’t travel to distant locales to understand the strife in the world. There are people in my community that have far more interesting stories to relate than my own. It is also gratifying to know that there are people and countries that stand tall and proud to assist others in need.