My name is Deng Mabut Dao.
I am Sudanese by nationality, Dinka by tribe.
I was born twenty years ago in a town called Bor.
I am the first born of my father and my mother.
My father was a farmer and also owned a store.
Like many people in the Dinka tribe, when I was younger we depended on dairy cattle for our living.
We Dinkas also cultivated crops.
I lived a happy life with my father, mother, grandfather, and uncles.
But when the war broke out, my life changed.
The Arabs began bombing our countryside from their planes and killing people. They attacked us all the time. They raided our cattle and burnt down our store when we ran away for safety.
Life was no longer happy – it was very difficult.
When I was six years old, they attacked us very badly.
I woke up one morning to gunfire in our countryside. The loud bangs from the guns really frightened me. I called for my uncle who slept beside me in our hut, but when I looked at him,
he was not moving…
he was not breathing…
blood was coming from his chest.
They killed my father, mother, and two uncles.
I did not know what to do.
I ran outside and saw many people running away from the war.
I did not know what to do.
I ran with them.
We all ran into the forest. I did not know which direction to take or where to go.
There were so many people running with me, but I knew no one.
I had no shoes on…
Many people had no shoes on.
The woods were very dark and the gunfire became more quiet as we ran. People were running in all directions trying to get away from the guns.
I ran until we could not hear the gunfire. Then, I walked. I walked with strangers for days. The strangers were mostly children. Boys. I wondered why. I wondered if I would ever see my family again. I wondered if my family was running too. There were so many people. I knew I was not able to find my family…
no matter how hard I tried.
Eventually, I made friends - boys that were walking with me. I liked like the other boys. They became my only family. James, one of the boys that was walking too, was older than me. He was about 9 years old.
He became my family and I became his family.
He helped me as we walked. When my legs got tired because I was not used to walking so much, James helped me. He would put me on his shoulders and carry me while he walked.
There was no food. No water.
Us children had to drink the water from the mud on the ground.
The water did not taste good.
Sometimes, that dirty water we had to drink caused a stomachache and you worried that you might die.
And I was so weak from being so hungry, when I could not walk anymore, we would find leaves, or wild berries to eat.
Us children had to be careful.
There were bad leaves and bad berries that were poisonous and children died from eating them. There were many children that were so hungry and so weak, they would sit to rest and not get up again…
They were just too tired and too hungry…
And when some children would go too slow and could not keep up…
the lions would eat them.
But I had to keep walking.
I knew God was with us children.
Wherever we were going, it had to be better than the countryside that we left…
After one month of walking, we reached a place called Panyidu on the Ethiopian border. In Panyidu, the UNHRC (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) came to help us children of Sudan. They provided us with food, shelter, medical treatment, and schooling. If they had not helped us, we would have died from hunger.
We stayed in Ethiopia for four years, until war broke out there too, and we had to flee again. Before we reached the Sudanese border, gunmen reached us children of Sudan at the River Gilo…
They fired on us with their guns and tanks.
Then we children of Sudan ran into the river.
Most us of children died in the river.
Many children in the river drowned, or were shot.
Some were even eaten by crocodiles.
Some children did not go into the river. They ran along the river into the forest, and many still live there. Some of us crossed the river by holding a long rope that we tied from tree to tree. As we crossed, we tried hard to kick the water so we could get to the other side.
Those of us children who died at that time are too many to be counted.
Those of use children who survived crossing the river walked for days back to Sudan, eating grass like animals. Then we reached a town called Pochalla where we children lived in hunger, drinking only water until the Red Cross and UNICEF came and helped us with food and things we needed.
I stayed in Pochalla for six months…
Then, Ethiopian gunmen forced us to flee again.
We walked for months before reaching Kenya. On the journey to Kenya, helicopters would fly over us and food and water would drop into the forest. Without this help, we all would have died of hunger.
When we finally reached Kakuma, Kenya.
UNHRC took care of us children of Sudan in the camp.
They gave us shelters, food, clothes, and education…
Us children of Sudan learned English in the camp…
I was even given an age in the camp…
They told me I was ten.
Us children of Sudan received a gallon of water a day for cleaning, cooking, and drinking. It was not much, but it was better than sucking the water from mud. And eating one time a day really was not that hard. Though going to class hungry was sometimes hard. I went to school because I was hoping for my bright future. Before I knew I would live in the United States, I knew I could work to get more than what life was giving me.
I remember once fainting in school because I was so dehydrated and weak.
I stayed in Kakuma for nine years. Finally, America heard about us Sudanese children.
I had never been on a plane before.
When the plane went into the air, I could see the Kakuma camp become smaller and smaller, until it disappeared. Many of my new family could not come with me to America. It is still hard for me to imagine a world without constant loss of family and fear. In Sudan, I always walked with terror, and that feeling followed me to America.
I arrived in Boston in February.
I was wearing very light clothes, and had never seen snow before.
We were terrified by this snow.
When we went outside, we could not feel our hands and our ears.
At first, the streets scared me.
I would spend 30 minutes trying to cross from one side to the other.
The IRC (international rescue committee) placed me with four other boys of Sudan. James was one of them. I also knew Joseph, but the others were strangers. They said that because we are older, we could be placed together, but we had to be supporting ourselves within three months.
Our apartment was small, and in a basement. The sun in Sudan is what woke us up everyday, and with no sun, we had a difficult time knowing when to get up. We did not know how to cook, because we are boys. I had never seen a stove or microwave before.
My roommates and I spent a lot of time playing games that we learned in Kakuma…
Like dominos, and chess, and we talked a lot about Africa.
I missed my real family and my home in Bor.
Some things are crazy on my mind.
I wonder, who will I be in the future with all these problems.
I think that sometimes I still have these problems.
I have nightmares of lions stalking me in the bush, and swimming across the river as the crocodiles eat the boys around me, and dodging the bombs that explode. I do not think I will ever outgrow these horrible dreams.
Now, I do not worry about the snow.
I worry about paying my bills and getting money for college. Kakuma taught me that education is my father and my mother. I must get an education to get my bright future. I like America. The people are all very nice. I like my car. I have a Ford Escort. I like sitting in my car. Right now, when I sit in my car, I feel like I am somebody.
I would like to go back to Sudan…
I hope America government can bring peace to Sudan. Coming to America did not ease all my burdens. Only peace in Sudan can do that for me and all Sudanese children.
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