Thousands of miles from renewed violence in South Sudan, Sudanese residents of Kansas City are trying stay on top of the rapidly changing news from their homeland and learn what they can about family and friends.
Kansas City has one of the largest Sudanese communities in the country, mainly refugees from decades of brutal civil war. It was almost incomprehensible when fighting broke out over a political dispute among differing tribes in the new Southern Sudanese capital of Juba last month.
Reunited For The First Time
Manon Bol, one of the so-called "Lost Boys," has been living in Kansas City since 2006. He traveled back to South Sudan after it gained independence in 2011. He hadn’t seen his mother for almost 20 years. It was a very moving experience, he says, when they first met in his remote village of Turalei.
“My mom didn’t know me. I (say who I am) to my mom, and then she cry. And I cry. She very happy, I love that,” says Bol.
Long Civil War Leads To Two Countries
A civil war in Sudan between 1983 and 2005 caused millions of deaths and many more refugees.
Among them were the Lost Boys, some as young as eight or nine, who fled on foot when the Sudanese army from the mostly Muslim north ransacked their villages, murdering thousands of largely Christian Southern Sudanese.
Bol and his father ran from the soldiers, but they were caught.
The young Bol witnessed the execution of his father, and was himself then taken into slavery by the Northern militia.
“We were sleeping,” Bol explains, “(watching ) cows, we take care of cows, we have a lot of cows. When war happen at 4 a.m., (the militia) attack the village, and they kill people. Me and my father run away. militia come right away, then they kill my father and they catch me.”
The young man won’t describe in detail his years in slavery with the Sudanese army, but he says they treated him “very bad.”
Bol spent several years in a refugee camp in Egypt, before being resettled to Kansas City.
He had family already in Kansas City, including his uncle, NBA star Manut Bol, who had come to the United States to play basketball.
In Kansas City, Manon Bol was happy to be in a safe place.
“(I) learn English here in Olathe, Kansas," he says. "(I) got my job here, working, so (I) feel like a human being. (I) got my money, got my own place to sleep.”
Dreaming of Bringing Family To Kansas City
Bol had hoped to earn enough money in Kansas City to bring his family over, but he was laid off from his warehouse job last spring.
He went to work in a meat packing plant in Oklahoma, and made enough to return to South Sudan in November.
As he was preparing to leave the country in December, new fighting broke out between government forces supporting the president, and rebels backing the former vice president, who are from different tribes.
Bol survived the sudden outbreak of violence by hiding under the bed until early morning, when an American military flight airlifted him and other Sudanese American citizens to Nairobi, Kenya.
“Many people were killed,” Bol explains. “When we woke up, we saw bodies and (injured people” everywhere. Around 10:00 a.m., the military flight (came to) collect citizen, telling you, (if)you citizen you can come to airport and they take you."
Bol says he is grateful to the United States for giving him and a few dozen other Sudanese American citizens a free flight out of the embattled capital.
But in Kansas City, he hears the daily reports of continued fighting in his country. He’s unemployed again, but says he’s determined to get a job, and earn enough to bring his family here.
“I’m a hard worker,” Bol says. “ I can work hard, and I love that.”
Meanwhile, Bol and others in the local Sudanese community are trying their best to keep in touch with family in South Sudan. Each week, they gather to share information and pray their loved ones are safe.