I remember Ally telling me about this trip. It was the week before school started and we were sitting on my front lawn with a few friends chatting about summer and the upcoming semester. She started to tell me about the ASB trip that she was leading. I asked her about it with interest in participating in a trip. I heard talk about refugees and something about Sudan but was immediately interested in finding out more information.
Coming into the class I was in my bubble with little worry about problems outside of JMU. I lived with 2 of my best friends and a silly dog, I went to class, went to work, did my homework, as far as I was concerned life was good and I was happy. But, after the first class where we watched the documentary, “God Grew Tired of Us” and watched Aaron’s genocide video, I felt that I was given so much information and had no idea what to do with it, how to process it, or what the rest of the semester was going to be like. Watching refugees eat butter on a plane was funny but I wasn’t impacted. Needless to say I kept living my life. Hotel Rwanda was the eye opening moment for me. I had seen the movie before but, paid little attention to what was going on and was only focusing on the main gist of the movie to be able to write a one page summary for extra credit. Granted it was Hollywood’s interpretation of a genocide but, it was then that I realized that what we were learning about is a big messy situation but, that it was something that needed to be brought to our attention.
Prior to the trip I was excited to get out of the JMU bubble, but, was nervous and stressed about many things. How do you look someone in the eye and say, “Why did you have to leave your country?” What happened if they cried, were we supposed to change the subject if they responded that they didn’t want to answer or, were we supposed to ask the question in a different way? Was I going to be upset if they didn’t want to answer? What were we to do if I couldn’t understand what they were saying? All of these questions were milling around in my head with Aaron’s vague answers “They want to talk about it so ask questions.” and “I can’t explain, but when you get there you’ll see what I mean.” The fact that all of my questions couldn’t be answered with a simple answer was stressing me out even more.
Phoenix, Az. I remember waiting at the airport for a man named Peter, a Sudanese refugee Aaron had met the year before, to come and pick us up. When he showed up he had the biggest smile on his face and was so excited to meet us, his exact response was “You guys probably know so much about me, hopefully I will get to know all of you.” What a way to be greeted! To be quite honest, while on the trip there were a very few things that could knock me off my happy streak. We listened to stories that almost put us to tears, we watched as others appreciated our presence in their home, we built relationships that none of us would ever forget. While on the trip I found myself only thinking about accomplishing the tasks we had set aside for the day, and doing it with enthusiasm I didn’t even know I had.
The Lost Boys center was the highlight of my trip. There were three defining moments that have since changed the way I think about life. The first was watching Aaron reunite with the Lost Boys. When we were walking to the center on the first day I remember telling him, “A, you are walking like my dad does when he goes to a baseball game.” My dad has such a passion for baseball that when he gets the opportunity to go to a game he has this unmistakable pep in his step, Aaron had a definite pep in his step. My dad also starts to quickly talk about random things while his eyes are as big as basketballs, Aaron was bantering on about something with a smile from ear to ear and a glow in his eyes. When we got to the center and he finally got to see the men, it was like he was meeting with a family member that he hadn’t seen in years. At that moment we saw his passion, love, and utmost respect for these men, something that he had been trying to tell us about for the whole semester but he just couldn’t put it into words.
The second defining moment was Kuol telling us that WE have the power to create awareness. He told us to talk about the issues because that is the only way that the problem is going to gain attention. Yes, we hear this all the time but it was his earnest plea and honest tone that made it impactful. We had just watched a documentary about his trip back to South Sudan during their independence.
The third moment impacted me the most. Thinking about it now, I still get the same chills I did that night in the hostel. On Thursday of our trip we had invited a few of the Lost Boys to our hostel for dinner. We had the pleasure of being in the presence of 7 of the Lost Boys in the Phoenix area. Some we had worked with while at the center but some we were meeting for the first time. After dinner Sam and I were chatting with Koor (if you all are reading this before Friday 4/19 and go to JMU come see him in the Festival Highlands room Friday 4/19 at 4:00). I can’t really remember how the conversation started but Koor laid his words of wisdom on Sam and I. He said he had a hard childhood. He now is 28, he had 2 options when coming to America, he could mess up and risk being sent back to Sudan or he could try to be the best person he could be for himself and those who did not have the opportunity to continue living. He told us that he was granted a second shot at life and he needed to take full potential of everything he was given. He said he wakes up everyday and makes a promise to himself to make it a good day. There may not be good parts of every day he said, but you have to push past those and focus on the good. This may sound like the simplest advice but when it comes from someone who as a child under the age of 10 had to literally walk about 600 miles for his life and see things that we only read in horror stories, this advice to say the least hit us pretty hard. Sam and I had to take a second to think about what to say and how to respond to what he had just said to us. This put everything into perspective for me. Yes, I have tests and quizzes and bills to pay but that all seems secondary after listening to those words.
Since coming back from the trip I have tried to live by Koor’s advice. I have also found myself bringing up my experience and what is going on in the world in almost every conversation. I have also become more obsessed with my group then I ever thought I would. These people know what I went through, they understood it. We did some pretty amazing things and we did it because we all somewhere along the line found a passion for the issues we were studying. We all have been impacted differently but understand now, that we actually do have the power to change something and I think we all realize now what we have to do to accomplish our goals.
Peace. Love. ASB Phoenix