The white lights surrounding our beautiful hostel flickered on as another warm Phoenix day began to cool. Last night I had the pleasure of having some of the Lost Boys of Sudan over for dinner. They started to arrive as our professor laid the burgers and hot dogs over the grill. Throughout the week we visited refugees from all around the world at their new homes. We brought donations and exchanged questions. These interactions were a step up from the learning in a classroom, but last night was a step up from it all. As we sat down around the table, I had the opportunity to personally interact not with refugees of genocide, and not with Africans with sad stories, but with some of the most beautiful and inspiring people I have ever met. I would like to share this experience with readers. I will share what I learned from the gentleman I mostly spoke with and show that no matter how different two people may appear to be, a dinner shared between them can be as familiar and delicious as those shared with close friends and family.
At dinner, I sat next to a gentleman named Koor. Initial questions from my group and I revealed the amazing story of Koor. Like thousands of other Lost Boys, he had to escape the killing of those closest to him and walk thousands of miles to a refugee camp. To put some perspective on this feat, my group and I hiked five miles in Sedona the other day, out of breath, sore, hungry, and extremely tired. Not only did my friend have to walk two hundred times my hike, he had to do so without any food, any water, and with death following close behind. After living in a camp for several years, he got to come to America as a teenager. Everything was new to Koor when he arrived. Things taken for granted by Americans as common knowledge are completely alien to refugees in the beginning. Laughing for the first time last night, the soft-spoken Koor told us how a fellow Sudanese friend drank dish detergent mistaking it for juice. After gaining his bearings on the oddities of American living, Koor set out to find work while attending the tenth grade. Refugees coming to America usually have three months to find a job to begin paying back the airfare for their journey here. His first job was serving water to the elderly at a rest home. After that he worked in a pharmacy and then eventually became a nurse. He discussed his love and respect for the elderly and passion for helping others. Now, Koor visits Southern Sudan and trains others in medical care at a clinic that he opened. After we learned the background of this courageous and giving person, dinner began and we all grabbed at the burgers and hot dogs.
People listened intently as stories from across the world were shared over clanking plates, laughter, and giggling gibberish of toddlers. Placing this atmosphere in the background, my soon-to-be friend and I began conversation with one another. At that moment, where we came from and what experiences we had didn’t matter; the distinction of “us” versus “them” did not exist, it was just me and another person I just met engaging in conversation. We started out light, talking about how amazing our smart phones were after noticing we have the same kind. Of course, I had to ask him about the most American thing I have ever known, McDonalds. Koor described how weird his first burger was at the golden arches. He said it didn’t taste like real food, which I told him not to worry because it isn’t. But now, every time Koor enters an airport he heads straight for McDonalds. He actually shares a favorite with me, double-quarter pounder with fries. As we moved deeper into our talk I gave some self-disclosure. I told him how moved I was with his use of positive thought and how I used it as well to overcome problems in my life (of course telling him that mine were nothing in comparison). We continued on, relating to topics such as how different girls are from guys and the fine art of brewing beer. We laughed, we joked, and we high-fived. Dinner ended, we all played a card game, and then said our farewells.
Before our dinner I was nervous. Other than asking these gentlemen questions about their past how in the world would I relate? My conversation with Koor got rid of that worry. He was different than me from what he has been through and how he has dealt with it. But, the similarities he and I uncovered made me learn we were also the same. Whether it was the love for tasty french-fries, smart phone technology, or the respect we have for our elders, Koor and I were just two people, chatting away towards a friendship that I will always cherish. The lights flickered off as I fell asleep in my camper, happy that I had dinner with close friends and family.