[Marxism] Lost in America

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 25 08:04:17 MDT 2005

Lost Boys of the Sudan
posted to www.marxmail.org on March 11, 2004

"Lost Boys of the Sudan" tells the poignant story of Peter Dut and Santino 
Chuor, two teenaged Christian orphans from Sudan's southern regions. Their 
family was gunned down by federal troops from the Arab/Islamic north in a 
brutal civil war that has taken more than 2 million lives over the past 20 
years, mostly black Christian tribesmen like these two Dinka boys. The war 
broke out in the early 1980s when the government in Khartoum declared that 
'sharia' or Islamic law codes would be applied throughout the country.

Given shelter by Christian charities in the United States with a 
long-standing paternalistic interest in such orphans, Peter and Santino 
make fitful attempts to adjust to a cold and cash-driven society. As 
typical Sudanese youth, they thought that their homeland was the most 
beautiful place on earth and enjoyed tending their village's cattle and 
goats. That pastoral life would be shattered in a civil war whose ultimate 
cause is the colonial system. Once they become workers in the United 
States, the land of their ostensible salvation, they begin to experience 
for themselves what Marx described in the "Economic and Philosophical 
Manuscripts of 1844": "...the worker feels himself only when he is not 
working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when 
he is not working, and not at home when he is working."

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/culture/LostBoys.htm



Lost in America
It was supposed to be a storybook tale of young refugees triumphing against 
all odds. But an alarming number of Sudan's "Lost Boys" have spiraled into 
alcohol abuse, crime and even fratricide. What went wrong?

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Leigh Flayton

Aug. 16, 2005  |  PHOENIX -- When Joseph Abil arrived in Dallas in 1995, he 
represented the first wave of extraordinary refugees, mostly young men, who 
became known to the world as the "Lost Boys of Sudan." Abil, 20 years old 
at the time, had fled civil war in his native country that wiped out his 
village. He survived a perilous migration across Africa, endless hunger, 
and harsh conditions in a refugee camp in Kenya. When he settled in Texas, 
with the help of the United States government, he was finally free to lead 
a life of hope and promise.

But life in America presented Abil with struggles and dangers of a 
different kind. In 1997, feeling isolated, he moved to Phoenix, where other 
refugees from his Sudanese community had been resettled. He lived alone in 
an apartment and worked as a stock clerk at a Fry's supermarket. Although 
Abil took medication for mental health problems, his friend Martin Abucha 
said Abil had no trouble holding down a job.

Early this year, Abil stopped going to work. One afternoon in February, he 
left his apartment and headed for the I-17 freeway, miles from where he 
lived, and started wandering north along the median during rush hour. A 
highway patrol officer approached Abil, and according to a report from 
Arizona state officials, Abil grew "agitated" and refused to move off the 
median to a safe location. The officer fired a Taser at Abil, who 
retaliated by throwing "baseball-sized rocks" at him. Pulling out a 
handgun, the officer fired three shots at Abil. The refugee who triumphed 
over years of hardship in Africa fell dead on the Arizona freeway.

Since the late 1990s, the Lost Boys have made headlines around the world. 
In 2001, their sojourn was hailed as a remarkable success story on "60 
Minutes II." "In Sudan, thousands of Lost Boys fought off dangers we can 
barely imagine, and are now, happily, flying off to the United States," 
reported CBS correspondent Bob Simon. In a second story that aired the 
following January, Simon said of the Lost Boys' lives in America: "There 
were dark moments. There were bound to be, but they passed." A Kansas City 
man, featured in the show, said of one Lost Boy he mentored, "He's living 
the American dream. He's already got a job; he's self-sufficient. You've 
taken someone literally, almost literally, in the Stone Age and dropped him 
into a modern civilization, saying after four months you're on your own, 
and he is, and he's fine."

Many of Abil's "brothers," as the Lost Boys call each other, have indeed 
made better lives here. They are earning high school diplomas, attending 
community colleges and universities, and holding down a variety of jobs, 
typically low-paying ones. Today, nearly 4,000 Lost Boys call America home.

Last December, Arizona's Deng Majok Chol, 27, became the first Lost Boy to 
graduate from a major U.S. college, Arizona State University, with a double 
major in political science and economics. In February of this year, People 
magazine profiled three Lost Boys who had returned to the Kakuma refugee 
camp in Kenya to help their brothers still stuck there. "In less than five 
years," reported the magazine, "they transformed from wide-eyed immigrants 
who had never seen a kitchen freezer to young men working their way through 
college in San Diego."

But for an alarming number of Lost Boys, their journey to America has taken 
a much darker turn -- into unemployment, alcohol abuse, petty crime, murder 
and suicide. Unresolved cultural differences and a lack of support, 
training and education have led them to fall through the cracks of the 
social and legal system. Many Lost Boys, advocates and researchers say, 
suffer from some degree of trauma-related mental illness, most notably 
post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We want our Lost Boys happy, polite and grateful -- and during the first 
couple of honeymoon years, that's what we saw," says Ann Wheat, co-founder 
of the Arizona Lost Boys Center in Phoenix. The center, which opened in 
2003, offers more than 400 Lost Boys a place to gather, speak with career 
counselors, and get legal and medical advice. "But we do the Lost Boys and 
ourselves a huge disservice by perpetuating a one-dimensional image of 
them. If they were all models of emotional health, we might as well 
conclude that war is good for children, save our time and resources, and 
all go home." Wheat, who also works as a supervisor for Phoenix's city 
parks, says that reports of troubling incidents around the country often 
reach the center through the Lost Boys' own word-of-mouth network. Lately, 
she says, "It has started to feel like an epidemic."

The Lost Boys were victims of a brutal civil war in the south of Sudan that 
began more than two decades ago. The Arizona center's current outreach 
coordinator, Jany Deng, 26, landed in Phoenix in 1995; he and his blood 
brother Simon were two of the first four Lost Boys to arrive in Arizona. 
Their saga had begun 10 years before.

While herding cattle in 1985, Jany and other boys from his village 
witnessed the destruction of their homes by government-backed Islamic 
militias. They took off running, beginning a multiyear exodus that spanned 
East Africa and countries around the globe. Many of their parents were 
murdered and their sisters raped, enslaved and killed. (As a result, there 
are fewer Lost Girls.)

For years, tens of thousands of Lost Boys walked more than 1,000 miles 
across East Africa, thousands dying of starvation, disease, and militia and 
animal attacks. Jany and his group first went east to Ethiopia, where Jany 
was reunited with Simon, who had made it there with another group of Lost 
Boys. But when civil war flared up in 1990, they fled back to Sudan. They 
returned to nothing: Their family and village were gone. Eventually they 
trekked to Kenya, winding up in the Dadaab refugee camp. After a year in 
Dadaab, they were among the first few relocated to the United States.

In the 2003 documentary film "Lost Boys of Sudan," one Lost Boy expresses 
the shared perception, while in the Kakuma refugee camp, of what it will be 
like to leave for America: "This journey is like you are going to heaven."

When Jany and Simon arrived in Arizona, Jany, then age 16, was sent to live 
with a foster family; Simon, 23, shared an apartment with two older boys. 
It was a pattern that continued from coast to coast as more of them came; 
the minors were resettled with families, while older Lost Boys were placed 
in dingy apartments, often cramped together, in rough city neighborhoods or 
on the outskirts of towns.

In Phoenix, Jany attended school, made friends and joined the track team; 
Simon couldn't keep a job. He told Jany that "people looked at him 
different and made comments." By the spring of 1997, Simon had grown 
despondent. He wanted to bring his girlfriend from Dadaab to Arizona, but 
to no avail. He had no money or job prospects. According to Jany, Simon 
began to speak of suicide.

On Apr. 10, 1997, Simon bought a 9MM rifle and rode a city bus toward the 
Catholic Social Services office building in North Phoenix. He got off the 
bus, took the rifle out of its box and fired it in the parking lot of a 
Circle K convenience store before heading to the office. A police 
helicopter and officers responded as Simon entered Catholic Social Services 
at lunchtime. Once inside, Simon looked for his caseworkers and, according 
to the police report, began firing his gun in the air. No one was hurt. The 
police arrived at the building and Simon shot at Officer Terrence Kobza. 
Kobza returned fire and killed Simon with a bullet in the arm and another 
in the chest.

Today, Jany still hasn't made peace with Simon's death. "Why here?" he 
asks. "He could have died over there. I could have died over there," he 
says of Africa, his words breaking into a stutter. "The way it happened, it 
was not a good way."

Local news and police reports from the past eight years, along with 
accounts from advocates and Lost Boys themselves, reveal a trail of tragic 

In August 2001 in Boston, Daniel Majok Kachuol, 19, was charged with 
assault and rape, just six months after his arrival. In September 2002 in 
Rochester, Minn., Christofar Atak, 31, ran in front of a police car in the 
street, shouting, "I want to die!" Under disputed circumstances, a police 
officer ended up shooting Atak point-blank in the back. Atak, who survived, 
had a blood-alcohol level that indicated he was severely intoxicated. That 
same month, Phillip Ajack Cham, 33, entered an immigration office in 
Houston demanding to be repatriated to Sudan; he grabbed a gun from a 
guard, firing it and threatening suicide before being subdued by officers.

In April 2004 in Fargo, N.D., Chol Deng Chol, 25 -- considered "one of the 
most promising students we've seen in a long time" by a mentor at North 
Dakota State University -- was charged with the rapes of two teenage girls 
after a night of drinking. In Atlanta that summer, Ajuong Manuer, 21, died 
following an alcohol-fueled fight -- over $10 -- with fellow Lost Boy Mayen 
Biar Diing, 25. And in May 2005 in Seattle, Kero Riiny Giir, 27, stabbed to 
death an ex-girlfriend, Lost Girl Roda Bec, 16, for being "rude" to him, as 
he would later tell police. After fleeing the scene, Giir had jumped off a 
highway overpass in an apparent suicide attempt.

"We have a lot of angry Lost Boys, and it has not been brought to the 
attention of the community," says John Aza, 40, director of the Southern 
Sudanese Resettlement Program in Tucson. Aza left Sudan in 1996 and is 
currently earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the 
University of Arizona. He does not count himself among the Lost Boys, 
though he is close with the community. At the end of July, Aza visited six 
Lost Boys who had been released from jail -- some arrested for driving 
while intoxicated, two for arguing with police officers after a fight in a 
club. For Lost Boys who lack jobs and community support, and who have a 
hard time adapting to American culture, says Aza, alcohol is often "the 
nearest comfort."

"A lot of Lost Boys have been picked up for DUIs," Wheat says. "It appears 
to be a growing problem in the Sudanese community, but it's something 
that's kept a dark secret. They don't deal with it. We could start an AA 
meeting at the center and nobody would come."

Advocates across the country, including from large enclaves in Atlanta and 
Jacksonville, Fla., express serious concerns about publicizing the Lost 
Boys' problems. They say the refugee community is extremely sensitive about 
them, while some fear a backlash could undermine fundraising, scholarships 
and the ability to enlist volunteers and mentors. Wheat also worries that 
news of dark-skinned refugees falling into violent crime won't be well 
received, especially in America's post-Sept. 11 political climate.

But shining a light on the troubling cases could be critical to helping the 
refugees, says Apuk Ayuel, who serves as deputy spokeswoman for the newly 
established Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, a nonprofit support group based 
in Los Angeles. Ayuel, 24, fled Sudan with her mother and arrived in 
Houston in 1996. She currently studies political science at the University 
of Texas at Arlington. "It seems like the way it's depicted is that every 
single Lost Boy has gone through -- that their situation is all equal, that 
all of them are getting educations," she says. "But there are a lot of 
people who are falling through the cracks. Their deeper stories are not 
being told."

Some of those stories involve dozens of Lost Boys who have been victimized 
themselves. Violent crime -- often in racially charged circumstances -- 
including assault, robbery and murder, has led to the deaths of at least 
four Lost Boys. They have also been involved in a rash of car accidents. 
Many Lost Boys saw their first cars just a few years ago and so have little 
driving experience; according to Wheat, more than two dozen had serious 
accidents in Arizona alone in 2004, including two fatalities.

Wheat says she knows of at least a dozen around the country who've 
attempted suicide.

While the details of various tragic cases remain murky, researchers see at 
least one clear thread tying them all together: trauma-related mental 
illness, mostly left untreated. David Berceli is a trauma therapist and 
founder of Trauma Recovery Assessment and Prevention Services who worked in 
Sudan between 2001 and 2004. Berceli, who counseled a group at the Arizona 
Lost Boys Center in July on post-traumatic stress disorder, says he's 
troubled, but not surprised by the pattern of incidents. "With people who 
have been put through years of life-and-death experiences, untreated fear 
and anger can develop into hatred and rage," he says. "It becomes an 
uncontrollable energy."

In June, Dr. Paul Geltman, a professor of pediatrics at the Boston 
University School of Medicine, published a study measuring the assimilation 
and well-being of 304 Lost Boys who arrived as minors in the U.S. from late 
2000 to early 2001. While many fared relatively well, the study concludes 
that 20 percent of them suffer from PTSD.

Geltman says the rate of PTSD does not necessarily go beyond "what would be 
expected" of a traumatized refugee population. At the same time, he adds, 
he finds it remarkable that the prevalence of PTSD isn't higher. "I'd love 
the opportunity to do a large assessment of the older Lost Boys for 
comparison," he says. He notes that the problems of the older Lost Boys are 
probably "much greater" and would amount to greater levels of dysfunction, 
considering they've received less attention and support, and fewer 
services, than the minors. But even the minors, Geltman says, have not 
necessarily received the mental health help they've needed. As a result, 
his report concludes, the Lost Boys face lasting difficulties in being 
integrated into U.S. society.

Advocates, including Sudanese who have become leaders among the refugee 
community, share that view. According to Ayuel, many of the Lost Boys still 
suffer nightmares about the horrors they witnessed and endured. "They're 
normal most of the time, but they'll have the same nightmares over and 
over," she says. "There are some people in the community of Lost Boys and 
Girls who will say, 'Yeah, they're a little crazy.'" Ayuel says therapy is 
a concept as foreign to the Sudanese natives as refrigerators and fast-food 
restaurants once were. In fact, therapy is taboo to them.

Peter Deng (no relation to Jany; the name Deng means "rain" and is common 
in Sudan) found his way to Phoenix in 2001. When he arrived, he recalls, "I 
was thinking about food." During his nine years in a refugee camp in Kenya, 
he ate food provided by American relief agencies. "So I was thinking that 
America is a good country," he says. "Maybe if I go there I will make 
money; I will go to school."

In his first year in Phoenix, Peter was beaten up, carjacked and wrongly 
accused of fathering a child. He was fined $1,200 for driving without a 
license or insurance, which he had no idea he needed. He learned about the 
U.S. court system when he had to file a restraining order against a former 
girlfriend, who threatened him by saying, "You are just a refugee here in 
America. I can kill you." These days, Peter rarely goes out in public, 
especially at night, and he says he fears going to jail. "If I go to public 
places, the mall or a club, somebody might hurt me for that," he says, 
seated inside the Arizona center one afternoon.

Peter has received important assistance from the center, which helped him 
find a job as a file clerk for a company that sells concert tickets. 
Located across the street from the state capitol in a dodgy part of 
downtown Phoenix, the center shares a parking lot with a plastics recycling 
plant. Sudanese folk art and black-and-white portraits of Lost Boys at the 
Kakuma refugee camp add touches of familiarity to a place that offers help 
with foreign struggles like disconnected phone lines, eviction notices and 
shopping for groceries and clothes. (Lost Boys in Phoenix, according to 
Wheat, have been bilked for thousands of dollars by disreputable 
companies.) The center has partnered with Target, PetSmart, Phoenix's Sky 
Harbor airport and other businesses to arrange some 150 jobs for Lost Boys.

Peter earns $8.50 an hour in his clerk job, and works on his skills at the 
center's computer lab in his spare time. He watches a lot of television and 
movies, citing "Rush Hour" as a favorite film. Like many of his brothers, 
he says he wants to earn enough money to move back home to Sudan, find his 
missing family, marry and help rebuild the war-ravaged country. For now, 
Peter remains a homebody, struggling to make it day to day in Phoenix.

Jany, the center's outreach coordinator, shares Peter's ambitions, as do a 
great majority of their brothers, of helping to rebuild Sudan. These days, 
of course, the country faces a grave crisis in the western region of 
Darfur, where genocide at the hands of the notorious government-backed 
Janjaweed militias has created a new generation of physically and 
psychologically brutalized refugees. To date, the U.S. government has not 
formally resettled any of them here.

Jany points out that the prospect for peace darkened considerably on July 
30, when longtime southern Sudanese rebel leader and newly elected Vice 
President John Garang died in a helicopter crash, plunging the country's 
fragile peace into an unknown future -- and hitting the Lost Boys community 
across America with a new wave of grief and fear. "It's a huge blow," Jany 
says. He adds that many Sudanese people don't believe Garang's death was an 
accident, and fears that the Sudanese regime is going to kill more of his 
community's leaders back home. "It's on everybody's mind," Jany says.

The plight of his fellow refugees in America also continues to weigh 
heavily on him. Jany, who plans to graduate next May from Arizona State 
University with a bachelor's degree in social work, says he loves his work 
counseling his brothers and helping them to find and keep jobs. But 
cultural differences, he acknowledges, continue to exacerbate the Lost 
Boys' problems. In Sudan, he says, young people don't trust police, who 
regularly kill civilians. "We were taught to fight our own battles," Jany 
says. So it's no surprise, he continues, that many Lost Boys in America are 
wary of police and governmental authorities.

Some Lost Boys also have had trouble adjusting to American sexual mores. 
Unfamiliar with America's system of dating, Jany says, the younger men 
sometimes mistake friendliness for sexual interest, and so being rejected 
by women can stoke feelings of frustration and alienation, and even lead to 

Eight years after his brother's death, Jany keeps his spirits up by 
immersing himself in his work at the center. He is also a marathon runner, 
which he calls his passion and "getaway thing" -- he has qualified for next 
year's Boston Marathon. He says he's so busy taking care of everyone else 
that he sometimes doesn't look after himself enough. Jany seldom has the 
energy to make it through his homework after a full day of school and work. 
He has suffered from anemia; he collapsed last January while running a 

Last December, he fell asleep behind the wheel of his car. The car flipped 
over three times and was totaled, but luckily Jany managed to escape 
without a scratch. Lately, he says, his grades have started to slip and he 
sometimes feels dizzy -- yet, his own training aside, he says he isn't sure 
what else he should do. "I'm abusing myself," he says, smiling, when asked 
if he thinks he might suffer from PTSD.

Aydin Bal, a researcher and doctoral candidate at Arizona State University 
who has worked extensively with Arizona's Lost Boys, affirms that the 
upbeat image of this remarkable group of survivors is authentic. In spite 
of a harrowing past, he says, they remain determined to fit in and succeed 
in America. "They have shown an enormous amount of resiliency," Bal says. 
"Of course they are not trying to find food or drinking water now," he 
says. "But they are still trying to find their past, their memory."

Unfortunately, support services for the Lost Boys are drying up. According 
to Wheat, if the Arizona center can't raise $250,000 before a core grant 
from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expires on Sept. 30, 
the doors will close. Several Lost Boys organizations in other U.S. cities 
are also strapped for funds. In 2002, the federal government's Office of 
Refugee Resettlement cut general mental health funding, previously about 
$2.8 million per year, from its budget.

In the meantime, some Lost Boys in America who struggled the most with fear 
and grief reverted to the one way of escape they knew best. Earlier this 
year, a 23-year-old Lost Boy, diagnosed with schizophrenia and convinced 
that people wanted to kill him, disappeared from his home in Syracuse. By 
June, he'd wandered more than 2,100 miles to Mexico City. And then there 
was Abil, the Lost Boy who was shot and killed on the Arizona freeway. 
"After all the miles he walked in Africa to escape hell, he returned to 
walking," Wheat says. "I wonder where he was heading. I wonder if he knew."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Leigh Flayton is a freelance writer based in Phoenix.



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