Friday, September 12, 2014

"I've been walking my entire life" - William Panther Ruei, Sudanese-American and "Lost Boy" of Sudan

I was 29 years old when William Panther Ruei arrived to the United States and I signed up to be his mentor through the Kentucky Refugee Missions. I had read about the relocation of several "Lost Boys" of Sudan and learned that over 240 were being sent to Louisville. I met him at the KRM and we quickly built a friendship which included driving lessons, buying groceries, navigating Kentucky jobs, purchasing a first car (it was hot and spicy pink and looked like something Barbie and Ken would drive). We built a lot of memories together, but nothing did more for my understanding of the human condition than burying his cousin, James, after he murdered by three youth in the south side of the city. Those events affected me immensely.

William, and the other men of Louisville, were central to my life in Kentucky from 2001 to 2007. His daughter is now 12 years old and she was born 9 months after he arrived here. He is still putting her through private schools in Uganda before he brings her to the U.S. William has finished his two year associates degree and is working to bring his family over. I'm proud to say that this spring William purchased his first home with his cousin Martin.

William also bought himself a 2006, leather interior Cadillac. I was like, "Dude, are you trying to put me to shame? I taught you to drive in my Explorer and look at how you pimpin now!" The car is the size of my house.

Sue, Dave, Jennifer, Jim, Panther and I went to Vietnam Kitchen for dinner (such nostalgia) and then Sue, Dave, Panther and I went for a hike around Iroquois Park. Sue teased Panther at one point and asked, "Are you keeping up with us? Are you tired of this walking?" Panther simply looked at Sue and said, "I've been walking my entire life."

Williams is one of the 26,000 youth who walked 700 to 1,000 miles in the late 1990s looking for shelter and safety after the janjaweed attacked their villages. They approximate only half of all the boys who fled their homes survived. They persevered in one refugee camp only to have war follow their footsteps and disrupt them once again. A few were chosen for asylum in the United States and Panther was one of them. They were named "Lost Boys" because of the parentless nature of their existence - sort of like the boys in Peter Pan.

Of course, my years of 2001-2007 led to my years of 2007 - 2011 when I lived and worked with relocated refugee youth in Syracuse (and my life continued to change). Now, since 2011, I've been working with similar populations in Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut. When I met William and the others in Louisville, I never anticipatedI would one day be leaving or that my life's work (doctoral work, for that matter) would be based off the foundation they offered me through the stories they shared. Hanging out with him last night threw me down the alleyway of my memories. It's hard for me to concentrate on anything because I'm so overwhelmed by the volume of such history.

I am so fortunate to have met be back in Louisville once again.


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