Transcript – Thomas Chan Podcast (Thomas’s words only)
4:54 Well, to come to my mind, when I see these soldiers, well armed, with these green uniforms, and they start coming into the town, they start shooting, and I see women get shot in the back, and they don’t even care about the fate of the individual. I escape because I don’t want to get killed. And I leave my mom, and I run my own way to save my life. So what I’ve seen is what forced me to me to leave.
5:27 There’s no human being that did what they did. You know, treating us like animals. Burning the feet of the women in huts. And they were tied and were burnt down, and the gun ship was moving around.
5:45 So I escaped. Because I know if I stay, I’m going to get killed. I was very afraid. I was nervous because I was so young. And I flee.
5:55 So the killing that I had seen forced me to leave the area. So some distance ahead of me, I see smoke rise up over the head of the street. And I said “Oh my God! They kill everybody.” So that’s how I escaped.
Michael, John, Tom talk.
8:09 When we left Ethiopia, where we were in the camp, we soon had a problem and we were forced back to Sudan. So I managed to end up in Kenya. So when we reached Kenya, we were called ‘unaccompanied minors’ for foster care, and we were put in foster care; people who have no apartment, we have no parents present and we keep the name for so long. So when the United States settlement came in, then a lot of people step in, including UN HCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and screen all of us. So the name “Lost Boys” instead of unaccompanied minor. Most of us are orphans, we don’t know if our parents are alive. And our hope was to come here. And so the “Lost Boys” came up, and opposite to an unaccompanied minor.
9:17 That’s how it became, and I think it wasn’t a bad name, it was a good name.
Michael, Tom talk.
9:36 Oh, when we came in, for me when I set out, after we land at JFK, when we step out from going to the terminal and come outside. So we meet with a group called IOM. It is an international organization for migration. So we meet them outside.
10:00 So what I see was something from the sky, and it was too cold and I say, “Oh my God – what is going on here?” So I ask one of them “What’s dropping from the sky? And it’s so cold.” They say “Oh wow, this is winter! Snow!” I say “OK”. SO they put us out the bus, and we end up in a place where we spend overnight, for one night. And I think: “Oh my gosh.” And we didn’t even know where we were going.
10:27 And in fact, they put a name, “CT”, Connecticut, on three of us. In fact I thought it was my name Thomas, and you know, what does this mean? “OK, you guys, the three of you, all of you are going to Connecticut.” And I said “OK”. But I was concerned: Why is it so cold here? And they explained it to us, when we arrive in Connecticut. But one day, when they called us to go into the office, and introduced us, you know, to the other agencies and bosses and workers, they were so joyful to see us. It was a long walk, a long passage.
11:02 So after that, it was hard for us to know how to get public transportation, how to get help, because we have nothing in our hands. So we relied on them, and they showed us how to be integrated into the community. First of all, they did orientation for us. They tell us where you can get help, where – if anything happens to you, the phone you can call. For example if you get lost and took the wrong bus, they show you how to get back, to come to your apartment.
11:41 So for us, including me, my first thing was to ask a lot of questions for my identity. I don’t know if they’ve never seen a black like me (laughter). So personally, this one lady asked me “You’re so dark! So where are you from?” I said: “I’m from Sudan, Africa.” She said: “Sudan? Africa? Oh my goodness! So – how did you end up here?”
12:10 And I explained myself, how I came here through United States settlement, you know, I came here, to migrate, to live here, to call this country as my country, as I desire, that I was hoping for, that I would reach, and I’m here. So I suppose it came, after one month, two months, after learning one another, something called ‘culture shock’. So that comes from us learning the American way of life, to be able…How to operate cooking, how to turn on the lights, how to take the bus home, how to take a shower, where you can go for groceries, where you can get a bus, what time, you know, what time the bus comes, because that is the only thing we can depend on.
13:02 So that’s the same issue, because of the weather. So they tell us guys: “You guys are very honest, you can make it here.” And I said “OK.” So my question was sometime “Look, if it is winter, you dress in light clothes, people will think something is wrong with you (laughter) especially in Connecticut! (more laughter) So, I wonder, when we go shopping, which is not far from us, about three to five minutes, and we are wearing slippers, not even shoes, like I’m wearing.
13:45 And people still look at is. Why do they stare? Why do they look at us every day?” Well I don’t know what happened! The agency came in, they sent somebody, they say, “Some people observe you, some of your friends from Sudan, that you dress in light clothes, and it’s during winter time, and there’s snow falling? That is something horrible for us to do, you could have died!” We say OK, they came in and they told us. We say: “You know what? I think we can’t resist the snow because we come from the desert where there’s no snow. It’s hot over there. But it’s the opposite, it’s cold here!”
14:22 So, and I think, it’s not a good thing for us to do. So we need clothes. So they say: “OK. You know what? It was our mistake!” So they took us to the national (?) center and got some clothes, some jackets. They’re good! They’ve been used, but they’re good for us. So then the shoes, then we put on, and we learn from there, and we have to build the proper way most Americans dress. That part was tough, OK? Then comes the GED class. For me I was training. So I end up going to high school. I sit down with one of the professors.
15:00 He asks me: “Thomas – how old are you?” I said: “Twenty” He said: “Wow! You are too old, you know, to be admitted to this school. You are twenty, you are supposed to be sixteen or seventeen. So, we have GED classes here, you can take it from there.” And then the problem came. You have to look for a job. That is another big personal responsibility, and a lot of change.
15:30 The agency said: “You guys, you have to be independent, you have to find a job. You’ve been here for eight weeks. You can start looking for a job to go to. Just take an application, fill it out.”
15:45 Exactly, so that’s two months.
15:48 No, not at all. We said: “Why so quick?” They said: “Well the time is moving! In the next six months, you’ll be on your own. We’re gonna teach you to be one maybe twice…If you don’t get a job after two months, then we give you another two months.” So that’s four months. Hoping to get a job within four months…
16:15 I mean eight weeks, two months, then you are alone. Wow. Oh my goodness. So we say: “OK! – OK! – we will do it!” So, I and James and William, we went to a Lowes, nearby where we live. Then we pick up an application, fill it out…take it back. We put our name, agency, school for IRM. It stands for Interfaith Refugee Ministry in New Haven.
16:45 So we put the name down, and we got a phone call from Lowes, that we got three guys here, apply for jobs here, how do you know them? (laughs) So then, the agency explain themselves, and they came in, for an interview, and they say: “Wow, they seem like they are very good guys. OK, we will see. Ok, we are going to give you a test. We are going to give you a math test, give you an English test, to know what you can do.” We were a little bit nervous, you now, but I say “OK!” So they said: “Go home, tomorrow come back. It was April 27th. SO we went in. We did our math – algebra, multiplication, division – and that wasn’t so bad. So we passed.
17:30 English? English we didn’t speak very good. But we understand what they are looking for. So we answer everything. Most of them we didn’t get right, but they don’t care, they don’t mind. So we passed. And they said: “OK, on May 3rd, you guys come back, and you start to work.” Oh my goodness. In our mind, we go (gasp), difficult. So we started from there!
17:53 In fact, after six months, William quit the job and left. He went to Chicago. So me and James, we remain, working for Lowes for many years, until when I move to Pennsylvania. So I work, you know, we have time, we talk…
18:29 I’m sick, I stop, you know, we start having a friend in the company, in Lowes. So we have no car. We are blessed, because we don’t live too far away, for we don’t have a car.
18:40 That is the most challenging, that we were facing.
19:02 Exactly. So for myself, after we left our village, we have to cross the Nile River, we have to have a boat, which only allows for 300-400 people. If you have 500 people, that’s overloading, then the boat will go down. So we were stranded, and we have 85, with personnel, that’s what we have. So the number was too high. So after we leave to go, and we reach the middle of the Nile River, the boat starts going down, and I can feel the water.
19:43 And everybody cried, so the told the Captain: “Hey…outside.” He don’t want to do it, but yeah, you have to do it! Then he took us outside, and then we asked him: “What’s wrong with this?” “Wow – we are overloaded, but unfortunately, we have to fix it. Otherwise, let the ladies(?) Go home, and I’ll take the rest.” “Oh no – it’s not gonna happen. We have to take the rest.” So he went in and fixed some part of the boat. And we went back in. So our personnel look at him. You know, make sure he doesn’t do something stupid, right? So we cross the Nile River. Unbelievable!
20:20 The Nile River is dangerous. There’s a lot of things in there. Big snakes. Crocodiles, big fish, sharks, you name it. It was dangerous for us. So we thank God that we managed to go to the other side of the Nile River.
20:44 So we came to a place called Junjan(?). It’s an area that the rebels control. They do ambush. Because that’s another area where the rebels, they have a base in there. So they tell us to leave in the morning again.
21:00 So we kill one of our last cows. It was a black cow. We kill that cow and we eat it overnight. Then the commander came with us.
21:08 So we cross to the nearest desert called Ajagay(?). It’s a seven-day drive. Seven days. There was a station where there were some rebels. They have a well water. And about personnel for him to say: “Guys – these kids are dying. They are thirsty, they need water”… “No – we don’t give them water” Why? This water was only for soldiers. This was for wounded soldiers and the water sometimes dried up. So we cannot know.
21:45 Personnel came for us guys. “Sleep here. Don’t move. When they say go, don’t move. Stay there on the ground.” When we remain there – oh my goodness! – at about nine, I think it was 9 PM, they called to us: “Make a line!” Then we make a line. “Only one child, like this! That’s it. Not two.” Then they say: “In the morning, guys, you’re gonna have to leave.” OK, it was like, noon time. One of my friends, I see him, he was struggling. You know, he couldn’t move. When he get up, he fell down.
22:18 The white stuff was getting in his mouth, coming out. He was passing away – he was dying! Wow. So, then they came in, they rushed to bring water to him, and he almost died. And they said: “ Look, what are we gonna do?” So thank God – oh my goodness! Everybody looked at this sky, except that one dark cloud in the sky, followed by the white one cloud, and then it’s mixed, and then too much cloud came up.
22:31 It was like a dark cloud, a dark blue cloud. So it starts pouring over our bodies. And I feel it. And I say: “What’s going on?” So it’s rainy, it starts raining. Oh my goodness! (laughter) everybody put their hands like this!
23:01 And we sing songs, you know, for the churches…It wasn’t the rainy season. It was, like, summer! It was hot! It was July. It’s hard to get rain in the summer, it’s hard to get that rain. So the rain covered the desert. And we carried good water, that the water came down, we put it in the containers we have.
23:37 Then we say to them guys (laugh): “The Lord answer our call!” And we are living. They say “Wow! – Guys it’s a seven day drive.” It’s not a problem. We will make it. So we move. And the water doesn’t last. You know how we crossing for seven days? Seven days drive, oh my goodness. That’s a long walk. We encounter local people who live nearby the desert. And they look at us. Me – I have a chain my sister gave to me. It’s like a bracelet. So when we sit down. This lady came. We are dying! We are thirsty, we have no food. So she looks at mine and says: “Can I take this? I can give you.” I said “What did she say?” She wants to take it, then we give you something. I said “OK! OK!” I take it off and give it to her. They came back with the water. So all the boys did what I did.
21:40 So we have water and milk. Wow. So it was another blessing. So we start walking. It took us for so long, and I don’t know how long. Because we left, I think in late July, you know, in 19_(?)_ . So it took us a while to walk since we are kids, we don’t know nothing. At that time, I think I was seven years old. Most of us, especially the Nuer boys, we were so young.
25:10 So we keep moving. So I don’t know. I don’t know the time, and the year. And I don’t know the month, because we spent a lot of time walking. And there’s a mountain, there’s a blue mountain. For example, did you see that mountain? Is that too close? (laughter) No – it’s too far away.
25:32 They tell a guy “That mountain there, you see it, we’re almost there.” That was our next – for us to sleep in. So we keep walking, walking, walking … The mountain keeps going back! I say: “What’s going on?” So we keep going.
25:52 But something happened. So after we sleep, before the mountain, too far away, we lost three boys. They are exhausted. They couldn’t make it. And their bodies start shaking. And in the morning, they are all dead. So that was our first incident. For me, uh, I don’t like to be emotional, but I look at them and say: “Let me turn away somewhere else.”
26:15 So I move out, and sit over there, somewhere else. And the boys were collecting the bodies, and we buried them there. That’s it. After we cross the desert, I mean. So that was our first incident. So you know, that was not too far from us… even though I was thinking I may be next. Wow.
26:32 And, so, because the mountain, again, the rain, it starts raining again. So we are going to August. That’s when the rain started again. So the rain stopped! OK, so what we face, it’s not hot no more. We are facing how to move, how to walk, because the water you know, it’s flowing, it’s become mud!
26:58 Exactly. So that becomes another problem we have. So, and, for me? (chuckle) the one thing I like was, motivating, because my Mom told me: “My son, let me tell you, bear in mind, OK? One day, one day will come, when I will not be present in front of you, nor your older brother, or your dad. You’ll have to figure it our, how to survive, how to be strong.”
27:28 I sais “Wow” I think about it, right? What my mom told me.
27:36 My mind changed. Being with, into, become, powerful within me, strong! Boys! Seven years old. And I don’t want – look – I don’t like to be the last one for walking. I don’t want to be in the middle (laugh) so I have to be in the front. So mine is the motivation for what I’m facing – I didn’t know. God know.
27:59 So I didn’t know that thing would happen. What my mom told me. And another one – if the other boys do it, why not me? Why can’t I do it? If they walk, why not I walk? I’m the same age. I can make it. And – you try to sit down, they discipline you, the personnel. They discipline you.
28:20 They beat you. If you – because they do not want to carry you, you’re seven years old. They all have problems too. They’re like us, you know. So that is what motivated me, to make me strong, from what my mom told me.
30:32 For me, I have a lot of memory, that were so nice to me, that were so – things you can’t forget for your life. Most times, I also remember my other siblings, including my bother and sister. During planting season, we, when the crops are growing, like this, five feet, or four or three, we play. “You have to find me. I have to find you” So you hide, and the others, whoever catches the other ones, is the winner.
31:05 So, when I figure it out, every night, that the life I experienced when I was a kid was beautiful. OK. I have a sense of a crop growing up… so so natural, so beautiful! And playing with my brother and my sister in the garden was one of the things that I still remember.
31:31 The crops we have are corn. We have sorghum. We have beans. We have other things I can’t remember, but they was there. We have a natural fruit, that you can eat when hungry in the desert. There’s a time when these things grow, there’s a time for pain(?), to wait. You know everything we do have a price.
31:52 So, my other good memory was when I looked after my garden. So when the crop starts going up, so, ready for harvest, that’s when the birds came. That’s when they started eating this corn and sorghum. So that was my duty, to distract them. To go to the garden. I have a rope. For three, like one, two, three, pieces of rope. So I have to go around, with my hand, and then, go like that, and make a noise. And the birds fly.
32:35 That one, when I remember, I have fun, you know, I have fun. I don’t like them to (laugh) destroy our garden. But I have fun with them. I enjoy being there. This is my life. It’s part of my responsibility. To make sure – I don’t want to be disciplined, right? That’s another place when my mom said “Thomas – what happened? I thought I told you to guard the garden!” SO that is my responsibility, to make sure these birds won’t destroy our garden. Because we need – that’s our food– we work hard for it.
33:35 Umm, of course! Uh, first of all, when I replied back, I miss my childhood friends, like we were together, we share life together, we go to a drum (community social event) we have like – we just people, we go to class here. Look, we have those kinds of stuff. Like people go to drum, uh, that’s where men and women, the boys and girls, meet. We don’t just meet at home, but we do this a lot of socialize. We play too, that’s a part of our custom.
34:09 You, know you don’t just meet the girl who is your neighbor. You have to go to drum, you have to go to events, you know. And we do that with out culture, with dancing, you know, so, kinda fun. Kind of stuff that I can’t forget, you know. And that’s where you meet girlfriends. That compared to class(?) here in America.
34:30 Or, going to school, too At that time, we don’t have no school. So we just have the name of a district. It’s like a people who don’t have any idea about education!
34:45 So we just survive. So illiterate. So we don’t know anything about education.
34:51 So I still have that sense in my mind that I miss most of my childhood. And my friends. I think of them often, and I (?) think of me everyday.
35:02 Alive or not.
35:15 Uh for me, it’s accent doesn’t mean to meet someone. It’s a speech. And people understand what you are saying. It’s hard for Americans, native Americans to understand my language.
35:29 If they ask me three times to repeat myself, I am always willing to say what I say already. And it’s hard for me to understand their accent. The accent we have is too much for you guys to understand. Because, when I was in Kenya, we, I think, most Kenyans use the British English. So that’s the thing interfere to be(?) Speaking the American dialect.
36:00 So for me, so, if someone is going to ask me to repeat yourself, I’ll be, like, you know “OK! I can do it!” It doesn’t cost me a dollar (laughter) you know. It’s a simple thing, that you can do.
36:17 So it’s tough! It’s tough for people to understand your language. And if you, in your mind, in your body, all your strength, you think that you’re speaking good English, that you know, you know, but unfortunately you don’t know that people don’t understand, for communication, especially for my accent, so it make it harder.
36:34 But it doesn’t make me not do what I am supposed to do. You know, I keep moving, you know, and life went on.
36:44 I’m learning right now from you guys.
Michael, John and Tom talk at length.
44:19 Thank you. I think the thing I went through – uh, you know, uh – a young man from Sudan is not different from a young man in America. Uh – for me, uh – I want to tell my story to people who are troubling – to young people or old. That how I survive and the United States is a land of opportunity.
And there are possibilities that you can change your life forever, and become a person, an important person for the community. If I change my life, to young people like me, who are struggling, what I went through, they will think that they can change their life…What I say to them. Because most of these young people, who are here in America, they are struggling! Like I did. Even so mine is higher.
45:14 It’s too much, what they can experience here in America.
45:16 I’ll tell you a story that will change people’s life. Someone may be thinking something bad, or something good. But when they hear my story, a guy, a young man from Sudan, who came here with nothing, and they see he is in school…So for me I have to…like John, I am blesse that I have John. He’s been with me for 12 years. He volunteers, he invests his time in me. A lot of stuff that I learned from him.
It is how can I pay it back? John, and these people? His answer, for me, is that I have to give back. Same God who would give me a living, a life here, I can go back and volunteer, that could be a part of my life, to tell my story to people. And, uh, including young people who want to listen to what I am trying to tell them. That this is a free world. You can change your life.
46:07 It doesn’t matter how bad it was. And I think my story will change many lives her in Pennsylvania, somewhere is they listen, if they hear my story.
46:19 You know, the guys came with nothing.
46:40 For me, I think, I’m the same guy today…that, when I first meet John, and, I be like – you know what? OK. I think God is with me. If not, if not ling, John would not be here with me in my life.
I think that, to answer your call (?), Thomas, um – loneliness is a disease, OK? To any particular person, including me. I’ve been lonely with the TV (chuckle), computer, and phone. It’s not good. And loneliness is a problem for me. And without John too, I’d be struggling, and maybe going to the wrong people, that I’m not supposed to stay, to interact with them. So like I say, it’s a blessing that I have John, you know, and, like, I meet you!
47:30 The two of you guys, through John. For me, it’s a blessing too, you guys.
47:32 I’ll be able to, you know, how can I say? Look – somebody listening to your story, for you guys, when you hear my life story, it’s inspiring! It’s learn from me. From my experience.
47:48 So, we are like a food chan. I know John – exactly. So I meet John – and he meets the two of you.
47:57 So, then, a food chain is like, for example, if I meet John, I meet you, and I go to the next person, it’s like a network. So food chain means when it is something bad…the whole thing can fall apart. If something good, the whole thing is going to the right place, the right direction.
48:28 Exactly, and I’m blessed to have the two of you and John here in my life.
51:00 So that inspire me. You know, uh, people say a blessing is only for one person. But that’s wrong. A blessing goes to every individual. So I’m blessed, because I’m in this country. Why should I say that I love America? Is that a problem for me? No. I love this country, where I’m supposed to be. I think, I think, someone make a phone call up there.
51:30 (laughter all around) It say: “Thomas, you are going to end up in America, you never heard about it but you will be there.” (chuckle) So that’s what’s invisible (laughter). Even so, I do hear it (laughter). So it’s not difficult for, in my view, to say: “Look – I love this country for the rest of my life, in my heart.”
51:43 I don’t have anywhere else to go, and that’s true. The US is the only free world that – there are a lot of refugees coming all over the world, to be able to change their lives, and become successful. So I think it’s not difficult to say I love this country. And it’s not the first time for anyone to be surprised why I say I love this country. (chuckle)
52:00 There’s a lot of millions of Americans. I mean people are coming from all over the world, because of this great nation.