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Immigration: One Thing

From Sudan to Omaha

Kara Oehler

Ann Heppermann

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Malakal Goak: My father used to be a very nice singer. He composed songs and would sing them. When I happen to be singing one of his songs, I always remember him and remember home.

Goak: You know, he was just talking about romance, about how he got my mom. And him and his friends, how they dress and their style of walking. And of course, the life he is talking about in his songs is the life I never witnessed.

Goak: I left Sudan twice. The first time, I just left Sudan to go for studies and when I finished my undergraduate, then I went back to Sudan.

Goak: Sudan has been having civil war for many years. If you want to be active and help your people, then you are subject to persecution.

Goak: I went and worked with an international relief organization. I was arrested in Khartoum in northern Sudan with war prisoners in a town in southern Sudan called Juba. The security personnel would come each day and kill one person, and then you would be asked to clean up the blood and the piece of the body that actually fell down.

Goak: You know, sometimes, there is a decision that one has to make when you see that there is no other option. And actually I escaped jail. That part of town, of Juba is very bushy; it has a lot of forest. I just told them I have to use the toilet. We were two of us. A senior officer pointed and said, "Take them just a little bit to the bush here."

Goak: This soldier stood less than three meters and before anything happened, nobody tell one another let's run, we just run. But he was yelling at us, "Stop! Stop!" They released a lot of bullets and everybody was running after us so all of a sudden, it was very unfortunate because there were some land mines. And I just heard a noise and I assumed that was my friend because I didn't see him again.

Goak: So I had to keep walking. I know I'm going toward Kenya or Uganda. That's all I was assuming. It took me about four days. That's how I end up in Kenya.

Goak: When I reached Kenya, I got involved in working with human rights activities. For that we go to south Sudan and we deliver food to the displaced persons in southern Sudan. My coming to U.S. was for a conference and I was one of the speakers to come and update them about the situation back home.

Goak: I come to Omaha on June 25, 2003.

Goak: I decided to apply for political asylum as soon as I came here. My wife and my children are in Nairobi, Kenya. When I decide to apply for political asylum they can't come here until my process are complete. I actually sing my father's song to my wife when I was in Kenya. This song is a very famous song, especially for the weddings. When girls sing it, they clap their hands and then it goes like that, and then the other woman goes and it goes to the other person in the circle.

Goak: I brought my father's songs from Sudan with me.

Goak: Sudanese they like to be together. Omaha has the largest population of Sudanese in the United States. People meet at the Sudanese center.

Kaunda Mogga: You can see the sign here, Sudanese Center of Omaha. That is where we meet always!

Goak: I come here. I come and play cards. Kaunda is the person in charge of the center.

Mogga: Let us open the door! Let us see!

Mogga: You will get a lot of people that come in here.

Goak: When we are here, we actually talk about a lot of issues.

Mogga: We are talking about children. Most of the children here they are really getting out of control. Every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, you will hear a lot of shooting. It's really scaring people sometimes. Some of them even drop out from the schools.

Goak: After I arrived to the United States, I work with the refugees and I personally formed the council of elders.

Sudanese Elder: What kind of training are you going to give to the elders? Because what they receive from you is what they would be helping the community with.

Goak: That brings all the tribes of the Sudanese here to discuss the issues of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Training Woman: Learning and understanding the laws here and how to live under those laws.

Goak: It is the responsibility our elders to go back into our community and educate our youth with the culture and the better way of living here, especially the younger ones.

Goak: There are many youth that you will find will ask you a lot of questions. Because though they are Sudanese, most of them were born in the refugee camps and in different countries. I actually believe the song teach a lot because it shows to the people that are young here the traditional way of Sudan. You know sometimes someone else will just sing it and say, "EH! I realize this song is your father's song," and I will start singing it again, you know. It makes me proud of him and at the same time, it just helps us to remember him.

More stories from our Immigration: One Thing series

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