James Bior is a small man
with a big story. Rarely will you see him without a smile or his cell phone which he constantly uses.
He speaks little English but plenty of Dinka, the language of his Sudanese tribe. He is my
mother’s friend because we are all from the same town in
When were you born?
not sure. In Sudan, we do not think birthdays are important, especially in the middle of
I couldn’t help thinking how fussy I am about my
birthday. (Italicized sections are Fidela’s
What was it like
I grew up with two aunts, three sisters, four cousins and
My parents died when I was little. We lived on a farm in Bor, a
town in southern Sudan. Everyone had a daily job that had to be done. I shared one room with all the
boys in the home.
How about school?
School was very
strict. Everyone had to be on time and was expected to do very well. The teachers could beat us for
whatever reason they pleased. We wore uniforms. In fact, your father was my principal. We learned
some English, studied the Koran, spelling, Arabic and arithmetic.
always giggled when my mother said “arithmetic” instead of
“mathematics. ” I guess it’s because Sudan was colonized by
You mentioned the Koran. Aren’t
Yes, but we had to study the Koran because of the
system. It was vital in Sudan because the northerners were mostly Arab Muslims. But my family had
always practiced Christianity. The universities were up north so that was
How did war affect you and
I lost my sister and two cousins. Every day could be
your last. There is little mercy in war. Children and women were
Why do you think there is civil
I think there are many reasons. Race, religion, land, freedom and
culture seem to be the main ones. The country is very
Recently, the Sudanese government was looked
down on for supporting and practicing genocide (the systematic elimination of a people). Many
countries have gone through this ethnic cleansing. According to Time Magazine and “60
Minutes, ” millions of blacks in Sudan have been murdered during its many years of war.
Women are raped in hopes of producing half-Arab children. The race issue is intensified by the
religious one. Black Africans in Sudan are predominately Christian, which doesn’t sit well
with the Muslims.
How do you feel about the reports
of genocide in the news?
I am very saddened, but it is a reality that
is even worse than what is reported. Hopefully something will be done,
How has it been adjusting to
It was difficult, but worthwhile. Many people have welcomed
me. I cannot complain at all.
When did you arrive and what was
the most difficult thing to get used to?
[I arrived in ] December, 1999.
The language and culture are difficult, but at least there are many
James had to travel from Sudan to Ethiopia on foot.
From the refugee camp he went to Kenya, where he lived for quite a while. He waited patiently to go
to the U. S, Europe, Australia, or Canada. He was accepted to America and came to
James has faced many hardships. Even though everyone has their trials,
most pale in comparison with his. We could say that more people in this world face problems similar
to James than face problems like we do. We often don’t give enough because we worry about
what we think we should get. If you look at what we call needs in America, and compare them to those
who are less fortunate, our needs seem more like desires.
All American students
have their immunization records up-to-date but many children around the world die from common
illnesses. We have electricity and running water, and the clothes we wear cost more than it would to
supply 80 children with vitamins for a month, according to many sources. Even when Americans do not
have enough of an essential item, I am willing to bet that other families, the government or
churches are willing to help.
We celebrate Thanksgiving once a year and everyone
is thankful on that day, but we still often miss the point: we must give thanks every day for all
that we have and hope that everyone could be so lucky.
James went through so
much, he has to be more grateful for where he is today than the richest man on Earth.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.