Sitting on a long leather couch in his comfortable apartment on the Boise Bench, Lino Paul lives literally in a whole new world. With his wife Mary and new baby Nancy, the family recounts the life of fear and immense hardship in war-torn southern Sudan, and their wonderment at America – a civilization the likes of which they had never seen.
Historically, Muslim Arabs controlled northern Sudan and the capitol city of Khartoum, dominating and neglecting the non-Arab Sudanese in the south of the country. Shortly after Lino and Mary wed, the military regime in Khartoum passed a resolution mandating that education throughout the Sudan be conducted in Arabic only. Until that time, most of southern Sudan conducted classroom instruction in English; the culture at large used tribal dialects for business and social expressions.
It was not long before the northern regime began enforcing their dictates on schools in southern Sudan. This outraged students like Paul, who assumed responsibility for organizing protests against the government edict. For his actions, the government branded him a ringleader and he became a marked man. After watching northern soldiers kill thousands of students and throw their bodies into the Nile River, Paul knew he must flee.
With no other option, in 1991 Paul left his wife, grabbed a bedroll, and he and five cohorts headed from the city of Juba to the Kenya-Sudan border. Almost immediately, rebel troops with whom they allied detained the group and forced them into prison labor – which included taking ammunition to the front, washing dishes, and cooking. The soldiers suspected the group may be northern spies, Paul says, so detaining them was their safest option.
Confusing the soldiers was the fact that though the northern Sudanese consider themselves Arabs, their outward appearance differs little from the African southern Sudanese. Thus there was no way to tell if Paul or his friends were African friends or Arab foes.
After six months in the rebel camp, Paul and his friends were set “free.” This freedom, however, simply meant that they were alive – for the time being – and able to seek refuge in the safety of Kenya which lies just to Sudan’s south.
The journey had its own perils. Paul and his friends had no food or water; they ate only fruit they could pick from trees. They were in constant danger of wild animals. Traveling only at night to avoid the blistering heat and roving bands of soldiers, they arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, after a six-month journey – entirely on foot.
Arriving in Nairobi in December 1992, refugee resettlement officials moved Paul to Kakuma in southern Somalia, where tens of thousands of Somali-Bantu refugees awaited final sanctuary in host nations such as the U.S.
Paul spent 1993 and 1994 in “Camp EFO,” as he recalls the name of the camp in Kakuma. Not until December 1994 was Paul able to begin paperwork to secure his own asylum in the United States.
The Joint Voluntary Agency (JVA), a mission of the World Church Service, helped Paul begin required State Department Paperwork. Their first question: “They asked me if I knew anyone in the United States. I told them I had a friend in Nashville, Tennessee, so they said, ‘OK, you’re going to Nashville.’” And by June 1995, it was so.
Paul recalls the descent into the Nashville airport with wonderment. The government in Khartoum, Sudan largely allocated all revenues to infrastructure development in the north. The south of Sudan remains an uncomplicated, undeveloped natural plain – most people still live in huts in the brush and there is almost no electricity. Paul described arriving in Nashville: “I remember looking out of the airplane window and seeing all the lights and thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen so many lights.’” Getting off the plane brought another surprise: an outburst of environmental noise.
The local office of World Relief helped Paul find an apartment. They paid only for the first month. “Immediately when I got there, my friend took me around and helped me put in applications for jobs.” He found a job stocking shelves on the night shift for a large publishing company. He also received food stamps for one month – his only receipt of government benefits.
Paul had not had any contact with Mary since the day he escaped from Juba. He again sought help from World Relief to fill out the paperwork to bring his wife to America.
In Nashville for only six months, Paul moved to Salt Lake City, where he remained for a year, then to Boise, Idaho, arriving in January 1997. Bad news awaited. After a two-year search World Relief officials could not locate Mary, who had by this time been displaced from the city of Juba to a refugee camp. Paul was at a dead end.
In 2000, he filed another set of papers, the prior papers having expired. When World Relief finally did locate Mary, there was a new twist: she now had two boys. Since Paul had become a U.S. citizen on December 16, 2002, he now had to file a new set of papers to include asylum requests for the boys.
July 2004 brought Paul one step closer to his dream of reuniting his family when Mary finally set foot in Boise. This time her surprise was pregnancy – their daughter Nancy was a result of Paul’s trip to Kenya just a few month’s prior.
As for the boys – 9-year-old Innocent Jimi Paul, and 6-year-old Noel Paul – their fate lies in the hands of the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, where the boys live with Mary’s brother. The State Department requires DNA tests of Lino, Mary and the boys, before authorizing the boys’ resettlement here in Idaho.
Mary works days in the deli at Wal-Mart “learning to make American food,” Paul jokes. Paul works nights at Hewlett-Packard. Nearly finished with a degree in criminal justice, he dreams of law school at the University of Idaho.
In the meantime they wait, and they pray with their newfound American friends and others fortunate to have escaped from Sudan that an African peace holds, and that their long separated family is at last reunited.
Written by Chris Blanchard.