BOSTON (CBS) – When Machot Lual arrived in the Boston area in 2001, he spoke almost no English. Aside from the fellow Sudanese who had survived the civil war in their homeland and moved to Boston, he knew no one here. But he was determined to succeed. Machot bought a clock radio and listened to it for hours—almost every day—to learn English. He talked to anyone who would have a conversation with him. And he asked a lot of question. He says he quickly realized that America is a land of opportunity, of abundance if you are motivated to work hard. He also smiles now when he adds, “Americans will help you if you ask for help.”
Machot attended Bunker Hill Community College and ultimately got a B.A. from Cambridge College. He works as a doorman at an upscale condo building in Downtown Crossing. He is proud of his life and says it’s a compliment when someone tells him now that he has a Boston accent. He laughs, “That’s because we talk fast here.”
He has worked hard for the life he enjoys and plans to attend UMass Lowell in the fall. But for all of Machot’s success, something is missing. His entire family is still in Africa. He talks with his parents once a month. And his six siblings, he believes, are in villages near his parents. But he has not seen his mom and dad in almost twenty years. This week, for the first time since he left the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and flew to Boston, he is finally going home. He is going to find his family.
He is excited and nervous. “How are they going to perceive me?” He wonders. “How am I going to perceive them? What are their feelings going to be?”
His overriding feeling is excitement. Machot’s been planning the trip for two years. He flies from Boston to Istanbul, Turkey. From there, he flies to Addis Ababa, Eithiopia and then on to Kenya. He will visit Kakuma and then take three buses to the part of South Sudan where his family lives. Because it is the rainy season, there is a chance roads will be washed out…in which case, the bus ride could take ten days.
Machot must worry about armed robbers and kidnappers on the roads. He is intentionally keeping a “low profile” by carrying only two bags. He is well-equipped with solar lights, flashlights, headlamps, sandals and (a necessity) a candy bar.
For 90 days, he will return to a world that feels—in every way—a lifetime from Massachusetts.
Machot fled his village during Sudan’s civil war when he was five years old. He walked, with many other refugees, for hundreds of miles into Ethiopia. They lived in a refugee camp until the Ethiopians forced them out at gunpoint. Again, the refugees walked—many of them killed either by gunmen, animals or starvation along the way—to Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. Machot lived there until a U.S./U.N. program moved him, and so many other “Lost Boys” to the United States. He arrived in Medford at the age of 18.
He and his friends gather, regularly, at the South Sudanese Community Center in Malden. Fellow “Lost Boy” and U.S. Air Force veteran, Moses Ajou confesses that he is envious of Machot’s trip home. He also believes that Machot will give members of the South Sudanese community in Massachusetts an honest account of the situation in South Sudan. The situation there can change from day to day, Moses says. “When he comes back…I think more people will be excited because right now, people worry. What is happening to my family? How is it going? Now, people are worried. But if he is there, he sees what is going on…it may calm people down a little bit and give them hope.”
Machot’s great hope is that, someday, he will be able to bring his family to Boston. “It would be a good feeling for me to see my mom, dad and siblings and go to Boston Common and take a walk together.”
First though, he will walk to them—from village to village, hours at a time, if necessary to reunite with his family and connect his two worlds. “When I close that gap, I feel my world…will be connected.”