[Note: Ayuel Leek Deng, guest writer and one of the principal characters in Courageous Journey, recently returned to the United States after his first trip to South Sudan since it became a separate country from Sudan.]
“Returning to South Sudan I had mixed feelings of happiness and sadness as I boarded a plane from Kansas City to Chicago on May 26, 2012. From there I took British Airways to London and then proceeded to Kampala where I spent the first night in my motherland. The following morning, I woke up thinking of Juba, the new capital city of South Sudan, the land on which a portion of my own blood dripped, as a child fleeing the cruelty of my own government.
“On Friday the first of June, I landed at the airport of that city with a sense of pride and guilt of growing up in foreign lands for over 22 years away from home. At the airport, those mixed feelings of happiness and sadness clouded my ability to concentrate on checkout and exit the airport without any trouble with airport personnel. In the checkout process, one of the employees who checked my passport asked me to pay $100 for an entrance visa because I was holding a US passport.
“I was shocked and remained speechless for a moment. I believe with all my heart that I have contributed more than enough for my country. I lost many of my immediate family members in the Civil War for the freedom our country, I co-authored the book titled Courageous Journey, Walking the Lost Boys’ Path from the Sudan to America to educate the world about the hidden genocide in Sudan and to pressure the international community to bring peace and stability in Sudan. I worked tirelessly during the referendum while abroad to ensure that the results and interests of our people are met. Since the only thought in my mind was for us to develop the new nation, I did not hesitate to respect the law and paid the unjust fee. However that experience makes me fear that corruption is already settling in.
“On my way from the airport to the house at Thangpiny—the name derived from the Dinka language meaning all lands are equal—I was sitting in the car back seat with all windows rolled down. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were staring at! Juba city is very crowded and at that particular time one could see the biggest gap between the poor and those who claim to be rich or upper class citizens. Some people were driving the most expensive cars that are even rare to see in the western countries.
“I did enjoy staying in that warm and peaceful new country with friendly and caring people. Juba is a diverse city where one can see all kind of people, of all races, religions and different cultural backgrounds. Within Juba there is a wide variety of facilities and entertainments. I was amazed to realize that Juba is the fastest growing city in the world. The country is developing very rapidly with unlimited opportunities for investment and cooperation. I did enjoy my trip to Juba except for the images of small children aged from 2 to 12 years old on the streets, begging and starving to death right under the eyes of corrupt leaders.
“These are not the only tragedies in my mind that’s often disturbs my thoughts as I hope for a better tomorrow in South Sudan. Regardless of all these scary challenges, I do still call it a home that I belong to.” —Ayuel Leek Deng