From Horror to Heroes

For these Sudanese refugees, just surviving makes them real comic-book supermen

Daniel Deng is playing a big role in the project, too, now that he's involved. He's the latest Sudanese refugee to be swept up in the project. He met Disco in August at the Lost Boys of Sudan National Reunion Conference in Phoenix, striking up a conversation while they rode the elevator together. Disco promised to get Deng a copy of the book. He gave him a job instead.

Two days after Deng returned home to Denver, he was the new technical adviser for Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan, as well as Disco's liaison to the national organization for the lost boys that was formed at the conference. Deng should serve well in both posts. He is an extremely well-spoken and passionate advocate for his people. And though he doesn't know his own age--which is not rare among these boys--he is encyclopedic in his knowledge of Sudan's civil war and the people it forced out of their homes.

But he is not like the others. He became a lost boy not when the war broke out but when he arrived in the United States on November 15, 2000. Until then, he had been living and traveling with his entire family--his parents, brother, two sisters, his brother-in-law and his nephew. He was with his family in Bor when the war began near there on May 16, 1983. They left for Ethiopia in 1989, the third and last group to make the trip to Itang.

Gabriel Akol, one of Sudan's "lost boys," whose flight from civil war in Africa is captured in a new comic book
Mark Graham
Gabriel Akol, one of Sudan's "lost boys," whose flight from civil war in Africa is captured in a new comic book
Michael Ngor saw his brother murdered by soldiers before he fled for Ethiopia.
Mark Graham
Michael Ngor saw his brother murdered by soldiers before he fled for Ethiopia.

Deng's family may have been among the last to leave Sudan, but they were among the first in Kenya. When the Kakuma refugee camp was established in July 1992, they were there. They were still together, and they stayed together until Deng was allowed to leave with the lost boys.

"Everybody assume that now that you are part of the lost boys, they would assume that, you know, you have no parents," Deng explains. "But as far as Kakuma lost boys, one in every 100 lost boy or lost girl had parent, either one or both. So I happened to be one of those. When I actually talked to the State Department, I reported to them that, you know what, unlike many other boys here, I have parents, and they're with me. Can I take them with me? And they're like, 'No, Daniel, you go ahead, and then give us the name of your parents, and we will handle this as a separate case.'"

His parents and his brothers and sisters weren't allowed to leave. Their refugee resettlement interview was conducted in Arabic, a language they do not speak. Then they failed their INS interview. The file on them was closed. There was nothing Deng could do. His trip to America had turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy: He was a lost boy.

He was in Denver, depressed, for three years. Then he approached the U.N.'s Association for Conflict Resolution, pleading his case one last time. It worked. His family was taken to Nairobi, and their case was presented again, this time to the Canadian High Commission. His sisters, as well as his brother-in-law and nephew, moved to Canada last year. After a delay because of his father's health, his parents and brother arrived there on September 14. Deng won't be able to see them until sometime next year, but at least he knows they are safe, and not far away.

He has something to keep him busy until he reunites with his parents north of the border: helping to tell the story of the lost boys to as many people as he can, because he's one of them now. And since he is somewhat of a Sudanese scholar, he knows this is the best way to tell it.

"Many books have been written about the lost boys, but you see, not everybody is reading them," Deng says. "I have not even read them, because it is too much. But when it has pictures, a little bit of pictures, a little bit of words, it tells the perfect story. Easy for everybody--kids or adults. This book is like seeing it still alive, like watching it on a big-screen TV. With these pictures, the kids and young adults would always connect with it, just like a cartoon, you know? And they will always understand the story and will always put themselves into it."

It's not easy being an American. Not if you've spent most of your life in a refugee camp, and the rest of it watching cattle in a field outside your village. The lost boys' journey to Dallas wasn't like moving from, say, France to the United States. More like stepping out of a Bible story into the 21st century. What we see as convenience, the newly arrived lost boys only saw as confusing.

"Can you imagine going from no television to cable TV and people with cell phones and computers?" Disco-Shearer asks. "And understanding the bureaucracy here, that you can't jaywalk across the street here? Several of them got jaywalking tickets. Or you can't drive a car without a drivers license? We went through that. And then certain cultural nuances, like they like to put their arms around each other when they walk, and guys would make bad comments to them."

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