Jen Marlowe, for the Pulitzer Center
Before leaving for Nairobi, I had spent the most time with Gabriel Bol. I had made two trips to Syracuse, piggy-backing on talks related to my previous film, Darfur Diaires that I had in Ithaca, and spent many hours in conversation with Gabriel Bol and interviewing him.
In contrast, I had spent only a day and a half with Koor in Tucson and only spoken to Garang on the phone.
So their willingness to become so open and honest when David and I did a "pre-trip" interview with them in the Precious Blood Guesthouse where we are staying in Nairobi was unexpected and highly valued.
We spoke about many things; their past experiences, their hopes, fears and expectations for what they will find in Akon, and their past three days in Nairobi.
Garang told us that the hardest part of the trip so far has been his experience at the SPLM office on our first day here. All three young men had been furious upon leaving the office. I hadn't quite understood why. Granted, we had to wait five hours for our permits when we thought we would just be picking them up. True, there was an issue with misplaced passports that turned out to have been recovered by Koor. But this felt routine to me, to be expected...after all, as I wrote in my previous post, TIA.
"That was a horrible day," Garang said during his interview. "Since the time I came to the States, that was the worst day of my life."
I tried to parce out what about the experience had been so damaging for the young men. Clearly, it was multi-layered. One layer was the feeling that they hadn't been treated with respect. After all, they were going to Sudan on a mission to help the people--they were from Sudan-and they were treated, they felt, without dignity.
But I think there may have been another layer to their response to the experience. I remember talking to Gabriel Bol months ago about the logistics of the trip.
"It may take awhile to get the permits. We should try to make contacts in advance at the office, see if somebody will help us."
"It won't be a problem," Gabriel Bol had insisted. "We can just walk in during office hours and it will be handled. It's a professional government office now."
In the end, we had gotten our permits without any real problems (and they even issued a replacement one for Gabriel Bol today--his original had been stolen/left with his cash and passport) but Gabriel's expectations reflected more, I realize now, than an Americanized notion of customer service and process and procedure. It reflected a hope in his people's fledgling government. The depth of the anger that Garang felt, I think, is connected to the acute disappointment all three men felt when they realized that their expectations for who and what the SPLM was and how the government of South Sudan functioned boiled down to their experience in the difficult-to-find house with a sinking veranda in Nairobi.
Koor didn't mention the SPLM office in his interview. He talked about his brother.
Koor discovered about a year ago that he has a little brother he had never met, born after he had had to flee his village. He learned that his brother was in Uganda, and paid to bring him to Nairobi to stay with other relatives. He was sending money each month for his brother's education.
Koor met his little thirteen year old brother for the first time two nights ago. David took photographs and I shot video of their first conversation. He spent more time with him the next night and, yesterday, when we asked him about it during his interview, he sat silently for a moment while his eyes turned red and he had to wipe them with a corner of his shirt. His brother is not happy. Koor believes he is malnourished and the money he's been sending for the boy's education hasn't been used for that purpose. Chol (the brother) asked Koor first to take him with him to Sudan, then to take him back to the US with him. Koor isn't making any promises--but he is planning on looking into all options.
Meanwhile, while the rest of us ran around trying to solve Gabriel's passport crisis and making sure the mosquito nets and medical supplies were delivered to Wilson airport and photocopying all the documenation needed for export--Koor was taking Chol around Nairobi looking for boarding schools.
"I need to take responsibility for him," Koor said, red-eyed. "I was all alone at his age, taking care of myself. I don't want him to go through that."
I had never seen Koor show emotion before. I don't think he does so easily--or often.
Jen Marlowe, for the Pulitzer Center