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The Long Road From Sudan to America
Source: The New York Times Magazine
Published: April 1, 2001
By SARA CORBETT
One evening late in January, a 21-year-old named Peter Dut led his two teenage
the brightly lighted corridors of the Minneapolis airport, trying to mask his confusion. Two days
before, they had encountered their first light switch and tried their first set of stairs. An aid worker in
Nairobi had demonstrated the flush toilet to them -- also the seat belt, the shoelace, the fork. And now
they found themselves alone in Minneapolis, three bone-thin African boys confronted by a swirling
river of white faces and rolling suitcases, blinking television screens and telephones that rang,
inexplicably, from the inside of people's pockets. Here they were, uncertain of even the rug beneath
their feet, looking for this place called Gate C31.
Finally, a traveling businessman recognized their uncertainty. "Where are you flying to?" he asked
kindly, and they told him. The eldest brother, his eyes deeply bloodshot, explained the situation in
halting, bookish English. A few days ago, they had left a small mud hut in a blistering hot Kenyan
refugee camp, where after walking for hundreds of miles across Sudan they had lived as orphans for
the past nine years. They were now headed, with what Peter called "great wishes," to a new home in
the U.S.A. "Where?" the man asked when Peter Dut said the city's name. "Fargo? North Dakota? You
gotta be kidding me. It's too cold there. You'll never survive it!"
And then he laughed. Peter Dut had no idea why.
On the meantime, the temperature in Fargo had dropped to 15 below, with an
shearing off another 20 degrees. For the three Sudanese boys about to touch down on North Dakota's
snowy plains, cold was still a concept without weight. All they knew of it was what they had felt,
grasping a bottle of frozen water an aid worker handed them one day during a "cultural orientation"
session at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, a place where the temperature hovers around 100 degrees. Cold
was little more than a word, the same way "flight" had been just a word until the moment their cargo
plane lifted out of the red dust on Jan. 29, causing their stomachs to lurch as the earth below them --
the sprawl of huts and the dried riverbeds and over a thousand hungry well-wishers lining the airstrip --
tilted and fell away.
Peter Dut and his two brothers belong to an unusual group of refugees referred to by aid organizations