Sarah: Living in South Sudan was really tough. Our dad passed away before we moved out to Egypt. He got killed by rebel soldiers. That’s one of the reasons we moved. My uncle lived in the States for 10 years so when he heard that he brought us to Egypt and then we came here 2003.
Sarah: I remember a lot about South Sudan because we came when I was 9, so I have a lot more memories than the rest of my siblings. I remember mostly the war part. That just can’t get out of my memory. The soldiers would come and burn things down or take your belongings with them. I remember sleeping in grass with just one sheet or blanket with like 8 individuals underneath it while it’s raining. There’s like gunfire going over our head. I remember the soldiers beating my mom because they made her cook and she didn’t have salt for what she cooked. They were beating her with a weapon end. It was pretty traumatic, but my mom is a pretty strong woman and she made it out of there and we’re all here now, safer.
Zana: We moved a lot. First we lived in South Sudan then we moved to Egypt to escape the violence of the war where they were killing my people due to a religious fight—Muslims against Christians. I don’t really remember that time. I just hear lots of stories. I remember running around and my feet burning from the sand because it gets so hot in South Sudan. We moved from Egypt to South Dakota, from South Dakota to Omaha, Nebraska, and we lived there for 3 years. We also lived in Maine for about 6 months. My mom would get calls from family members, you know long lost cousins who would say, ‘oh you should be here. Bring your family over here. It’s a good place to live.’ Then we’d move there, experience it, not like it, then move away. So far we’ve lived in Lincoln, Nebraska for 7 years, so that must be the spot for us. It’s a very family friendly kind of place.
Sarah: Now the situation is way worse than when we left. We’ve lost a lot of family members in the last 2 years because of the conflict going on.
It’s hard. It’s easier for my siblings because they don’t know half the people that have been hurt. My mom tells us and we talk. Usually we sit around and talk about everything and see how everybody is feeling. That’s usually how we deal with all of that.
Zana: I was always insecure, especially about my height. I was always the tallest person and I actually found myself to be awkward. But I’ve gotten comfortable and I’ve grown into who I am. Now I’m flaunting myself instead of hiding away.
I live in Nebraska. There’s not that many people there. Almost everyone you say hi to says hi back. They all start little conversations with you out of nowhere.
As a black girl in Nebraska, they would always ask me questions. For example, your hair. “Your hair is so cool. Can I touch it?” I work as a home health aid in a very white facility and everybody that’s there is most likely white. I’ve seen one black person there.
Sarah: I was bullied a lot for my skin color growing up in Nebraska. I was always surrounded by a lot of friends that because they were getting bullied they started bullying each other’s complexion. That was never the route for me. At first it was tough, but then I just realized this is me, this is how I was made, and this is how I’m going to stay.
– Sarah & Zana Koung