Jake: On April 7th, Julie and I sat down with Apajok and asked her some questions about her life in Sudan and the United States. Julie and I had been meeting with Apajok nearly every Thursday since February 17th. As we continued to spend time with and tutor Apajok, we gained a new sense of closeness with her and personal appreciation for the struggles in Sudan. Apajok and her family stand out as a testament to both Sudanese and humanity’s potential for change and perseverance. The interview was written down and later transcribed into this document.
Q: I understand you grew up in Khartoum. Will you tell us about that, along some familial details?
Apajok: I was born in Khartoum, yes, and attended an Islamic school, studying the Koran because I wanted to. My friends were all from Northern Sudan, but my family comes from the South. My father was first Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Finance, and then he owned a bookstore. There are three of us sisters, and our names are Yar, Achol-- and me, Apajok.
Q: Tell us about your school in Khartoum, please.
A: I was a good student, and I was kind of like a singer and cheerleader. I would sing for government officials and important people when they visited my school. I loved to sing. It was funny, but when the United Nations visited the school we were taught to sing “Down, down, USA.” I did not know what the song meant, but we were taught to sing it in English. Sometimes the Northern Sudanese students would bully us [the Southern Sudanese students] because we were from the South and considered less important.
Q: What parts of the Sudanese civil war do you remember and feel comfortable talking about? What do you think about the relationship between the North and South?
A: I was in the North, so the war did not affect my daily life, but my father’s home village was destroyed, and many of my relatives were killed. Living in the North, however, meant we were protected. The war is fought for a number of reasons, but it was all in all very political. Soldiers were hired to kill brothers, and family. All in all, the war came from external forces and money. But one thing I have realized is that money does not equal happiness.
Q: How did you meet your husband, and what processes did you have to undergo to get to the United States?
A: I was good friends with one of his cousins, and he set us up on a kind of blind date. The cousin exchanged numbers and pictures between us and acted as our matchmaker. When we first started talking on the phone, we talked a great deal about our families. As time went on, our calls became more frequent, and soon we were talking to each other five times a day. We dated for two years before we got married. When it was time to go to the United States, it was a very long process. They said it would take about six months, but it ended taking up about nine months before I could go over to see him.
Q: What was it like adjusting to the United States? What was the biggest difference?
A: It was difficult because I am so far away from my family. Everything in America is based on technology, so that was quite an adjustment. Many people talk about how hard life is in America, but I think that if you work hard and follow your heart, you can find whatever you are looking for. I have lots of friends here in America; I don’t really talk to my old friends in Sudan much anymore. Friendship is everywhere here. Also, I love the food. One of my favorite American treats is banana pudding. It’s so delicious I could eat it every day!
Q: Finally, will you state your thoughts on the referendum and the future going forward for North and South Sudan?
A: It’s a big change, but ultimately I think it is a very positive. It is a great step to not be under sharia law anymore. There is much to be done; they need to build more schools, hospitals, and roads. Many of my friends are trying to help, and a lot of the Lost Boys have gone back to build schools and help their home villages. I’m happy about the change, but nervous about what the future might bring. I’ve really liked being here with you all. I’ve learned a lot. Thanks.
Julie: Working with Apajok was an eye-opening experience. It was interesting to learn the perspective of a person of Dinka heritage who grew up in Northern Sudan. All of the time spent with Apajok was filled with smiles, laughter, and learning. This project made the subject matter of the class come alive for me and gave me a new perspective of international relations and the role of the United States in these interactions. It was a wonderful opportunity, and I hope to remain in touch with Apajok.