Oklahoma Contemporary

Station 6

Station 6 audio

Millions of Congolese, Sudanese, and Somali refugees flee with their families to vastly over-crowded camps, living in makeshift fabric tents stretched over fragile wood frames.

Narration transcripts

Sang Rem (English)
Thank you for having me today; my name is Sang. I came to the U.S. as a refugee. I have five siblings, and I’m from Burma. I came from Burma to Malaysia in 2007, because my father was in Malaysia for seven years already. So my mom and my siblings went to Malaysia, crossing the border when I was 14 years old. We were in Malaysia, after seven years apart, with my father. And then we were in Malaysia in the apartment that my father rented from his boss. A few months later we were running out of soap; it was around 7 p.m. I was begging my older sister that we could go get some soap. And we walked out of our apartment, and there was [an operation] going on, and we got arrested. They sent us to this camp, where they put people before sending them to jail or sending them home. We were there for a month. They sent us back to the Thailand border, to go back to Burma. But we can’t go home because we don’t have home; we don’t have family there anymore – immediate family. So there were brokers on the border that can send people back to Malaysia. They make a deal with my father to give them a specific amount of money so that we can be back. So they agreed on that, and we walk again, we cross the border again. In a different way – so that time we walk a lot, we run, hide in the jungle at night…we cannot make any sounds, we can’t wear shoes. But we make it safely to Malaysia again and met with our parents and family again.

Not too long after that, the U.N. process—the United Nations Refugee process—went a bit faster. We went to the UNHCR office many times to apply for work. A lot of interviews and a lot of cultural orientation before we came here. A few months later we all get to resettle in the U.S.

Kian Looper (English)
I grew up in Blackwell, Oklahoma, which is right next to Tonkawa. Tonkawa has two things in it: a reservation and a college that nobody wants to go to. I myself am not Tonkawa; I'm Seminole and Choctaw and Cherokee. And there is a weird, kind of underlying feeling of displacement when you’re on tribal lands, or so close to tribal lands, but they’re not your own.

Both sets of my grandparents were sent to what are known as residential schools. And because of this, there’s such a big blank when it comes to so many parts of our culture. We keep a lot of things alive, but it is much harder to keep things alive when they are taught out of you as you are brought up in these schools. There is a strange disconnect, because while we make babies moccasins, and we eat frybread and deer for every family gathering, trying to talk to an elder in my family about ancestors or the soul wound…it’s difficult. It’s strange. It’s almost as if these teachings have locked them in a cage. And if it doesn’t fit in this cage that was built by colonial ideas of what should be, it’s seen as strange or sacrilegious. Obviously I can’t make statements for every Indigenous person out there, but it’s a fire that’s been burning in us a long time, that’s only been fanned.

Laura Rice (English)
I was born Cecilia Carmen Hernandez. I’ve never used that name in my life. It was on my birth certificate and that’s about it. The rest of my birth certificate has been blanked out and blocked out. I do believe I was bought in about 1975 in El Salvador, and a nice middle-class family came to El Salvador and…wasn’t really involved in the World Neighbors, even though they said I went through that. The lady with World Neighbors took me home, and I never got in the system. So there’s not very much information about me, there’s no way to piece it together through World Neighbors. I think it was kind of just a deal, that middle-class Caucasian families did in America in the 70s. They were waiting on children from Vietnam, waiting on children from places that were riddled with war, and El Salvador, San Salvador, was one of those. The Indigenous people there were absolutely slaughtered in the 70s by the military and government. So I was brought to America around six months, and that was the end of my story in El Salvador.

I went back once to visit and try to find some pieces of information, but there wasn’t much. And most everybody was killed. If you were young and male, you were killed on the streets. If you were a female and young, you were usually raped and murdered. And parents along the way.

The people I stayed with in El Salvador in my 20s lived on the side of the mountain. And at the time my boyfriend’s mother taught me how to make pupusas, soy milk from scratch, those little things. She had a pottery disc platter, and she cooked outside on a fire, and just kept that going all day. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I was there, or if I would have survived that time. But I think in my head of making food outside, cooking outside, cooking on those big pottery discs.

When I visited in my 20s, I was like a giant there. I didn’t look like anybody else in San Salvador. Everybody was really light-skinned, and it was a sea of people who were like 5-feet tall. So I didn’t fit in at all until we travelled to the outskirts of San Salvador – the pottery towns, the weaving towns, the smaller towns – that I finally found people that looked like me. Like Nahua, Mayan, Pipil descendants. I think I quickly put together then that I didn’t think I was born in San Salvador; I didn’t look like anybody in San Salvador. I looked like the Indigenous people in the mountains that had fled for safety

Sandra Konda (English)
My name is Sandra. I was born in Egypt; my family is from Sudan. We came to United States in 2005, when I was quite a little kid and a baby. Life was very hard for us. Parents didn’t know English, we lived in apartments, Catholic Charities welcomed us as well. We also had the Spero Project that came maybe two years after. Spero Project really had helped us as an organization, that I work for as of right now. Coming to the U.S. was really a struggle for us. As they always say, “Home is home.” Leaving home was the probably hardest moment for us. Coming into a new country, and developing into a new lifestyle, was very challenging. Because in the United States, you know, there’s laws and there’s many rules that we have to follow. Back home there’s not that many rules that we have to go through. So just coming in here and learning all these ways, learning how there’s helpful doctors and helpful people around us. Back home you go to the doctor, maybe you can get help or maybe you can’t get help, maybe you don’t know if you are going to live another day or you’re going to die another day. Life was just a disaster for us, but coming through the U.N. in 2006, it was just a blessing for us. We applied through an organization, and we had this paperwork. As we came here my mom had my two brothers. They were both born in the United States, so they don’t really know a lot about back home. But we took them back home in 2016, and they got to see how Sudan really was.

Dido (English and Swahili, translated)
My name is Dido...I was born in...Congo.

[translated from Swahili] I was living in Congo Uvira Sud [south] Kivu, when the armies from DRC Goma, Burundi, and Uganda came to Congo in Sud Kivu and started fighting.

[translated from Swahili] It was at this time that they were taking young men to help them carry the guns and their things to the forest. One day, my friend and I were walking in the street. They took us to help them carry things to the forest. It was bad luck this day because a group of May May and armies from Rwanda were together fighting, and one of my friends who was in front of me was shot and killed. I took the chance and ran into the forest and hid. In the evening, I went home and told my parents how I had been caught and my parents cried. They thought I had died but I told them I was lucky, I didn’t die. But my friend who they took with me, he died.

So I jump in the forest. Now we are still there, five, eight hours. I’m thinking about how my friend has died. So when I go to my house, I see that my family is crying. I lost my boy, so now I tell them my friend has died in the forest.

[translated from Swahili] From that day I no longer saw peace. That is why I decided to leave my country. There was no safety. That is how I decided to flee to a foreign country. That is how I came to be in America. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen my family until now. And that’s the problem in my life—when I am remembering, like I am now, I start to cry.

Edith (Swahili, translated)
I chose you to be mine. Ahhhhh
My man, father of my children. Ahhhhh
To be in love with you is grace. Ahhhhh
To marry you is a blessing Ahhhhh
My love living Ahhhhh
Oh baby I love you Ahhhhh
For you, I change my ways
Baby for you
I left my singlehood
So we can build something together
And have children with you
And raise them with you together
And then I must be old with you.
My heart chose you.
Thank you so much

Mwangaza Babingwa (English)
I was talking about my struggle, and how I moved from Congo, and where I found shelter. It was one morning when we were doing the normal things we do. My mother preparing herself to go to work, me preparing myself to go to school. We were in class with my fellow students, and my teacher was teaching us the normal things, and then we heard gunshots in the air. Then we were like, “What’s going on outside?” The teacher said, “Run for your lives, save your lives, go…”

When we went outside we saw some parents running, coming to school, picking up their children, and running. Then I looked, I saw my father, my mother, my big sister, and my two other siblings coming for me to school, and then we ran together. I ask my mom, “What’s going on?” My mother said, “Don’t ask too much. War has started.” I asked, “Where are we going?” She said “We don’t even know where we are going, but let us just run and save our lives.”

While we were running we saw some group of people also running, so we followed them. And while we were following them, we were running together, some were very badly injured. But we will not care about that, because we are all trying to save our lives.

So we were all running together until when we reached Kenya, and there life was difficult because we had to start over. The good thing was that the U.N. gave us some place to stay. It was a tent. At least there, there was no war, we were protected, we didn’t feel no fear because the U.N. was there to protect us. They were giving us food, everything was there.

We stayed there for eight years.

I lived there for eight years, and there were churches there, there were schools there. There were Sunday schools. I saw some other children my age, and I really felt good. I felt like back home; I remembered back home we were going to churches, singing, there was school and everything. I felt home again.

Now I feel like I’m home again. Because I live here in Buffalo, and there’s schools, everything, I feel like I have peace of mind. I know that no war will come, no one will come to attack me, people here are nice and good. I live in a single house with my husband – I’m already married – and two children. I stay home with the children, but my husband works. He works at Buffalo Wires, and yes, I feel good.

Sandra Konda (English)
People back in Sudan have never seen a type of disaster that is happening as of right now. I have many, many family back in Sudan, people that are leaving Sudan to go into Egypt or go into a village. Sudan is one beautiful place, and the war that is happening as of right now is in Khartoum, which is the big city of Sudan. The army is just destroying everything in Sudan, destroying all the unique places. I have family that are always sending me videos and showing me exactly what’s going on. Just hearing on the news is not enough, from what I am hearing from family members. Showing me videos, missiles that are arriving in their houses.

Sudan doesn’t really have how a house is built in the United States. They have houses where it’s built where the roof is still open; they still have sand all over the floor. Whenever rain comes you must search out in the streets in order for you to grab sand, so that you can pile your house up with sand so that the rain doesn’t flood everywhere. Whenever they have bombing, missiles just arrive right on top of their houses. People can just be sitting at their house, and a missile can go in the air and arrive right at somebody’s house due to the roof. People just live day by day; there’s not really a lot of jobs. There’s many kids out there and people that are still holding their faith in God, hoping that one day they can go back to regular life.

And Sudan is horrifying for all the people back in the U.S.A. Just hearing it from the other family members and not being able to go back and at least help. They’ve blocked the internet for them so we can’t really see as much things, but getting information from a real family member telling us that it’s been four months we haven’t been eating, four months we haven’t been going outside, four months we haven’t been able to even breathe in air or even look outside or see how the world is. So much smoke they’re breathing in. It’s just so much bad things that is happening, and they just hope for another day, every day.

Lisa Karrer and Sandra Konda (Sudanese Arabic and English)
[singing in Sudanese Arabic] [It] means, “I’m so happy.” And it means, I am so happy—you’re happy just to live life every day.

Audio narrators:

Sang Rem, originally from Burma, speaking English. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Kian Looper; Seminole, Choctaw, Cherokee; speaking English. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Laura Rice, originally from El Salvador, speaking English. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Sandra Konda, originally from Sudan, speaking English and Sudanese Arabic. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Dido, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking Swahili. Recorded in Buffalo, New York.

Edith, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking Swahili and English. Recorded in Buffalo, New York.

Mwangaza Babingwa, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking English. Recorded in Buffalo, New York.

Lisa Karrer, American, singing duet in Sudanese Arabic. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Video figures:

Sang Rem
Clara and JJ
Gerald Ramsey
Janae Leonard
Watimbwa Babingwa
Laura Rice
Kian Looper
Aqueira Oshun
Sam and Samuel Konda


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