Mabil Duir was like any four- year-old boy. He liked to pick flowers from a field and take them to his mother.
The difference between Mabil and other students on this campus is that he had to crawl under fences in refugee camps throughout South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia, his birthplace, and wander into an unprotected war zone to pick those flowers.
“I loved my mother, but I was a rebel,” he said.
Duir spoke at this month’s International Passport Series, a monthly series aiming to spread awareness about cultural diversity on campus. Enrollment Services, Union of Students and the UAA Bookstore sponsor the event.
Duir has come a long way from crawling under fences to gather flowers. He is now 23 years old and has spent the last 18 years in this country.
But he remembers how he got here like it was yesterday.
Duir was taken from his mother’s arms by United Nations soldiers who placed him into a truck bed with his aunti, while a large group of people tried to grab a place in the truck.
He wiggled out of the truck and went back into his mother’s arms.
She placed two gold pyramid- shaped earrings into his hand and placed him back into the truck with his aunti.
“I watched her get smaller as I rested my head on the window,” said, recounting when the truck drove away. “I hated the U.N.”
The U.N. trucks took him and his family to an airport where they were flown to New York as part of asylum program run through a church. During the time Duir was living in refugee camps, South Sudan was fighting a war that began in 1983.
“Officially this was not for independence but for a united, secular, democratic Sudan,” the Guardian reported July 8, 2011.
The Guardian article stated the strife was caused by a history of British control of the Sudanese area, relinquished in 1972. However, discrimination and violence prompted the rebellion in 1983. Duir’s uncle, Yop Dit, said the war was mostly fought because of differences in religion and race. He said many people in North Sudan have lighter skin than those in the south. When the North Sudanese people began invading the south, he said they took people out of their homes and took them to work or killed them.
Duir’s father was a “big figure” preacher, soldier and all-around revolutionary figure.
He helped educate people in cities and organize others to fight against the north, becoming one of the founders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
He was killed during the war. Duir said he admires his father,but when he was growing up, he just wanted his dad.
Duir grew up in the United States with his aunti for seven years. He often asked for photos to see what his dad looked like, and his aunti told him, “When you want to see your father, just look in the mirror.”
His family traveled often from state to state looking for work.
When he was 12, Duir was placed in foster care until 2007, when he became 18 years old. He then rejoined his family, who had moved to Anchorage in 2005 and 2006.
Though Duir said he received multiple sports scholarships from different universities, he opted to rejoin his family in Anchorage because “that’s how Sudanese people are.”
“That’s where my heart was at,” he added.
Duir said his goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree from UAA in Political Science.
“My ultimate goal is to work with the Department of Defense,” he said, saying he may join the Marines or U.S. Air Force to help him achieve that goal.
However, he said, “The thought of never returning to my birth land bothers me.”
One day, he said he wants to return to South Sudan to, “free my people and hug my mother.”
But he said he feels he can only go back to South Sudan to work in a governmental context.
“I want to be a high head in the parliament,” he said. “That’s the only role I feel myself going back to Sudan for.”
“I can’t be a normal person. I was never a normal person,” he said.
Rachel Epstein, special events coordinator for the UAA Bookstore, said this is the first of what she said will be a monthly lecture by international students. She said there are tentative plans for a student from India and a student from Pakistan to speak about their homeland and culture, but no official dates have been set.The Bookstore provides free parking for the event in the South Parking Lot, located by the American Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) building, along with light refreshments and free admission.
She suggested students check the UAA master calendar online for more information about future lecturers.
Duir’s speech can be heard in its entirety via podcast. The podcast is available courtesy of the Bookstore.