Nobody's born in the forest
April 6, 2011 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Cultural differences (via) is a video created by National Geographic which documents the culture shock (no not that kind) experienced by Sudanese immigrants to the United States. Though in a country with such strife, this may come as no surprise.

Culture shock previously
Sudan previously
Manute Bol is always relevant
posted by Wyatt (33 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for this Wyatt...quite moving.

What strikes me as terribly sad is the woman in the pool toward the end of the video asking, "Do you have a lot of freedom here that you didn't have?" Is this the legacy of Republican foreign policy on the American citizenry...a deeply entrenched, one dimensional view of the contexts in which the rest of the world lives?
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 9:33 AM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm really struck by how completely shitty American food is - ugh.
posted by tristeza at 9:35 AM on April 6, 2011


There is a genre of film and literature about the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan. I've seen/read a lot and I think the best is They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky.
posted by stbalbach at 9:37 AM on April 6, 2011


What strikes me as terribly sad is when the boys are told not to go to shops in large groups. What the hell? How is that not simply kowtowing to base, mean, overt racism and xenophobia? What are the boys going to do to you, be lanky and charming at you?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:41 AM on April 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


It is cruel to drop this group of men into an alien society with what appears to me to be an inadequate support system.
posted by sswiller at 9:45 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Related: God Grew Tired of Us, a documentary film about three of the "Lost Boys of Sudan".
posted by wcfields at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there is anything similar done about the Somalians here in Finland. I don't read Finnish so perhaps I'll ask a friend, but I'm sure that the culture shock must be much worse.
posted by infini at 9:56 AM on April 6, 2011


I'm glad to see that cheap, cold brie tastes like soap to people from around the world.
posted by atrazine at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What strikes me as terribly sad is when the boys are told not to go to shops in large groups. What the hell? How is that not simply kowtowing to base, mean, overt racism and xenophobia? What are the boys going to do to you, be lanky and charming at you?

Read up a bit - its for their own good. Maybe kowtowing a bit, yes, but think it over - its probably going to save them more trouble than it would potentially make for them.

Sadly, as you do read up, you find that even on their own or in small groups these poor kids are perfect prey for the lowest of our own society, and victims of repeated abuse ranging from petty scams to outright violent assault / robbery / etc..

While these stories of relocating them to America make for good camera / book / et. al. media fodder, I find it enraging. I have good friends who work for the organizations (UNHCR, the former JVA, etc.) and I respect the work that they do, but relocating people to countries on the other side of the planet where they are completely removed from everything they've ever known makes no sense to me. Sure, it might make them more safe, give them more freedom / opportunities, what have you, but the optimal solution is helping to bring real, effective change to the places where these refugees are from in the first place.

This is what drives me mad about the UN. Its happy to spend billions on dealing with the endless refugees of the endless crises, while it remains unwilling to ever intervene effectively for fear of stepping on the toes of member states. There will always be tyrants ready to step up to keep them busy.

When you boil it down, these guys didn't want to move to Atlanta - not really, not even if they might think they did. They wanted to stay in Sudan where their friends and family remain without them now. They want peace and security and economic opportunity for their own people and country. If you could take them out of the scenario entirely and offer them those two choices, they'd take the latter every time.

Transplanting (a infinitely small fraction of) refugees is the ultimate wasteful, cost-ineffective band-aid solution to dealing with conflict nations. The problem is that nobody has the guts to deal with the alternative.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:13 AM on April 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


That was really interesting. I’ve got to watch more.
The woman in the pool was at least being friendly, if clueless.

Was it "This American Life" where the guy puts up a "Talk to an Iraqi" stand and Americans ask him questions? The same thing happened, people kept trying to get him to say that Iraq was better now and he was better off being here than in pre-war Iraq. Some Americans want so much to justify the bullshit.
posted by bongo_x at 10:16 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interesting article in the BBC today about Africans in the United States choosing (or having to) return home.
posted by infini at 10:23 AM on April 6, 2011


@atrazine - I thought that he was eating one of those wrapped pats of butter, in which case maybe the soap description is more apt
posted by Seboshin at 10:35 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really felt for these young men. I agree with allkindsoftimes that being relocated to an American city isn't what they want or need.
posted by PepperMax at 10:41 AM on April 6, 2011


I found it interesting that they complained people were not friendly and that you couldn't go talk to someone or go up to there house. I think if you transplanted a young person from very rural America to a big city they might have some of the same problems.
I think it would have been better to transplant these people to a small town of 3000 or so. Everyone in the small town would know exactly who they were within 48 hours and know they were not a threat. I think some of there problems would disappear and it would be less of a shock.
posted by sety at 10:50 AM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm glad to see that cheap, cold brie tastes like soap to people from around the world.

I think that that was the packet of butter. I can see that grossing them out all on its own.
posted by rodmandirect at 10:59 AM on April 6, 2011


*** so I see we agree, mighty Seboshin :) ***
posted by rodmandirect at 11:00 AM on April 6, 2011


allkindsoftime: I had been led to understand that the Lost Boys were largely orphaned or kidnapped children who were hugely displaced by the war in Sudan, and that only those who remained adrift without a solid base after the war were actually eligible for placement in other countries. And that organizations have been working for YEARS to reunite families with some minor success. And that more than a few of those who were brought to the US have returned to the Sudan, full of education and armed with information, to help form a better country there than the one they left.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but that's the overarching story I've been following through the media over the years.
posted by hippybear at 11:10 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


>What strikes me as terribly sad is the woman in the pool toward the end of the video asking, "Do you have a lot of freedom here that you didn't have?"

Yes, and I love how it was edited to be right after they were told they're not allowed to shop in groups. Freedom indeed.
posted by inedible at 11:23 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the background you can see several people with looks of fear and hate. I suspect Sudanese life in that very white, south town sucks.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:37 AM on April 6, 2011


Culture shock is fascinating, and it would interesting to see more stories like this on MeFi.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:37 AM on April 6, 2011


sety, I've lived in a couple of different places with refugee placement and as you might imagine there's pros and cons to both big city and small rural town.

Because of my job, I come into contact with a number of immigrants (refugees among others and Lost Boys among those) and often spend time talking with them and working through issues that I can help solve (easiest question? 'Do you have a private room [in big public space] where I can face Mecca for my prayers?' Absolutely!).

In San Diego, where I'm from, there's a huge number of refugees, regular immigrants (legal and otherwise), and Americans from other states. The old joke is that no one's a native in Southern California, which can be a blessing and a curse.

For refugees such as the Lost Boys or back when, the Vietnamese Boat People, well-rehearsed resources exist in the big city. There are some networks in place (including networks of prior refugees), some NGOs ready to work with folks (I have a friend who volunteered at one, and she mentioned that that NGO's funding came from the short period post-settlement where there's federal money to help folks get jobs and settle in), there's a lot of jobs of a variety of skill levels (and corresponding levels of English fluency), there's other immigrants who are just as lost (creating a sense one isn't alone in this), etc.

So, there's a lot to recommend big cities for resettlement. Of course, you neatly touch on some of the cons as well.

I now live in a much smaller rural town and there's a refugee resettlement program here as well. There's actually a really well organized program through [City] Area Refugee Resettlement Coalition. Thus far, there are some Sudanese refugees, along with Ethiopians, Bosnians, Iraqis, Somalis, etc.

In short, it's a very similar mix to San Diego, but it requires a lot more planning with communities to make sure that the integration (so to speak!) flows smoothly. I know there was some friction in this area when the programs first started up (it's not what you might call the most diverse area), but there's been a lot of positive benefits and I think people see that now. Slowly, there's been growth in the number of accommodations (restaurants, cultural festivities, interpreters in language of need) in response to the needs of these refugees and others.

There's not that huge network of support that I see in San Diego (with the corresponding huge number of people falling through that net) but the organizations really work hard to follow through and over the long-term see resettlement happen or a return to home country if that's desired. There's fewer jobs open to refugees, less chance of home food (and trust me, that's a thing), fewer people going through the same battles, and (potentially) more people who are provincial in mindset and racist in action.

Still, it seems that resettlement in a smaller, more rural area does provide some benefit and ease the transition (to some extent: I don't think they have massive grain elevators in rural Sudan!). As I mentioned above, both rural and city have their pluses and minuses.

How immigrants settle in (or not) to the United States is a long-term concern of mine. The video had some very poignant moments and some very funny ones ('Nobody's born in the forest!' indeed) and thanks, Wyatt, for posting it.
posted by librarylis at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


wcfileds et al: That clip in the first link is actually just one segment of the film "God Grew Tired of Us." There are three other segments from that film to view on that NatGeo page as well. It is a good starting point if you want to learn about the Lost Boys and a bit about Sudan.

hippybear: The story arc as you describe it is basically accurate, but there are some caveats as well. And you're correct about many of the Lost Boys (LBs) finding ways to turn their tragedy and new found opportunities into something powerful and helpful for those back in Sudan (and neighboring countries) who never were able to immigrate. That, in fact, is the pith of the story line in the movie "God Grew Tired of Us." One of the three LBs featured in that film, John Dau, founded and runs an eponymous NGO that does great work in Sudan.

allkindsoftime: You raise some good points and I respect your up-close perspective: LBs (and other immigrants) do wind up being easy targets in their new communities; about UN programs could be a lot better, etc. However the idea that the LBs didn't want to come to the US (or any of the other locations they went to), or that, had they known what they were getting into, they would not have opted to immigrate, does not bear out. I have many LB friends here in Chicago and work closely with several of them in an NGO that they founded (similar to the John Dau Foundation mentioned above.) Of all of the many LBs that I have met, they are universally glad for the opportunity to be here, and feel morally compelled to squeeze as much benefit out of being here (education, jobs, etc) as possible so that they can utilize this new prosperity to benefit their home country. The guys I work with have started with the goal of building schools in Sudan in a program designed to involve, equip and empower Sudanese on the ground to get out of the aid-welfare mentality. There are, of course, LBs who have been so traumatized by what they went through that they have not adjusted well, and now feel at home neither in Sudan or in their new countries. But in my experience that seems to be a pretty small percentage so far.

I have heard some pretty hilarious "culture shock" stories from these guys as well. My favorite is how my friend Duot was terribly shocked and disgusted to learn that American's eat dogs! When he later found out that "hot dogs" are not actually made from dogs, he was quite relieved.

Another thing that I'd like to point out about the culture shocks that these guys have gone through is that on the one had it winds up making them feel either not at home in either country, or very at home in either country. In the former cases, these guys seem to be the ones who decide just to try and settle in the US, and not return to Sudan (for short or long term trips.) In the latter case, the guys tend to become very mature leaders in their communities.

Anyway, I for one, am glad to see more about Sudan and the LBs in the Blue. Thanks for posting Wyatt.
posted by metacurious at 12:56 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had one of the "Lost Boys" as a student last year. He was one of the nicest high school students I ever met. Helpful, polite, friendly. He was also a bit reserved. We were in an English Language Learners class. I was going through irregular plurals, and "goose" and "geese" set my Somali girls into giggling fits. I tried to sort it out, but they wouldn't explain, so I let it go. At the end of the class, it was my Lost Boy who had the guts to explain what was so funny -- that "goose" is apparently "penis" in Somali. He didn't speak Somali himself, of course; he just figured out what was going on by himself.

I typically want to see life turn out well for my students, but I've never had one I wished that for more than him. Some people are given every reason in life to become horrible people and simply choose to be something better instead. He's proof.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:07 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree with allkindsoftimes that being relocated to an American city isn't what they want or need.

Can't comment on "need", but in terms of "want", it's a demonstrable they certainly did want to come to the USA, to a person. It was voluntary, only a very small group were selected for the honor, they were seen as leaders and ambassadors for the 99% left behind in the camps. They were sent to cities and rural areas and had the freedom to move anywhere they wanted. They had local community support (from white Americans) and some of them have done better then the average natural-born American, in terms of career. Some others have not done as well. Some have stayed in the USA, others have gone back to Sudan.
posted by stbalbach at 1:18 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


These guys speak really good English. And not just their grammar or pronunciation, their eloquence.
posted by GuyZero at 1:53 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What strikes me as terribly sad is when the boys are told not to go to shops in large groups. What the hell? How is that not simply kowtowing to base, mean, overt racism and xenophobia? What are the boys going to do to you, be lanky and charming at you?

Yes I think it is kowtowing to racism and xenophobia. Like telling women not to walk alone after dark in certain neighborhoods, not to accept a drink except straight from the bartender, and to not be drunk without friends, etc, is kowtowing to sexism.

I agree that this is a particular kind of freedom.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:02 PM on April 6, 2011


It's not really the same at all. Walking alone in certain neighbourhoods, drinking a drink from a stranger, and being drunk around people you don't trust all carry clear risks. What is the risk to a group of sudanese people shopping together? That some racist dickhead will call the police?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:27 PM on April 6, 2011


Great post!
In my opinion, it's good for everyone to meet different cultures and environments. These boys are strong and intelligent, and they will grow wiser from their experience. The little giggling girls at the pool will grow up to be wiser women. And of course they can look towards a future that is better than their past. But there is no doubt every single element in these boys' lives even now is much, much harder than anything most western youths will ever experience.
posted by mumimor at 4:55 PM on April 6, 2011


What is the risk to a group of sudanese people shopping together? That some racist dickhead will call the police?

Yes. Seems like a pretty legit risk to me.
posted by GuyZero at 5:46 PM on April 6, 2011


I saw Valentino Achak Deng (one of the Sudanese refugees who inspired Dave Eggers' book What is the What) speak at the public library a few years ago. He told of arriving in America during a midwestern winter. As they looked out the window of the plane they began to panic thinking they'd been tricked into coming to a wasteland. No one had properly explained snow.

I love these documentaries. I think it's because most people I know (myself included) are research nuts. We try to find out everything we can before going anywhere or doing anything. Watching people's surprise at the unknown and genuine efforts at just winging it really warms my heart for some reason.
posted by troublewithwolves at 8:55 PM on April 6, 2011


Yes. Seems like a pretty legit risk to me.

...And then the police tell the racist dickhead to stop wasting their time?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:34 PM on April 6, 2011


...And then the police tell the racist dickhead to stop wasting their time?

Well, that's a nice theory, isn't it?

The way I've seen something similar play out (it was a group of native-born Hispanic Americans, not Sudanese refugees) was that the entire group is immediately suspected of running one of those group shoplifting scams, where the number of people together and the way they move through the store is designed to keep attention on one set of people as decoys for the other set. This was done without any evidence against the group; they just made the mistake of Shopping While Non-White.

The store was stormed by 4 or 6 policemen (I can't remember which) who played some kind of game of round-up on the 5 or so hispanics who were shopping together, and then they were taken outside, put in the classic "hands against the wall" position, VERY roughly searched, had EVERY item in their pockets questioned, had all of their IDs run through the computer, and THEN (despite all being US citizens) were made to wait under police guard until La Migra arrived to run all their information through THEIR system.

In all, simply because these guys went into a Walgreens together to grab a few snacks for a roadtrip, they ended up with about 90 minutes of unfounded public humiliation. Nobody was ever arrested. Nobody had done anything wrong. But they were a "pack" of brown people who walked through the door together, and therefore were immediately suspect.
posted by hippybear at 6:44 AM on April 7, 2011


I really enjoyed this documentary because most major cities see this pattern of migration. IIRC, Calgary is the second largest destination for new Canadians.


Sadly, as you do read up, you find that even on their own or in small groups these poor kids are perfect prey for the lowest of our own society, and victims of repeated abuse ranging from petty scams to outright violent assault / robbery / etc..


When I was a youth mentor, one of the program people told me how at-risk immigrant youth are. It was just something that would never dawn on me, despite having an immigrant parent, and most of the public I'm sure. What she told me was that African youth are often sent to Canada to live with aunts and uncles. But the relatives don't really care or feel much obligation towards the young people, so they often get caught up with gangs and crime.

It's easy to see where new Canadians aren't integrating with society very well. Often times when I encounter new Canadians at menial jobs, my heart breaks. One just knows that back in their home country, they were doctors, lawyers or respected members of their community, but now they're mopping floors or making fast food :/ I always get the impression that the clerk at the local Taco Del Mar had a pretty nice life back in Pakistan, and that any dreams she might have had about living in Canada aren't matching up with reality.
posted by Calzephyr at 7:51 AM on April 8, 2011


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