Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
If I had to describe a place or environment where I am perfectly content, you might expect me to say something like under the shade of an acacia tree on a blazing summer’s day or at the school I helped build to stem the education crisis in my homeland or even at my grandmother’s house eating her delicious, traditional mokhbaza.
But that is not what I am going to say.
The place I would feel most perfectly content is: Not South Sudan. Anywhere that isn’t South Sudan where I currently live would be fine. Anywhere. I would go to the most restive part of Afghanistan. I would go to Antarctica with no coat. I would go to your country’s most poverty-stricken, racist city. Yes, even Detroit.
South Sudan is a brand new country, the newest in the world, since breaking away from Sudan. (We’re still working on a name.) And I for one wish our new nation nothing but the best. But I’m not holding my breath. Let’s be realists for a second: You know how many days it took after the armistice between Sudan and South Sudan for the two countries to exchange gunfire?
Two. Two days.
Now as much as I want to hold out hope for a whole two days next time, it might be easier if you just gave me a way of getting on a plane and getting the hell out of here. Sorry for cursing, but you have to understand, I live in South Sudan, and it is very bad to live here.
I listen to news reports on the radio—yes, we have no TV or internet—about the recent surge in gun violence plaguing America. Why not let someone study in the United States who would relish the chance to live in a country where only 50% of the population is heavily armed. As I write this, I have a 1970’s Russian-made handgun stuffed in the back of my waistband and a Chinese-made rifle leaning against the table. (My grandma is watching the door with a glock 9.) The point I’m trying to make is that I can live with one or two mass shootings per month.
Don’t think of this as me turning my back on my people. I’ll be back. Someday. Maybe. People do this all the time in the developing world. It’s called “brain drain.” They go abroad, make something of themselves and then come back—in like 40 or 50 years—when things aren’t quite as bad. Who knows, maybe when some well-meaning but naïve Western country topples our government, I can return as a puppet prime minister. The world could be my oyster in that far off future, but only if I can get into an Ivy League or other really high-grade school today. (Your government isn’t going to be too keen on giving a visa to a Muslim from a conflict region because he “just got into Ohio State.”)
Now here’s what you get out of the deal: You want diversity, right? Of course you do. It’s all over your website. So what are you gonna do, get another Chinese kid? He might be a smart, nice kid or whatever, but he will do nothing for your stats. If you let me into your school, on the brochure where you say “We have 1,000 students from 62 countries,” you could now officially say 63. Every bit counts, right?
The other thing to think about is the truly diverse perspective I could bring to your classes. I could explain to bright-eyed American students how international arms smuggling works. Or what the actual process of radicalization is. (My brother joined al Qaeda.) I could also point out where my country is on a map because I bet anything my classmates will not know. I don’t even blame them. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but South Sudan is a really, really terrible place to live.