I’m lazing in the grass of the Sculpture Park in Skokie. This is one of my favorite spots in town for a bike ride, a picnic and some serious repose. It’s a little more than 10 miles from my house, which makes it easier to justify a salty and succulent (yes, succulent) gyro from Dengeo’s, followed by some mellow grass time with a book.
I’ve been reading What is the What, by Dave Eggers, which is about the journey of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan through Africa and, eventually, to the US. The book actually brings back a lot of Las Vegas memories. Back in 2003, I had the privilege of writing about the Lost Boys for Las Vegas Life magazine. About 14 of the young men were living in Las Vegas, and, primarily, working in the casino industry.
It was an enormous adjustment for Daniel, whom the story featured. He worked by day cleaning rooms at the Venetian, and in the evenings he took college classes, determined to be a success one day and return to his country to help out.
He told stories of walking through lion-filled forests, crossing hippo-filled rivers, watching young friends and family members die, as they searched for safety from their country’s civil war. First they walked to Ethiopia. Then Kenya, where they lived for years in a refugee camp, hoping that one day, something would change.
Finally, the US offered to bring a number of the young men and women over and help them start fresh. Here, they had never seen a vacuum. Never flushed a toilet. Never heard of a microwave. But through churches and civic groups across the country, they found sponsors, teachers and jobs, and they learned an entirely new way of life.
I’ve fallen out of touch with Daniel, but I still think about him and wonder. I have no doubt he’s doing well, wherever he is. He’s one of the most determined, driven and optimistic people I’ve ever met. Considering all that he’s been through and all that he’s seen, he’s also one of the most inspiring.