What the Lost Boys of Sudan Found in America

David Weddle last wrote for the magazine about the lasting emotional damage to veterans of World War II.

Alepho Deng missed the 10:52 p.m. bus. He sighed and sat down on the damp bench. The storefronts of east San Diego's Euclid Street were shrouded in winter fog. A Mexican ballad played from somewhere. He shivered and pulled up the hood of his black parka.

Two Latinos wandered out of a Mexican cafe and headed toward him on wobbly legs. They whispered, then their laughter echoed across the deserted street.

Alepho knew the next bus would come in 13 minutes, putting him downtown in time to catch the 11:30 trolley to Mission Valley. He could still make his midnight shift. As the two Latinos began to pass, Alepho noticed the odd curve of the short one's mouth--halfway between a grimace and a smile. He wondered if he should say hello.

BAM! The air crackled with tiny webs of lightning, and his head jerked forward. The asphalt rushed up, smacked his mouth and broke a front tooth. He started to stand, but someone kicked him in the stomach and he fell again. Alepho knew he had to get up quickly or soon he wouldn't be able to. He scrambled to his feet and wheeled on his attackers. There were three. Alepho's jacket hood had obscured the one who had sneaked up behind and hit him.

"What do you want?" he asked.

Without answering, they came at him. Fending off the blows, he asked again, "What have I done?"

They kept hitting him, saying nothing. He had seen hatred in eyes like theirs many times, but not here in his new country. He rose to his full 6-foot height, his thick chest and arm muscles tight. He hit one man in the jaw. He crumpled and didn't get up. The small one threw a beer bottle. Alepho ducked it. Then the small one pulled a knife. Alepho turned and ran.

He kept running, a half mile down Euclid to the two-bedroom apartment he shared with his brother, Benson, and three other young men also newly arrived from Sudan. Alepho burst through the door. Benson saw blood running from his nose and mouth.

"Some guys beat me up," Alepho gasped. He sat down on the couch for a moment, then fell to the floor, hugging his stomach.

"Which guys?" Benson asked. "Where?"

"At the bus stop."

Benson remembered what he had been told months earlier, shortly before arriving in the United States. In this country, you can rely on the law. He dialed the police. An officer promised help would arrive in 15 minutes.

An hour later, Benson and Alepho were still waiting. Finally, they gave up and tried to sleep. But Alepho could not. He lay awake, mind racing. "I thought when I first go to America I could leave behind all the memories of the terrible problems that happened in Africa," he recalls months after the Feb. 6, 2002 attack. "But when they beat me up, all of the memories came back, and I realized they are still in my blood. It can't go away, even though I grow old, I can still remember them."

Those memories were of Sudan and Kenya, of a village set afire by Islamic raiders 12 years ago; of the last time he saw his mother, his infant brother in her arms, as she yelled at him to run; of crashing through the tangled undergrowth, others fleeing around him; of boys, not yet 10, being shot or stabbed or dying of disease; of a lion pouncing on a boy who had been sleeping beside him one night and his dying screams as he was dragged into the darkness.

Alepho and Benson were the collateral damage of Sudan's bitter civil war between the Islamic government of the north and the Christian/animist Dinka and Nuer tribes of the south. The war has yielded more than 2 million dead, so far. The boys and 17,000 others, some as young as 5, were driven from their homes in 1987, when government troops, planes and tanks burned their villages to the ground. Most of their fathers were murdered, their mothers and sisters sold into slavery. The fleeing boys formed a sprawling column that made its way across 1,000 miles of forbidding terrain, staying first in Ethiopia, then being driven back to Sudan and finally finding sanctuary in Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp. More than 7,000 died along the way.

In 2001, with the help of the United States government and such refugee relief agencies as the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Charities and the Alliance for African Assistance, Alepho, Benson and nearly 3,600 other "Lost Boys" of Sudan were airlifted out and resettled in cities across the United States. Their arrival drew a flurry of public interest, much of it tinged with national pride at U.S. benevolence and with expectations that the Lost Boys were certain to enjoy better lives. As the media spotlight faded, however, so did prospects for understanding the truth about their American experience, which only time can provide.

It has now been 18 months since Alepho, Benson and their cousins, Lino Yier Diing and Benjamin Ajak, all now in their early 20s, came to the United States. They were among some 100 Lost Boys sent to San Diego, to America, that place they'd heard of for years--a dazzling Land of Oz where no one ever went hungry or cold, machines did all the work, everybody was rich, and people lived in harmony.

Benson was 7 years old, Alepho 5. Only two years' difference, but in Dinka culture, Benson was old enough to help tend the family's cattle, which is how Benson happened to be sleeping at his uncle's house in a different village from his parents' home when a huge explosion woke him. Muslim raiders had swept out of the night. The day his parents had warned him about had arrived. Government troops were methodically destroying the homes, livestock and stockpiles of food. A few of the Dinka men fought back with spears, but they were quickly cut down.

Benson's parents had told him to run into the forest if the soldiers came. He did, along with about 25 others, fleeing through the night and eventually joining with hundreds of refugees on a months-long journey to the Ethiopian border. His life and those of his brother and cousins over the next 16 years is a hodgepodge of memories and impressions. Their recollections, from a series of interviews, provide a narrative of their African experience.

As Benson fled toward Ethiopia, he wore only lice-infested underpants; his bare feet were always sore. "I used to sit alone and I don't want to talk to anybody, because I am alone," Benson recalls. "Where is my mother? Where is my father? Where am I going? Am I going to die here by myself?"

He lived in an Ethiopian refugee camp for three years, subsisting on meager handouts from relief agencies. Boys at the camp formed their own support network, sitting around the fire at night, groups of youngsters 5, 8, 10 years old, imitating the tribal gatherings of their villages. "When one of us made a mistake, the others helped him see his mistake," Benjamin says. "We became our own parents."

Then civil war erupted in Ethiopia, and in 1991 government troops forced the Lost Boys back across the treacherous Gilo River to Sudan. More than 2,000 died during the crossing. Some were shot, some drowned. "Many were eaten by crocodiles," Benson recalls. Another series of refugee camps followed, some administered by the Sudan People's Liberation Army--Dinka rebels who were only marginally better than the Muslims. Benson, Benjamin and others were forced into army training camps.

Fly bites transmitted parasitic worms to Benson's bloodstream and they quickly spread through his body, causing large cysts on his arms and legs and a painful inflammation of the eyes known as "river blindness." Camp doctors lanced his eyes without anesthetics, relieving the symptoms but not curing the disease. After suffering for five years, Benson took a couple of tablets of diethylcarbamazine citrate--common dog worm medicine--and rid himself of the parasites.

Eventually, he connected with cousins Benjamin and Lino, and in 1992 the three of them made their way to the town of Kidepo, in southern Sudan near the Kenyan border. There, Benson found a half-brother, Yier Deng. Though food was in short supply, conditions were much better. "One day, about two weeks after I arrived, we were in the hut singing hymns when my half-brother came to the door and said, 'Come on out and see if you can recognize this little boy.' "

Benson and the others stepped into the sunlight and blinked at four thin, dusty boys. One seemed vaguely familiar, the one with stringy muscles and intelligent but melancholy eyes. Then he smiled, and Benson noticed a familiar gap in his front teeth. "I asked him his name," Benson says. "He told me 'Alepho,' and then we knew. We threw our arms around each other and cried."

Alepho said the family had spent months looking for Benson, but finally had given him up for dead. Three years later, Muslim troops attacked the family's village and Alepho fled into the forest without looking back. Eventually, after moving among refugee camps at the southern tip of Sudan, he too made his way to Kidepo to find Yier Deng.

Soon after the boys' reunion, the Muslims attacked Kidepo, and the Deng brothers and their cousins fled to Kenya, where they spent the next nine years in the massive refugee camp of Kakuma. They later learned that their father was dead. They heard rumors that they've never been able to verify that their mother and youngest brother were still alive somewhere in Sudan.

As the 100 lost boys arrived in San Diego in 2001, each was assigned to one of three charitable organizations to help with their adjustment. For the first 90 days, the U.S. government agreed to pay rent for apartments they shared and issue them food stamps and bus passes. During that period, rescue committee workers would instruct them on everything from language to American customs and social manners to office skills and applying for work. After three months, they were to be self-supporting.

"We thought it was going to be chaos when they got here," says Brianna Higgins, a job developer for the International Rescue Committee, which was assigned 37 of the young men, including Benson, Alepho, Lino and Benjamin. "These men never had any parents. They're all going to get into drugs. They're going to be wild; it's going to be 'Lord of the Flies!' "

But then the first of the Lost Boys arrived. They were polite, cordial and smiled easily. "Everyone who meets them falls in love with them right away," says Higgins. "They're honest, they're clean, they're upstanding, dedicated and very, very caring about everybody. They've been able to maintain this purity and innocence that glows. It's a strong testament to the human spirit."

The staff was also surprised by their English skills and their level of education. After nine years in Kakuma schools, most were highly skilled in mathematics, well-versed in science and spoke three or four languages.

Higgins recalls coaching the boys on using the telephone. "I would sit at a desk across the room and give them my extension number. Then I left them alone. They'd stare at the phone. They'd push the buttons without picking up the receiver. I'd say, 'No, you have to pick that up.' Then they'd hold the receiver at arm's length and hold it so long before they dialed that it started buzzing. It made you realize how complicated a telephone is. I had to explain every facet: dial tone, busy signal, how you can't push the buttons down too long, and so on."

Clearly, the Lost Boys were lost, which is how Judy Bernstein came into the lives of Benson, Alepho, Lino and Benjamin. Bernstein is a vivacious 50-year-old blond. She and her husband, a surgeon, and their 13-year-old son live in Rancho Santa Fe, one of the wealthiest white-bread communities in the United States. Bernstein says she volunteered for the work expecting to live out a Big Sister commercial--taking the boys to the zoo, to theme parks, laughing as they flew kites on the beach.

On their first afternoon together, she took them to Wal-Mart for clothes. They gaped at the endless rows of textiles and gadgets, including some that looked like futuristic handguns. "Those are hair dryers," Bernstein explained. Benson couldn't wrap his mind around it. Why would you buy a machine to dry your hair? It dries on its own.

They came upon a 10-foot-high display of Slim-Fast bars. "What is that?" Benson asked. "You eat those to get thin," an embarrassed Bernstein explained. Benson's brow wrinkled. "Many Americans eat too much and get fat," she continued. "Well, once they get fat, they eat these to get thin again."

And the money we spend to get thin, she thought, could probably feed all of Sudan.

Later, she took them to the supermarket, its bins overflowing with produce, cases filled with marbled meat, shelves laden with baked goods. "They couldn't believe it," Bernstein says. "They asked, 'You mean, you just take the food and put it in your cart? How many?' I said, 'As many as you want.' "

She also took them to the zoo. The young men looked at various African species, nodded and said matter of factly: "I've eaten that."

In her diary, she recorded a visit to McDonald's:

Alepho: "We think Americans are beautiful people."

Bernstein: "Really? Why do you think they are beautiful?"

Alepho: "They look nice."

Bernstein: "I think many Americans are too fat. It's not healthy."

Alepho: "I want to be fat!"

Bernstein: "You won't live long."

Lino held up his arm, pointed to his well-defined bicep and forearm and said: "You see the muscles."

Bernstein: "Americans like to see the muscles."

Lino shook his head. "Look ugly."

Then the Big Sister bubble burst. One of Bernstein's girlfriends had season tickets to the San Diego Padres and gave her seats to a game. Bernstein and her girlfriend always sat next to a retired gentleman and his wife. "He always talked to us throughout the games," Bernstein says. "He was a fountain of baseball trivia and very warm and friendly.

"When I took Benson, Alepho and Lino to the game, I was excited to introduce him to the guys." But when she showed up with the three black youths, the man stared out at the ball field in frigid silence. "He never said anything to me the entire game," Bernstein says. "It shut me down pretty quickly."

On the drive home, she began to recall how when walking with them on the street, hands tightened around purses, body language stiffened, and wary glances were cast their way. The game "was a turning point," she says. "I said to myself, 'This isn't going to just be outings to baseball games and theme parks. I'm going to help these guys get jobs and do whatever else they need to do to get on their feet.' The guy at the ballpark didn't do or say anything, but that's the subtle form of prejudice that my guys would encounter when they went out to find a job. And they wouldn't even know it."

"Filling out job applications, you and I think it's simple, but it's not," says Higgins, the job developer. "Last name first." But the boys would ask, "'Why if it's my last name does it go first?' "

Among the Dinka, it's considered terribly impolite to boast about yourself. Yet in a job interview, employers are looking for people who express confidence. Higgins and others taught the young men to enthuse about their strengths, to smile and maintain eye contact--also considered rude by the Dinka.

"I got a couple of guys jobs at Fat Burger in Pacific Beach," Higgins says. "They thought it was rude to speak loudly. At Fat Burger, when somebody orders a burger, the order taker is supposed to yell out: 'Fat Burger with Swiss cheese, onion and ketchup!' But the guys wouldn't do it. They'd murmur it and the chef wouldn't hear them. People's orders weren't coming out. So we had yelling lessons one day out on the balcony of the office. I made them yell out: 'Fat Burger with chili!' "

Bernstein vowed to not only find jobs for her charges, but good ones with health insurance and flexible hours so that they could attend classes, pass the high school equivalency test and go to college. She hit the phones and the streets, making her pitch to countless employers. After many rejections, she called a Ralphs supermarket in Mission Valley. When Bernstein asked if they needed any box boys, manager Bob Sullivan said, "Yes, the holidays are coming up."

"OK," Bernstein replied. "I've got these guys. Let me tell you about them." Sullivan had seen a television segment on the Lost Boys, was intrigued, and told her to bring some of them in for an interview. In she went with Benson, Alepho and two others.

"We had quite an interview," Sullivan recalls. "They told me their stories and what they'd like to accomplish. They had good English; they were all extremely polite, very friendly, respectful. That sort of person works really well in this business--somebody that can show a customer that they care."

Ralphs hired all four--giving them union jobs with health benefits and flexible hours. But in the beginning, the work was no walk in the park. "We had a class for three hours," Alepho explains. "The lady was explaining things, but I didn't understand what she was talking about because she was saying stuff that I never heard before."

When it came time for him to take his place at the end of the checkout stand, Alepho picked up the items from the conveyer belt and placed them in the shopping basket, just as he had seen the customers do in the store. The cashier turned beet red. "You're supposed to put them in bags!" There are two kinds of bags, she explained, plastic and paper. You have to ask which kind they want.

Alepho shook his head. In America there was no such thing as just one kind of anything. If someone wanted soap, you couldn't have just one kind on a shelf; you had to have 50 kinds, a whole aisle full. What's more, baggers had to separate the meat from the ice cream, the soft goods from the hard. Alepho sighs at the memory. "It's a very complicated job."

Benson, Alepho and Benjamin divided their time equally between work and their studies. The Deng brothers began to talk about what they would study in college. Alepho wanted a degree in biology or literature; Benson wanted to study computer science or drawing. Like most Lost Boys, they dreamed of one day returning to Sudan and using their skills to help their people.

Before long, most of San Diego's Lost Boys had jobs. But Sept. 11 changed that for many who worked in tourism-related industries. They were laid off or had their hours cut back to one or two days a week. By then, Bernstein had become an unofficial mentor to three other Lost Boys who shared a two-bedroom apartment with Alepho and Benson. One of those roommates, Jacob Majak, "was walking the streets every day, looking for work and getting nothing but rejections," she recalls. "Half of the businesses didn't even want to give him an application." (He eventually found work at Ralphs, passed the GED and was one of the first Lost Boys to begin higher education, at San Diego City College.)

Others were less fortunate. Even though they lived five or more to the apartment, they weren't making enough money to survive. Above all, they feared becoming homeless--like the people all around them on the streets of east San Diego, the ragged and hollow-eyed who shuffled behind junk-filled shopping carts and slept in doorways. One Lost Boy "said to me that it would be better to be dead than to be homeless in America," Higgins says. To these new Americans, being homeless was about more than poverty. It was about the soul of their adopted culture. "In their country, if someone can't take care of themselves, if they're too sick or mentally impaired, the people in the village look after them," Bernstein says. "Nobody is ever homeless."

"The Lost Boys had been fed a lot of disinformation about the United States at Kakuma," says Galwak Deng, executive director of Africa Corps, a San Diego agency that helps refugees overcome cultural, social and economic barriers. Deng, also a Sudanese refugee, immigrated to America in 1999. "In Kakuma, people told them they would be given everything they needed in America. They did not explain that in America you have to work, that there is no forgiveness in the American system. I try to explain to them that America's a tough place."

Tougher than Sudan? "In Sudan, even in the urban areas, everything was conducted on a personal basis," he continues. "You knew your landlord and had a social relationship with him. If you couldn't pay your rent one month, you told him and he would say, 'All right, pay me next month.' If they are going to throw you out of your house in Sudan, a policeman shows up and it's personal, because you know him. If you don't obey, he might beat you up; he might shoot you. But the enemy is right there in front of you. He has a face.

"In America, the law has no face. It's a piece of paper. If you don't pay your rent, a piece of paper shows up on your door. The notice says that you must move out in so many days. When the cop comes to move you out, he's very polite. He calls you 'Sir.' He tells you to have a nice day, and that he's just doing his job. If you go before a judge, the judge has nothing personal against you. The law is the law. You didn't pay your rent. You must move out. Nothing is personal in America."

The day after Alepho was attacked at the bus stop, Benson found a note from police taped to the apartment door. It said if they wanted to report the incident, they could call the station. Instead, they called Bernstein. She rushed Alepho to a dentist for a root canal and a splint for the broken tooth. It turned out to be the least of the damage.

Before the beating, she says, Alepho had been focused on classes to help him pass the GED. Afterward, he began sleeping 12 to 14 hours a day. He stopped going to class. Bernstein got him back to school two weeks later, but his depression lingered for a few months, and his impressions of his new country changed permanently. Other Lost Boys had similar transformations. Their neighborhoods in east San Diego are home to many of the city's 86 street gangs, and a half-dozen Lost Boys were assaulted or threatened with violence during their first year.

The worst occurred when eight members of the Van Dyke street gang viciously battered Madhel Manyuon and Gabriel Majok. Madhel was sent to the hospital in critical condition after being knocked unconscious by a blow from a wine bottle. Gabriel is blind in one eye from a childhood bout with measles and is now ill with hepatitis B. He was knocked to the ground and kicked "until they finally got tired of kicking me and went away." A number of neighbors watched the beating impassively. Somebody called the police, but they didn't arrive for 20 minutes, even though a station was three blocks away.

Gabriel recovered, but he needs a liver transplant because of severe damage from the hepatitis. Two months ago, the rescue committee succeeded in placing him on a transplant list at UC San Diego Medical Center, though there is no way of knowing if it will ever come. State disability payments currently cover his living expenses. But he remains underweight and weak.

Day after day, he sits in the two-bedroom apartment he shares with three other Lost Boys, hoping to get strong enough to resume his education. His sightless left eye is covered by a film. A pair of red shorts and a blue body shirt hang limply over his skeletal frame. All he can think about is getting well, he says. He sees his peers acquiring jobs, going to school, moving into the great confluence of American life--and leaving him behind. "Nobody is sick in America," he says. He knows this because as he watches TV day after day, the screen is filled with voluptuous, clear-skinned, lustrously maned people. "They all go to work. And I am here, the only sick person in America."

His manner is listless, but his conversation is punctuated by an occasional Lost Boy smile--a beaming crescent of white teeth, a sudden spurt of good humor and optimism. On the particle board coffee table is a study guide for the high school equivalency test. He opens it from time to time and tries to summon the concentration to study. He insists that he will get stronger, pass that test and go to college.

The truth is, Majok will never starve, for even if all government support dries up, his fellow Lost Boys will take care of him, just as they cared for each other in Africa. Whenever one of their number is in need, the Sudanese youths pass a hat and collect whatever is necessary to bail their brother out.

But the hard fact is that in the United States, Social Darwinism is still the operating principle. "As time goes by, we will have some Lost Boys who will be very successful, and we will have some people who will remain on the lower economic level, and we will have some people who will be frustrated," says Bol Biong Bol, executive director of the Sudanese Community Assn., a San Diego-based organization that helps refugees assimilate in America.

As 2002 wound down, nearly all of the 100 Lost Boys were working again, 10 were in college and another 10 are expected to enter college in the spring.

Bernstein says her experience gave her a new appreciation for how difficult it is for newcomers to get ahead. It takes immigrants a long time to understand the opportunities in the United States and how to achieve them, "but before many of them can, they get so engulfed in the problems of just surviving here, trying to make ends meet at $6.75 an hour. Even now, those who are living in decent places, many of them are still driving or riding the bus for an hour and a half to go to work in a factory. They come home so exhausted they go right to sleep. So many of them never attempt to go to college. It's given me a much more visceral understanding of how it is to try to survive on the bottom rung and to try to pull yourself up from there."

One morning Bernstein received an e-mail from Benson. It began, "Dear Mama--" Bernstein stared at the screen, unable to get past those two words written by a young man who had not seen his own mother since he was 7. "You have taught me like your own son to discover this world," he later wrote. Benson continues to call her Judy when they see each other, but in the e-mails, it's always Mama.

The word spread quickly through San Diego's African refugee community last spring. A Hollywood casting director was coming to the Alliance for African Assistance to hold auditions for "Master and Commander," a movie starring Russell Crowe and directed by Peter Weir. It was to be a swashbuckler set on a 19th century English naval ship, and Weir wanted to include Africans in the sailing crew.

Benjamin joined the line of hopefuls. "I decided I need to be a movie star," he explains. Weir loved Benjamin's audition and soon Benjamin was on his way to join 50 American actors in Rosarito, Mexico, where the film would be shot.

Alepho also auditioned. "The people I work with at Ralphs were so happy when they hear I got the part," Alepho says. "I realized to Americans this is something very exciting. To me it was a way to make money. But my boss say all Americans want to be movie stars."

Bernstein had mixed feelings. She worried how five months among a company of hard-partying American actors in wide-open Rosarito would affect the two young Sudanese, particularly Alepho. Benjamin is a highly social extrovert; Alepho is a deep thinker, voracious reader and sensitive writer, shy and prone to bouts of depression.

She also knew how the desire for celebrity, however remote the prospects, can toy with priorities, as it has with Buay Tang, a refugee who saw his parents killed in Sudan. Tang, who arrived in the U.S. before the Lost Boys, has worked hard to earn high academic marks as a premed student at Point Loma Nazarene University. His mission in life, however, is shifting. He now wants to be an actor.

On the other hand, Alepho and Benjamin could make more money to save for college. Besides, the experience would force them to leave their Sudanese social circle and mingle with Americans. So Bernstein drove Alepho to Rosarito to join his cousin, who at that point had been rehearsing for two weeks.

On the car ride south, Alepho asks, "What does it mean when someone says you are 'hot?' "

"It means you are handsome," Bernstein says. "Why?"

"One of the girls at Ralphs. She call me hot."

"Oh," Bernstein laughs. "She's telling you you're sexy."

Alepho broods for a moment. "I think it means something else."

He's confused, as many Lost Boys are as they try to decode the language of dating and its bewildering contradictions. "They have a hard time figuring out the social codes," says one person who works closely with the refugees. "How do you know someone's your girlfriend and not just your friend? They don't know how to flirt in a western way." Or, as Benson once explained: "The girls can talk about sex, but if you talk to a girl about sex, they get angry."

Some Lost Boys have dates, but none in Bernstein's orbit have formed a serious relationship. "There are a lot of girls who are very pretty," Benson says, "but we hear that if you make them pregnant, you must take care of the child for 18 years. You have to do something good with your life before you can think of getting married."

In the car, Bernstein continues trying to make Alepho understand. Finally, he concedes the remark may have been a compliment. Shortly afterward, they pull into the unpaved parking lot of the Hotel Corona Plaza, where he will be staying. Alepho's fourth-floor room has two queen beds and a panoramic view of the beach. It's a palace compared to his San Diego apartment, and it will be his alone for the next five months.

Benjamin explodes into the room in a neon yellow body shirt, black pants, steel-framed mirrored sunglasses, and a blue scarf tied over his head. "How ya doin', buddy?" he crows. They embrace. Benjamin takes off his shades. "These are my movie star glasses. Try them on."

Alepho does, grinning. He pulls the glasses up, rests them on his forehead and smiles broadly as Benjamin tells them about working on the movie. They've been taking a replica 19th century ship out to sea every day to practice raising and lowering the sails and climbing the rigging. Then he casually mentions he met Russell Crowe.

"What's he like?" Bernstein asks excitedly.

Benjamin shrugs. "He's OK."

Suddenly, a carnal moan reverberates from the adjoining room, followed by a strange animal cry. A young man with a wild mane of tangled red hair and a beard bounds through the door wearing a T-shirt emblazoned HMS Enterprise. "That was me," he cackles. Several other male actors pile into the room, which soon takes on the aura of a frat party.

"You want to go down to the bar and play pool?" someone asks Benjamin.

"Yeah!" Benjamin grins.

The bar is a long rectangular room with a tile floor and large glass doors that open onto a pool deck, where the sunbathers include two young ladies in thong bikinis. Alepho, ever shy, still wears the sunglasses. He borrows Bernstein's video camera and begins recording the scene. The thonged women saunter in from the deck. They smile and wave at Benjamin and call out, "Hi, how are you?"

They enter Alepho's viewfinder. "Wow!" He sidles up to Bernstein and whispers, "Are they crazy?"

The two women move on to dance to music pulsating through the bar. "I've never seen that before," Benjamin says. "Ladies who stand naked in front of you. I don't really like it. It's not my culture. I like nice girls who wear maybe a T-shirt and shorts." He can't take his eyes off of them.

Someone produces a football. Benjamin and a few others move out to the deck and start tossing it around. The air is redolent of chlorine, suntan oil and tequila. The music kicks into a heavy percussion. Benjamin dances, knees bending, body bobbing.

Alepho begins to relax. He hands the camera to Bernstein then steps out to the deck. His knees begin to bend to the beat. He decides to join in tossing the football, which he has never played. The ball comes his way. He lunges, but it falls to the concrete. He chases it but his sunglasses fall off. They're hopelessly bent, so he sets them aside.

The ball comes to him again. He catches it and rifles it back.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday January 18, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 12 inches; 431 words Type of Material: Correction Sudanese refugees -- In the Jan. 5 Magazine article "What the 'Lost Boys' of Sudan Found in America," it was incorrectly stated that one of the Sudanese refugees, Buay Tang, will be shifting from premed studies to a career in acting. He is continuing with his premed studies while also pursuing an acting career. For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday February 02, 2003 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 6 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction In "What the 'Lost Boys' of Sudan Found in America" (Jan. 5), it was incorrectly stated that one of the Sudanese refugees, Buay Tang, will be shifting from premed studies to a career in acting. He is continuing with his premed studies while also pursuing an acting career.
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