Two of the 'Lost Boys' make a new life in Pittsburgh
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City boosters will wince at parts of Pittsburgh's supporting role in "God Grew Tired of Us," in which two of the three Sudanese refugees profiled in the award-winning film relocate to the city in 2001.Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette
Sudanese refugees Panther Bior and Daniel Pach, featured in the film "God Grew Tired of Us," now live in Castle Shannon and Whitehall, respectively.
Click photo for larger image.
A merchant notifies police that he is intimidated by the groups of Sudanese men in his store, and they are told not to shop together. A portly guy stares at the refugees as they tour a Giant Eagle, awe-struck by the abundance of food.
The men -- who fled their civil-war-torn country and their families as boys, and were raised by the thousands in Kenyan camps -- complain in the film about their difficulty meeting people here.
But two of Pittsburgh's biggest boosters remain the two men, Panther Bior and Daniel Pach, who still make the area their home and speak glowingly about the city.
"God wanted us to do something, so he brought us here to Pittsburgh. It is small city, a very sweet city ... a very excellent city," Pach, 26, of Whitehall, said in an interview last week.
"The people are so friendly. ... It is a very beautiful city, and I didn't know whether it would be such a good city, but it is nice," said Bior, 26, of Castle Shannon.
Some 2 million Sudanese died after civil war broke out in the country in 1983. Boys from the south had to flee under attacks from northern troops, walking -- without food and hunted by animals -- some 1,000 miles into Ethiopia and later Kenya.
About 12,000 of these "Lost Boys" settled in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and lived and were raised there, without their families, for a decade. (Returning to Sudan would get them killed or persecuted.)
As they reached adulthood, relief agencies -- such as the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh -- helped the men start new lives in the United States. "God Grew Tired of Us" follows three of the men over four years as they go through the resettlement process.
The changes were jarring, as they experience everyday things such as toilets, showers, electric lights and Western food for the first time. Yet Western customs may have been the hardest for the 40 Lost Boy refugees living together in Whitehall.
"When we came here five years ago, it was very hard, because here people live an individualistic life, but we have a very collective life in Africa," said Bior, who, like Pach, last saw his family in 1987.
"We are used to moving together, holding hands. It is nothing in Africa, but here when a man and man hold hands, it's totally different. ... When people looked [at us], it was new to them."
"People were kind of afraid. I don't know why. They are afraid to talk to people who are new," said Pach. "They feel afraid, or intimidated when you ask them questions.
"We have to welcome other people who are from the outside. ... It creates beautiful city, and everybody wants to come here to make Pittsburgh a better place."
The pair had another jarring journey upon going to the Hollywood premiere of the film last month and meeting Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Catherine Keener and other movie star supporters of the film. The highlight, said Pach, was looking at orange groves from actor Edward Norton's plane.
From the beginning, both of the men have focused on getting jobs and an education -- Bior is a security guard who attends Point Park University and Pach a Whole Foods grocery employee enrolled at the Community College of Allegheny County.
Bior returned to Africa to marry his wife, Nyanthiec, in June 2005 and is trying to move her here. Pach, who has not returned to his country, dreams of getting his mother to Pittsburgh.
For both, money is the main problem. Besides paying for school and sending money home, neither has much money for trips home or bringing family members here. (Bior has seen his wife for a total of 85 days since being married.)
Bior plans to fund a medical clinic in his home town, and Pach -- a natural leader who started a community called Parliament at the Kakuma camp -- speaks of the need for scholarships and assistance to help refugees.
After all the men have been through, said Patricia McCullough, executive director of Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, "their hope and faith in God was never lost, and they are constantly trying to reach back and help those left behind."
"Life is the same all over the world," Pach said. "We need connections, just like the connections that brought us over from Africa."
First Published February 8, 2007 12:00 am