Still, in a country beset by poverty unimaginable in the West--more than half of Sudan's children are malnourished--the Duanys lived in relative luxury. Their home was spacious. There was always enough food. The children were healthy. "Overall we were very happy," says Julia. "We were living the life we dreamed of having."
It was late at night when three of Wal's nephews arrived nervously on his stoop, delivering news that civil war was breaking out once again between the Muslims of northern Sudan and the Christians and animists of the south. Government forces had massacred hundreds of people in a southeastern town on the Ethiopian border. The regime had recently imposed Sharia, or Islamic law. The Duanys would be targets for army thugs.
During an earlier spasm of civil war, in the 1960s, Wal had spent years in the bush of southern Sudan with a resistance group opposing the Muslim government of that time. But in the years since then his group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), had turned increasingly militaristic. The SPLM/A was suspicious of intellectuals such as Wal. What's more, his eldest son, Duany--it's a tradition among people of the Nile basin to give a son the family name for a first name--was old enough to be drafted as a child soldier, having just turned seven. "Our choices were clear," says Julia. "Go to jail, get killed or leave the country."
But leave for where? Wal didn't want the family to live in exile elsewhere in Africa. Julia's brother was a doctor in London, but when she had visited him, she had met countless Sudanese immigrants who were living on the dole, having lost the motivation to work. When Wal suggested the U.S., Julia shook her head. Unlike Wal, who had studied at Syracuse, she had never been to America. She looked at a bottle of Scotch on the shelf and shuddered, envisioning the U.S. as a land whose citizens walked around with pistols in one hand and bottles of booze in the other.
Nevertheless, Wal worked his contacts and arranged to receive a scholarship to study at a university in the obscure town of Bloomington, Ind. ("Not India, Julia," he said. " Indiana.") Concerned that the Sudanese government would not let him out of the country if he took the entire family, Wal left alone. It fell to Julia to make it to Indiana with the children. Because she was eight months pregnant with Bil, she found only one airline, KLM, that would sell her tickets. The airfare was $5,000--roughly 10 times the median annual household income in Sudan. She bought the tickets and, under the guise of a family vacation, flew with four kids under the age of eight to London. There Julia gave birth to Bil. After a few weeks she and the brood continued to Indiana, where Wal waited nervously.
The seven Duanys moved into a three-bedroom apartment at Tulip Tree, a crescent-shaped housing center for foreign students on the edge of the Indiana campus. They were in town only a few days when white flakes started falling from the sky. The kids were scared, thinking that the cold had caused some terrible structural damage and Tulip Tree was crumbling. How were they to have known what snow looked like?
In Sudan the Duanys were among the elite. In the U.S. they started much nearer the bottom. But they were together, they were safe, and they had opportunities. As Wal pursued a doctorate in public policy, often holing himself up for days in the university's massive limestone library, Julia tended to the five kids and worked at a dorm cafeteria to help pay the rent. In the morning she would join Kueth and Nok as they watched Sesame Street. It was the most time-efficient way to improve her English.
Wal, a bald, bearded man who cuts a dignified figure, is only 5'11", but Julia, in addition to being more outspoken and animated, is 6'1"--and she has numerous relatives taller than seven feet. In the third grade at University Elementary School, Duany Duany was the tallest kid in his class. It wasn't long before he was spirited to the Bloomington Boys Club and introduced to basketball.
"At his first game," Julia recalls, "I sat down and one of the other mothers said, 'You can't sit there! Your boy is on the other team!' So I moved, and then the game started and all the parents were yelling and screaming, 'Shoot it!' and 'That was traveling!' and 'Put my son in the game, Coach!' I spent that game not watching the basketball but watching all the other parents."
Wal interjects, "Soon she became the loudest one!"