Back home in Indiana a certain willful blindness took hold of the Duany children. Growing up, they knew their father was trying to bring peace to Sudan, but they didn't want to know the specifics or to dwell on the danger he might be in. "We knew he was a politician, but it was very abstract," says Kueth. "I think knowing less meant worrying less." After her first year of medical school Nyagon spent two months in Kenya doing AIDS lab research. When she arrived in Africa, she got a better sense of what her father had been doing half a world away all those years. "He was this prominent figure, with soldiers protecting him and people coming up to me saying how dependent they were on him," she says. "He was under unbelievable stress."
Even as Julia went for months raising the five kids by herself, she opened their home to Lost Boys who had come from Sudan--some of them members of her family, others not. Ger Duany, a cousin, lived with the family for a year and graduated from Bloomington North with Kueth in 1998.
Four years earlier Julia and Wal had started South Sudanese Friends International (SSFI), a nonprofit foundation aimed at "advocating reconciliation and mutual understanding" among Sudanese ethnic groups and fostering "peacemaking and self-reliance." Under the auspices of SSFI, Julia returns to Africa on humanitarian visits several times a year. She distributes nonprescription medicine and teaches women in the bush about self-sufficiency. She feels that she is doing something to help, but she despairs when she sees her extended family in danger, her country and culture in chaos.
Both Wal and Julia have a hard time divorcing the fate of their children from the fate of millions of Sudanese their age who haven't been as fortunate. The scholarships and advanced degrees and trips to the Final Four? To the Duanys those aren't unusual achievements so much as the normal fruits of opportunity. Their kids, they maintain, aren't necessarily extraordinary; they simply show what children with a structured upbringing can achieve. "You see kids starving, with no schooling, no development, no future, and then you come back to a well-constructed society and it's hard," says Wal, who resigned as SSLA chairman last fall but still advises the group. "We often ask ourselves, How long can Sudan stay behind? How long can kids grow up with no hope for the future?"
It's a double-edged sword familiar to immigrant families. The parents want nothing more than for their kids to assimilate, to cultivate a sense of place and identity in their new country. At the same time, they lament that their sons and daughters are losing their heritage. Wal and Julia were happy when their kids brought home new friends, new slang, new fashions. They were thrilled by how easily the children fit in at school and picked up a new sport. Julia's voice still catches when she recalls the day a decade ago when Nyagon was crowned Bloomington North's homecoming queen. And everyone got a kick when Ger, the former Lost Boy and current University of Bridgeport ( Conn.) student, was chosen at an open casting call to play the small but key role of Jude Law's doorman in the movie I * Huckabees. "Only in America," Wal says, shaking his head.
Still, there was something unsettling to the elder Duanys about their children's Americanization. When each of her five kids went through the rite of passage of getting a driver's license at 16, Julia remembered that at the same age Sudanese boys are initiated into manhood in a ceremony involving spears and lion skins. Wal sometimes did a mental calculation when his kids demanded the latest trendy products: Those Nikes cost $135, which would feed a Sudanese family for a year. Duany and Nyagon lost their ability to speak Nu'er, the mother tongue of many south Sudanese. Dashikis and traditional African attire lost out to baggy jeans and leather jackets. While Wal quickly notes that this doesn't compare to death or displacement, he asserts that his kids' Sudanese heritage was a casualty of their nation's civil war. "They've lost their native language and their culture," he says. "Not that American culture is not good, but they're supposed to have roots in their own country. Because of war they don't."
In Bil's case the cultural assimilation is particularly pronounced. Just as Duany Duany endured countless jokes about his unusual name--"Duany Duany for for three three!" the hairsprays on SportsCenter used to crack--Bil is used to seeing his name misspelled Bill and inured to explaining that, no, it's not short for William. "It means a white spot on a black bull," he told a group of high school teammates last season, earning untold grief from all the Kyles and Joshes and Terences. Meanwhile yahoos at visiting gyms chanted, "U-S-A! U-S-A!" when Bil drew a foul.
The irony was, of course, rich. Bil may look nothing like his peers, but the youngest Duany kid is not just from the Midwest, he's of the Midwest. His adjustment to college in sleepy Charleston--where the radio station provides hourly updates on soybean prices and the biggest store in town is called Rural King--involved no adjustment at all. His new classmates are a lot like his old classmates. The diner near campus serves his favorite breakfast, two biscuits set adrift in a sea of thick gravy. Like most Midwestern kids, Bil speaks lovingly of his car, a black Rodeo that, he frets, is rusting in his parents' driveway while he's away at school. He has sacrificed hours upon end at the altar of PlayStation 2, he loves the NBA, he wears a large diamond in each ear, and he is distrustful of big cities. "I'd travel for AAU and even then I'd get homesick for Indiana," Bil says. "I'm real comfortable here."
Bright, self-possessed and handsome, Bil has charm to burn. "He's one of those kids who warms up the entire room when he smiles," says Eastern Illinois coach Rick Samuels. "He's unbelievable at making friends--male and female." Africa is almost as foreign to him as it is to any other teenager in the Midwest.
Duany Duany wants to work with a basketball agent to harvest talent in Sudan. Kueth, Nyagon and Nok all speak thoughtfully about the Sudanese crisis, expressing guarded optimism about a recent truce in the civil war and explaining the cultural differences between the western tribes in Darfur and southern tribes. Ask Bil about the Sudanese conflict, though, and his small eyes dart around nervously, as if to say, Can we get back to talking about video games and basketball? Unlike his siblings, who were born in Sudan, he doesn't understand a word of Nu'er. "Bil is American, not African," says Julia with a trace of sadness. "He knows about cars but not about cows."