A farmer sits in his combine bringing in the season’s harvest. He has a small piece of land with corn, soybeans, milo, and okra.
In the midst of his work, he watches waves of brown clad militia infantry touting AK-47s appear in his tree line. They are not official government troops with mismatched uniforms and ragged jeeps; in fact, they are worse — the soldiers tasked with doing the government’s dirtiest work.
The farmer vaults from his combine and begins a fevered sprint to his home. These men will kill him if he meets their vision. If they reach his wife, they will rape and enslave her.
The farmer has darker skin than his countrymen wading through his fields determined on destruction. He is Catholic and they are Muslim. These are the divides between north and south in his country, why his country has been in a constant state of civil war since the 1970s.
However, it is not these reasons why the farmer runs for his life. This is a systematic destruction. Terrorism inflicted on millions of people.
This was the reality for Alfred Ring. He had done nothing wrong. He was never part of any of the three southern rebel groups that had formed. He just happened to live in southern Sudan in 1992.
Ring and his wife, Adhol, fled from the village of Tannyok. It was the only home he had ever known — he was born there, he was married there, he was successful there. The couple were lucky; they escaped with their lives. They watched as unarmed people they had known their whole lives were cut down on the dirt-path streets with machine-gun fire.
They ran and then walked miles upon miles across the southeastern border of the country into Kenya. They joined a nation of refugees, about 2 million people, who left Sudan and landed in a camp. All Ring had known was rural living; he was at home with wide open spaces. The camp was row after row of tents crammed on top of one another. Food and water were always scarce. Life was a series of orders — Ring was told when to eat, when to sleep.
“Freedom or fighting, you don’t know which is which,” Alfred said of circumstances. “I think, ‘Why did it happen to me?’ all the time.”
The Rings lived in this camp for eight years. Their son Awak was conceived and born there.
In 2000, they were released and went to live in Nairobi, Kenya. They lived paycheck to paycheck as Alfred worked as a carpenter in the sprawling city. Adhol gave birth to twin daughters, Achas and Azuk, in Kenya. If Alfred has a choice, they will never see their ancestral homeland.
By 2005, Alfred had saved up enough money to afford the $1,050 flight from Nairobi to Kansas City. He would go to live with his cousin in Overland Park. Like so many before him, Alfred Ring came to America in search of a better life, not for himself but for his family.
Things did not get easier in the United States. Alfred has had three jobs in Kansas City. He attended a community college while working his first job, but the school work was difficult. Alfred had not graduated from high school in Sudan.
“I’m worried a lot,” Alfred said. “My wife is there alone.”
When Alfred was laid off in 2009, he briefly went back to Nairobi. His cousin, an Arabic-speaking lawyer, had already gone back to Africa. He eventually went back to Overland Park to use the visa he had fought to earn.
After a few months of living with the financial help of Catholic Charities, Alfred got a job at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. He has been there almost a year working as a custodian. It is a steady job. He sends $600 a month to Adhol in Nairobi to pay for rent, school, and food. He sends $300 to his parents back home in Sudan. Another chunk of money goes to Brad Pace, who is an immigration lawyer. Alfred does not have much money left to pay his rent.
It has been a tiresome process trying to bring his family to the United States. Pace explained that the Rings are the type of people that elicit warning radar for homeland security. Alfred does not have a birth certificate or his exact age. The fact that Alfred has not seen his wife in three years is not a good sign for the government. Alfred has gone through a mountain of paperwork. He has provided DNA samples for testing with his children.
“He’s really demonstrated a commitment to his wife and family,” Pace said.
Pace thinks the best course of action for the Rings is for Adhol to come over first and for the children to stay with grandparents in Kenya. He does not know when this scenario may be possible.
The Rings have survived. They could have died when they’re village was attacked. They could have starved in the refugee camp.
Alfred is tired of just surviving. It is this reason he enrolled in Centre Virtual School program this past year. He dreams of being a lawyer.
He wants to get a high school diploma so he can get a better job.
Through everything, Alfred is still working more than 40 hours a week — his job at Shawnee Mission plus a part time food service job plus the schooling on his days off — to provide for his family.