Paul Deng Kur is from South Sudan, but now lives in Minnesota. He is an author and holds two advanced degrees, but neither are relevant to his current occupation, driving for Lyft and Uber. Although the coronavirus pandemic has hurt the ride share industry, he isn’t scared of COVID-19. He grew up with a different threshold of fear.
“I am scared of two things: lions and snakes,” says Kur.
That’s because Kur was one of countless Lost Boys who endured treacherous nights in the Sudanese jungle, a bloody civil war, and the displacement of his family. KFAI’s Britt Aamodt spoke with Kur about his journey to the US, the power of stories, and the day a suicidal passenger slid into his backseat. Listen:
There’ s something about two strangers cut off from the world in a moving car that invites intimacy. As a ride share driver, Paul Deng Kur had heard hundreds of stories.
One particular passenger had a weight to get off his chest.
After George Floyd was killed by a white police officer at the end of May, a wave a vandalism swept into Minneapolis. This passenger’s business had been among those destroyed.
“He told me he wanted to take his life. He feel like loser,” said Kur.
After the two arrived at their destination, Kur shut off his driver app and put the car in park.
“Just to talk to him. We talked nearly two hours.”
The passenger shared his hopelessness around losing his business and Kur shared his own story of loss.
“I have seen so many people die… I tell him I am Lost Boy. Many don’t know what Lost Boy is,” said Kur.
Kur became a Lost Boy in 1987, four years into the Second Sudanese Civil War when Sudan’s government bombed Kur’s village in the south, believing it was supplying the rebels with food and protection.
Kur escaped the bombing only because he, like many South Sudanese boys, was in the pasture looking after livestock. And like most of those boys, when he returned to the smoking ruin that had been his home, he couldn’t find his family. They were gone. Fled somewhere. Or dead.
This happened village after village, leaving behind numberless young boys and some girls with no homes or families. They were told to walk east to a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
Suddenly there was a line of Lost Boys and Girls, miles long, all marching east on foot. Kur was five years old.
After spending time in refugee camps and later as a soldier, Kur, then nineteen, and nearly 4,000 Lost Boys got an offer that was hard to turn down: a ticket to America, which despite its divisions, was at least not embroiled in armed civil war.
Kur ended up in Pittsburgh, where he pursued college, eventually earning advanced degrees in the fields of education and leadership. It was difficult to relive the memories, but he sat down at a keyboard and, little by little, began to tell the story of his life as a Lost Boy.
“I deleted it so many times. When you write something you have to review it and with reviewing it, it get to me. Affect my sleeping,” says Kur.
Even though he deleted the manuscript and started over, he eventually self-published the memoir called Out of the Impossible: The Hope of the Lost Boy.
It was these stories of hardship and hope that he shared with that ride share passenger. The two have since reconnected, the passenger sharing later that Kur’s stories had helped.
Kur is thirty-eight now. He has not seen his mother, except through a device, in thirty-three years. And he still wants to put his master’s degrees to use, opening a school in his village back home in South Sudan.
“But one of reason I am here is hope,” says Kur. “You hope tomorrow will never be the same.”
Paul Deng Kur’s book Out of the Impossible: The Hope of the Lost Boy can be found of Amazon. Support for MinneCulture on KFAI comes from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Illustration by Ryan Dawes.