"Jerry was a little...he wasn't so sure at first. I mean, you know, you're moving four strangers in, of a different culture. We didn't know them. We didn't know who would move in, so it was kind of a leap of faith. But we really prayed about it, talked about it for a couple of weeks, and decided to go ahead.
"I called this woman who also helps with them, and I said we'd like to donate our house to the Lost Boys for a year. So three of them came down to meet us. We liked them at once, and they took a leap of faith too, because they didn't know us, or if later we'd say, 'I'm sorry, this isn't working out.' They were in a house in Linda Vista that had been cold in winter, and the rent was being hiked up. And they really could not pay the rent the way it was. They were getting some donations and help just to do that, because they're on school scholarships, and because of their scholarships they're only allowed to work ten hours a week, at school, on campus. It's minimum wage, and so they don't really have that much earnings to cover gas and books and food, let alone rent."
"We moved out [to the alley cottage]," says Kathy. "We shuffled our furniture around, left the house pretty much furnished with dishes and bedding for them. We didn't know if we were doing the right thing."
It's a few days later. This time I walk straight to the main house, across rich grass, electric green in the penumbra of mature firs whose size makes the two-story, Cape Cod-style structure look more modest than it is. Black shutters hide the brick frontage on either side of white-framed bay windows. Upstairs, dormers punch out through the wood-shake roof. The place must be 50, 60 years old.
I knock on the front door. A tall young African opens up. Jacob Puka. He invites me in. A moment later, we're lounging in the couches of the dark, planky, well-used living room. Other Lost Boys wander in and out, or down the stairs, talking to each other or into cell phones, in English, and, I'm guessing, Dinka. "Yin ca leec, wok ben yok," says one. He winks. "That's 'Thank you' and 'goodbye.' "
They all seem to be tall, shanky, like basketball players, with broad faces, deep, wide-set eyes, and blue-black satin skin that makes for blindingly white teeth flashes when they laugh, which is often.
Everything is so casual-easy, I have to remind myself what these guys have been through. As Kathy Moser found out, they're participants in one of the most stirring modern stories out of Africa. Twenty years ago, they were all kids, five, six, seven years old, mostly boys, maybe 20,000 of them who escaped murder at the hands of northern Sudanese horsemen by fleeing into the bush. They knew their sisters, older brothers, and parents were being murdered or enslaved. Somehow, they organized themselves and over three months walked 1000 miles by night to Ethiopia. Then, when civil war broke out in that country, the boys, incredibly, wandered for months in the Sudanese desert before they reached Kakuma, a UN-run refugee camp in Kenya.
In achieving this, these children turned Lord of the Flies on its head. They survived by becoming their own family, helping each other along the way. Well, they didn't all survive, not by any means. By some estimates, half of them, perhaps as many as 10,000 boys, died along the way.
So to pop out of that nightmare bubble and wake up one morning in a luxury house in Coronado has to be as surreal as it gets. First, you'd think survivor guilt would set in. Then the explosive energy of rebirth, in a land where ethnic identity doesn't mark you for early death. And above all, the feeling that this is a miracle, wrought by the Lost Boys themselves, the UN, the IRC (International Rescue Committee), the U.S. -- and Jerry and Kathy Moser.
Jacob introduces the other Lost Boys.
"This is Nicodemus Lim, and Isaac Amol," he says. "Mamer, Mamer Ajak, is up working in San Francisco right now." Nicodemus Lim and Isaac Amol stand up from the sofa to shake hands. I do too. My God. I feel like Alice after she took the "shrink" pill. And, of course, they're not boys anymore. They had to grow up quick 15 years ago. Now their bodies have more than caught up. They are young men, mid-twenties -- though none is sure exactly how old, because Dinka culture didn't require IDs and passports and DOB registration.
The first thing you notice is how pleasant, polite, and blithe of spirit they are. No suspicion, no closed faces, no Götterdämmerung anger simmering in the eyes. These guys seem genuinely happy and optimistic. Plus, they're assured, cell-phone-savvy, computer-literate, and, just four or five years after landing in America, advanced, educationally, heading now for bachelor's and other degrees and professional qualifications. Nicodemus studies information systems at Point Loma Nazarene University. Jacob is into medicine, taking a summer school physics class, preparing for premed. Isaac is studying criminal law and justice. Mamer is completing his B.A. with a double major in business and international development.
We kid around a bit about living in Coronado. Nicodemus says, "Somebody asked me the other day at school. 'Where do you live?' I said, 'Coronado.' The guy said, 'Where?' And I said, 'Coronado.' 'Did you win the Lotto?' And other Sudanese people say to us, 'Now you have arrived in America.' "
"What Jerry and Kathy have done is beautiful," says Jacob. "People are so kind here. Everybody wants us to succeed."
"Yes, we are very lucky," says Isaac. "God has been good to us."
Jacob says he thinks 4-5000 Lost Boys have made it to the States. "In San Diego there are 87, maybe 90 of us," he says. The window of opportunity closed after 9/11, when security shut down all immigration from that part of the world.