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Living without a family

I didn't know about Israel until I arrived at its border as an unaccompanied minor. I knew only about hard times back home. I feel lucky to be in the Promised Land
Illustrative. Children in Darfur. (YouTube screenshot)
Illustrative. Children in Darfur. (YouTube screenshot)

It was a nightmare, an inconceivable journey to make it to Israel. Things I have seen along the way were indescribably scary. The Janjaweed, the Islamic militias in Sudan, committed atrocities against Darfuris. Every village had been demolished. I saw dead bodies everywhere. Elderly people had been barbecued inside their huts. Fathers had been forced to sleep with their daughters and mothers with their sons.

When my brother and I were preparing to leave our village to walk to the desert of Libya, a man told us, “My father brought a shovel.” I asked him why, and he said, ”So that we will be able to bury those who will die on the road and carry on to wherever is possible.“ I cried so much when I heard that. I thought we would probably be killed, just like my parents, or one of our body parts might be cut off and left in the jungle to be consumed by wild animals. True, life was very hard in Eritrea and in some other African countries. But what was happening in Darfur was a completely different situation. We were being fired at on a daily basis.

Today, my life in Israel is perfectly different. So, many things have changed since I came here. Education. Healthcare. Communication. However, my mind is still traumatized by the horrible memories of my past. I try to ignore them and to hear only the voice that reminds me:  “What you dislike, don’t do to your friend. Be a good person.” I am very excited by the opportunities I have today to focus on good and to be optimistic to do more. I grew up alone and I know how difficult it is to be alone even if you have a family and are not allowed to go see them during this pandemic crisis.

It is a very difficult moment, but it is also important to sit with your wife, husband and children to share your ideas. It is a very refreshing moment and will remain as a tremendous life experience. One day, schoolchildren might read about this historic moment. It is extremely wonderful to be with family, but being without is a different story. I worry sometimes, but worrying is not going to change anything. I am eternally grateful to those great Jews who took my hand in theirs, squeezed it, and said, “Now you shall survive.” Nobody made me feel needy or vulnerable, and indeed, their support not only helped me to create a new image of myself, but also inspired me to join this wonderful and amazing religion!

Moreover, there are great times and not-so-great times. There are always some bad people that criticize other people who look different. I encountered two of the most racist Israeli people on the bus a few months ago while I was on my way to work. A woman stared at me and said, “When I see black people, I feel like I am going to throw up.” The man replied, “Me too.” They spoke Hebrew when they saw me getting on. As I charged my Rav Kav, they still kept talking and talking. They may have thought I didn’t understand Hebrew. They were sitting right behind the bus driver, facing the windshield, looking at each person getting on the bus. Both were in their 40s. The woman was wearing a stunning colorful dress, Indian style. She had long, dark hair and blackish eyes. She was beautiful and tall, but she looked incensed. The man was sitting very close to her, holding her hand. He was wearing nice reading glasses, grey t-shirt and pants and black shoes. Judging by their clothes, they looked like a wealthy couple, however, they were selfish and racist.

It was enormously powerful and painful. It is hard to describe how sad I felt. I took a deep breath and said, “Our black color is priceless. You can change from black to white, but you can’t change from white into black. Black is original, pure, and beautiful again and again. Black is beauty, believe it or not. I am a proud black man and I am happy to be black and a Jew at the same time and if you think I can’t be both, you have a problem and not me.” People learn to hate, but they also can be taught to love. Mordecai tells Esther that what it means to be a Jew is to love them, to risk your life for them, to fight for them, and join with them even if their actions are evil.

My thoughts are consistently about what I have been through and where I am today. I have been through dark times. I didn’t know about Israel and its people until I arrived at its border as an unaccompanied minor. I knew only about hard times back home. I feel lucky to be in the Promised Land.

On July 16, 2008, I arrived in Israel as a new African Juvenile in the country, together with a few others. I was fortunate to be given fair treatment. I was sent to school where I learned to write and speak Hebrew through the morning classes, meetings and conversations with native-born Israelis, but there also was a sense of isolation and loneliness when I saw everyone packing up for the weekend. I was feeling alone and abandoned without family at school.

After graduation I moved to Rishon Lezion without knowing anyone. That, too, was a struggle, which made me feel how difficult it is to be alone again. I was riding my beautiful small green bike around on the streets for several months, asking people for a job, until fortunately I found a job. I worked for a bicycle company for three years. Eventually I became the manager of a small shop next to the company. A year later, I signed up for national service and moved to Jerusalem. A few months later, I converted to Judaism. I did this for one reason. I don’t want to feel alone any more. I want to feel home.

About the Author
In the year of 1993, Micha'el Derek Tanju was born in Darfur. At the age of 3 his parents suddenly were murdered by terrorists, because of this he eventually decided to move to Israel in 2008 from Darfur. He feels very grateful to have attended the school of Ayanot. The Youth Village in Rishon LeTzion, where he learned Hebrew and English. He completed the Israeli National Service and converted to Judaism in 2016. Currently he is studying computer science at the Jerusalem College of Technology.
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