The Radiolab podcast has been releasing a series of episodes about cassettess called Mixtape. This episode has several stories. One story is about how the Lost Boys of Sudan & their communities recorded traditional oral song histories onto cassette tapes for the men who left the refugee camps in Kenya to keep in touch with their culture and their roots. This tradition of telling a personal history via song is perfect for the cassette. When these men were selected to go to the USA, or Europe, or some other country as refugees, their community recorded lessons, advice, and history onto these cassettes.
My church community growing up was fairly involved in supporting the Sudanese refugees who were relocated to the town. My family grew very close to one man in particular, a brilliant, driven, and fun guy who was like an uncle to me. Sometimes I would ride in his car, and he’d offer to play a cassette tape he had brought with him from his friends and family back home. I was always eager. He had several of them. Songs of all kinds in a language I didn’t understand but thought was beautiful. He’d sing along and explain them to me as they played. They were songs about his community, or about a legend, or about more mundane day-to-day activities. They transported me to a place I had never been and told me about a culture and a people that were in many ways different but in many ways the same as mine.
Hearing this story was really meaningful. My family became very involved in bringing to life a project he dreamed up to drill wells for water for the people of South Sudan called Water for South Sudan. This organization was started in 2005 and has drilled more than 500 wells, helping provide safe fresh drinking water to the people of South Sudan. Countless families across the US have been similarly moved by the stories and the songs of the Lost Boys of Sudan and so much understanding and compassion has been built as a result of this cultural exchange.