When the family immigrated, Monica was 24. She was too old to attend high school with her younger sister Nyibol, but she still needed a Canadian high school equivalency diploma. Monica and Nyibol signed up for a one-year intensive English course called LINK, followed by an English as a Second Language class that took 18 months to complete because they were balancing school with work.
During two semesters at a regional college, Monica studied science, math and computers while juggling a job as a security guard. School and work, Monica says now, were not the hardest part. The hardest part was the people she encountered as a security guard. One day, a man approached her and said, “Have any weed?” Monica told him she didn’t know what that was. “How come? You’re Jamaican,” the man said, sneering. “You guys are smokin’.” The memory still makes her angry.
Then Monica met a Sudanese man her parents didn’t like. This started a wave of discontent that has rippled through the family as each of the children chose his or her path. Monica moved in with her boyfriend against her parents’ wishes – which is almost unheard of in Sudan. In 2000, when she was 25, she gave birth to a son named Medi. While we talk, Medi draws on a white paper on a dark table. Monica looks over and asks him to go downstairs. “These are not stuff for kids, OK baby?”
Monica continues her story. She says she regrets not listening to her parents. “They told me to finish my education before having a kid. But then when I think about it too, it was their fault. Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘I want to run away from home.’ Something has to trigger it.” She pauses and then: “To tell the truth,” she says, “I could have been a doctor or whatever I wanted to be by now.” Monica tears up a little when she thinks about it. “I did give up [on my career plans].” One day, she wants to become a registered nurse in Canada.
Some days she thinks about following in the footsteps of her brother Benjamin, who was one of the 15 Sudanese-Cuban doctors who were educated in Cuba and then upgraded their skills through a program operated by the University of Calgary and Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization with a long history of helping Sudan. Right now, she lives with her son in government-subsidized housing and works as an order picker at a warehouse. NEXT: A father reflects…