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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February, 2005, 10:10 GMT
Heading home: John Maker
John Maker
John will take all his music recording equipment home to Sudan
Following the historic signing of the peace deal between Sudan's government and southern rebels we spoke to Sudanese living abroad about their plans to return home.

John Maker is currently living in Canada.

I am a Dinka from Yirol in the Bahr el Ghazal region of southern Sudan.

I left in 1988 because of the chaos - dead bodies lined the roadsides, homes were burnt, children were orphaned and old people were too weak to escape the carnage.

The government forced me to become Muslim although I was a bible teacher.

They gave me a Muslim name, Abas, and a new identity card to match.

I needed the money to support my family back home

When I continued to teach the bible, they accused me of being a spy for the rebel group, Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

I was a wanted man and had to leave for my safety.

I travelled to Egypt and then to America.

Difficult times

My first job was making sandwiches on the night shift at a grocery store in Harlem, where the regulars were drug dealers, prostitutes and crack addicts.

It was wonderful; I had never had so many friends before

I was given a gun because it was so dangerous, but the pay was very good and I needed the money to support my family back home.

The store was robbed frequently and after being shot during a hold-up one night, I decided to quit.

With my savings I bought a car at the FBI auction under Brooklyn Bridge to use as a taxi.

When the security guard asked me to leave at closing time I told him I couldn't drive.

Map of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia

He told me not to worry and showed me the gears and pedals, it was an automatic.

I got in the car and stepped on the gas and the car took off.

I could not stop it. I was crying and driving, everything was bouncing up and down and everybody was beeping their horns.

After a while I was able to finally stay in one lane and got back to my place.

I called my taxi driver friend, Bona to come help me. It wasn't long before I too was a taxi driver.

Life in New York was very difficult. I didn't want to stay so I applied for refugee status in Canada.

Suit and tie

While my application was processed they took me to a Canadian refugee camp in Buffalo.

It was wonderful. I had never had so many friends before. Canada accepted me and my life improved.

The first thing I will do once I am back is find a bride
I got a good job after doing a computer sales course.

It paid me well and I really enjoyed giving online demos, face to face presentations and talking to executive level decision makers.

I always wanted to be in a job that required a suit and tie.

To me a suit or a tie is the greatest gift anyone can give me.

With my earnings I was able to buy a recording studio and took a two-year recording and video editing apprenticeship.

Future hopes

I am planning to return home to Sudan in a year's time, but will only go to the south.

It will be like gaining independence when we finally have our own music

I will never be able to trust the northerners.

For now I want to let things settle, until normal day-to-day returns.

Right now you cannot even buy a bar of soap in southern Sudan.

The first thing I will do once I am back is find a bride. I am too lonely.

I want to take back all my recording equipment and open a studio in Juba in southern Sudan.

The northerners never let us develop our music.

Music is the sound of stability and peace. It will be like gaining independence when we finally have our own music.

It will give our community a sense of nationhood, help them to forget the dark past and give them hope for the future.

The BBC News website aims to follow John's journey home.


Your comments:

I am deeply touched by your story. It is wonderful to find a fellow Sudanese who believes it's our duty to rebuild Sudan. Most of our young are too engulfed by the western culture to realize life is too short to chase insignificant dreams. Now that we are going to have complete peace in Sudan... l can dream of building my own house, dream of opening a restaurant, clothing manufacturing company, and a clinic that delivers free services to the poor.

Now, l feel that being a female will not limit what l do, because we all have to collaborate in restoring the infrastructure. Juba is the city that in ten years time will be competing with Khartoum. So, good luck on your music.
Achol, Minneapolis, MN

John, your story is very touching. I hope there are a lot that have your country at heart. Many would desert the country for good as life in Africa especially in Sudan is not so easy. With the signing of the peace deal, yes it is true that music has the sounds of peace and love. Use your recording studio and expertise to bridge the gap between north and south. Your move to go back to your home country deserves everyone's support.

The term refugee should be redefined especially to western world as they see a refugee to be a helpless lazy person which is not at all true. Like Bob Marley said: "The good thing about music is that you feel no pain". Hit the people with good music and they shall feel no pain. Music can make the world go round celebrating. All the best and keep us updated.
Matongo Maumbi, Chikuni, Monze, Zambia

John's account of triumph over evil is a story every Southern Sudanese would like to tell to the world. I am from Kenya and have lived in the US for the last five years. In 1997, I travelled to Eldoret, Kitale and Lodwar, towns in the North Rift Valley region of Kenya. For the few days I was visiting that region, I came face to face with the desolation and extreme anguish the people of Southern Sudan have been reduced to by the war back in their country.

The world doesn't know even half of misery that people in that part of the country go through every day. My brother worked with Oxfam for four and half years beginning 1996. Though based in Nairobi, he frequently travelled there and his accounts were heartbreaking, to say the least. Yet with all that he saw, humanity among these peoples thrived.

It is important therefore that the peace agreement signed in Nairobi marks the beginning of a new life for the Sudanese people and even more, that John and his fellow Sudanese take their rightful places in rebuilding their beloved country. There are thousands of highly educated and skilled Southern Sudanese that live outside their country and that would like to go home.

Asking the disenfranchised people to trust their tormentors right away because of the peace treaty too much to ask, for now. But Sudan needs the world now more than ever before to make the peace treaty a reality. A commitment to resolve the Darfur crisis should be part of the immediate agenda.
Benjamin, St Paul, Minnesota, USA

I had the pleasure of working with John, he was a dynamic individual. I never knew anything much about him except that he possessed a very positive confidence. Last we spoke; he was going to focus on music and his recording studio. Strange how life is, how you never know anyone, and even when you do or think you do. There is so much more... I wish you all the best John.
Charles, Montreal, Canada

I think John is practically on the right part of letting most people leaving abroad know that home is sweet and home no matter the odds. However, he should be more focussed on timing because rebels can never be trusted in any way. My opinion is that he should visit home and check out the possibilities of returning there completely.
Dumme Charles, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

John's saga is the epitome of triumphing over tyrants and adversaries. Being a young musician, aspiring to become a recording engineer, this story provides me with an insurmountable amount of inspiration. Spread the music, John.
Brendan, Pennsylvania, USA

John, I truly wish you all the best in your life. I, myself come from Sudan (it doesn't really matter if it's north or south, it's finally one country) but I haven't been living there for many years. I believe that its not only important to have peace on paper, but to have it within ourselves, so I hope that you don't build any walls between you and the northerners, not everyone who comes from the north thinks the same. So let us enjoy the peace and unity of our country and hope for a better future for all.
Zuhal Ismail Adam, Mannheim, Germany

That sounds great John. We the people of southern Sudan have no such equipment and talented people like you. As you know, many musicians from the south do recording in northern Sudan and neighbouring countries. However, with the recent peace accords ,our youth interested in that field will be enjoying the work of your mind and hand and learning as well when you have taken them there. Keep it up and God will bless your work. Wish you the best and let's meet there.
John Garang Chol, MB, Canada.

You are right John, I will never trust the north either. I am suggesting that; for Sudan to be peaceful, to develop and have a strong government, Sudanese need to separate religion from government. The government cannot be controlled by religion.
Martin Malok, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

John, I am glad to know that as a refugee from Liberia, I am not alone in the number of success stories. I am very proud of your story which has given me even more encouragement to work hard. As a software engineer graduate from the University of Maryland in the Washington DC area and making good money then ever before, I just cannot just wait to get back home.
Albert, Columbia, USA

Come on John, go ahead and do it! Many of us are in the same situation. We have been in education in UK and obtained various qualifications from world's top universities, we have been working hard paying a lot of taxes and yet we are still being seen as aliens and destroyers of the economy by some uninformed people.

I thank all those governments and its exceptional people that accepted and adopted us. We are a great contribution to these adoptive countries and we would like to do it also for our mother countries when peace prevails. Keep us informed of your progress! Greetings to John Garang!
Jean-Paul Muana, UK/DR Congo

All the best to you John. Your story is a good example for all the brothers and sisters... I also face a very big situation and can understand what you experienced. I live in Germany now after crossing many African countries.

As a Congolese (RDC) citizen, I am also planning to go back home with some music equipment to give the people at home a chance to record. Music is very a good thing and it can contribute to the development.
Flori, Cologne, Germany

I am sorry about what happened in your country and in the US but please don't build a wall between the south and north in your country, between Muslims and Christians because that's just what politics is trying to do in Sudan. I'm sure there are people up north that will also like your music. Good luck.
F Lalaoui, Cheltenham, UK

To readers of John's story, like many other southern Sudanese who fought their way out of Sudan, we are very proud of them all. Peace has now been attained in Sudan so let them now come back home with the skills they have acquired, remembering that in six years time we have to decide our destiny. John is my sister's son.

I am among those who brought him up. As a young child he had a vision, he always loved to have a good life and by being a hard worker he always achieved his dreams. Aim high John always. n
Your uncle Majak Philemo, Khartoum, Sudan

John, do not forget to teach the bible while you get back to home. It is the only way out for you and your country fellows.
TG, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

You are the world. Keep on thinking positively and stand on what you believe. I'm proud of you and with your example; the world can see how you can make something out of nothing. Only time will tell. Keep up the good faith and no matter what - don't forget your country.
Adonis Hegngi, Salt Lake City

As an Ethiopian I understand the pain that you went through, at any rate, I want to thank on behalf of you the people that gave you hands when you needed help and the country that gave you asylum to stay to learn and to be a productive citizen. Good luck! East or West - home is best.
GMT, California, USA

It is very interesting to read about your life as it occurred brother John. I am really happy to know about you being from Yirol town of Bahr el Ghazal. Actually, I am a Zande by tribe from Yambio, Western Equatorial State. I grew and started my education at Yirol Elementary School of Burtit. So I am well aware of your home place.

As for the experience you have gone through to develop your lifespan, it is a great adventure only a few and willing do succeed. We back here will be looking forward to welcome you back. I hope your plans succeed God willing. Good luck and hope for your safe return home John.
Alfred Sende Gbandi, Khartoum, Sudan

We southern Sudanese have a rich musical tradition. What is needed is somebody who has got musical talents and an ability to lead the like-minded people who would strive to help develop and modernize our music. Only then will the world be drawn to understand and appreciate our music. John Maker tells a story of somebody who persevered in life. Will he continue to persevere till he sees music on our land developed?
Thiik M Giir, Melbourne, Australia

John, your escape was the work the Almighty God. As the dust settles, you will go there to be with your people, your experience is not very different from the rest of us in motherland Africa, but keep trusting the Almighty and with time, we shall all make Africa free. God bless you Johnny.
Lucky Barineka Akponi, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Nice dream bro, we need more like you. It makes me happy to hear people who are willing to go back and make a different especially in such a big way, we need music to educate our people and to raise self awareness and be better informed about ourselves, only we can do that. Sudan for ever!
Pharaoh, Juba, Sudan

John, I hope God grants you the peace and fruit you desire in southern Sudan. I have so much to say... just know one thing; you have immensely touched me by your story. God Bless.
African expatriate, US

I couldn't but help burst into a hilarious laughter that almost woke up my 3-year-old daughter from her sleep. I suggest John be made into a UN poster. He could moderate hard line Conservatives like PM John Howard of Australia.
Chris Ogwuh, Germany

Good to know that you were able to get out of New York on time and to improve your life in Canada. Good luck to you on your plan to return to southern Sudan because I have been hearing about the atrocities of the northerners over there. I will soon be returning to Africa too. May God continue to guide and bless you.
Yemi Adu, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

Truly, God's unseen mighty hands have been over John through the years. His amazing story depicts a typical African boy, who through sheer dint of hard work coupled with an unwavering faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and prayers, has survived those critical and dangerous times. John could have easily taken to drugs and armed robbery whilst working in Harlem. The God you serve will surely bless you abundantly.
Ed Twum, New York, USA

It is an amazing, breath taking story. I hope every anti-foreigner force in the world, do gain something from John's insightful story, have a moving heart of sympathy for others. The right to do something good for the benefit of mankind is noble; this lesson is for all of us. I hope best for you John.
Nyang Gilo, Mankato, USA

Wonderful. This is how life works abroad for people who have the sense of direction. It takes a lot of sacrifice to attain one's goal. Clear example of people with motivation. Africans should hold their heads up and prove to the entire world that we are the most valuable assets of mankind. We go though the worst and build a fountain and never despair. Good job, and hope others take these great lessons of life.
Kwaku Bannerman, Sacramento, California

My heart has been so touched by John's story. It breaks at the fact he had to flee his home, but I am also incredibly encouraged to see his indomitable spirit shine through his words. He, and the countless others who have been forced from their homes will remain in my heart and prayers.
Kathryn, Redding, US

I sympathise with your situation... though a Nigerian, I am very bitter at the audacity for some to get others to change their religion. We once had such a policy by our central government.
Fredo, London, UK

What a wonderful story. I hope that it will make politicians and people opposed to immigration think twice before sealing the borders before people in real and serious need. We must know that those who knock at our doors are only people who want to do something out of their lives, people whose objective is not to take advantage of the system.

Lots of these people are in real need. Unfortunately, one can only understand this situation by going abroad and by meeting the people who are actually experiencing such difficult lives.
Ken, Geneva, Switzerland

John, I am one of the fellow refugees who came to Canada and changed my life from being a parking lot attendant and driving taxi to becoming an engineer in the Aviation industry. I have been through all the ups and downs you have been through in your experience. Hallelujah you are planning to go back home and I am wishing all the best for you. Hopefully you will be happy with the bride.
Binyam, Toronto

After reading John Maker's story, I admire this young man. He is hardworking, focused, dedicated, in a nutshell; he is a gentleman to the core. If I have the power, I would advise the youths to see him as a role model. They will never have regrets if they do.
Thaddeus Ezeji, Umueze, Nigeria

From his emphasis on locating in the south, there still seems to be a rift between the north and south. I think John should also consider using the studio to bridge the gap of mistrust between the two.
Charles, Kinshasa, DRC

What an amazing story. Michael Howard, Norman Tebbit and every other politician who makes a point of attacking immigration should be made to read, re-read and inwardly digest it before making any further public comment on the issue. Good luck, John, I hope your dream comes true.
Jon G, Huddersfield, UK

We are often told about refugees through the right wing media in the UK as being lazy scroungers. John is a prime example of this not being the case. He is not alone. People fleeing persecution need the help of others and we should provide a welcome and the necessary assistance when they come to others for help. It's good to see something positive in print for once. Good luck John when you return home.
Julian, Bristol, UK





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