by Lisa C. Taylor
First time author of soon to be published “My Beautiful Colors” Nyibol Bior is a K-12 teacher and former refugee born in South Sudan. Ms. Bior migrated to Dallas, Texas from Nairobi, Kenya after her family received political asylum to relocate to the United States in 1995. She has taught Physical Education in Dallas, Texas, Denver, Colorado, the United Arab Emirates, and Special Education in Longmont and Dolores, Colorado currently. After the publishing of her first book, Ms. Bior plans to complete her autobiography, entailing her experiences during and after the second civil war of Sudan. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LCT: What made you decide to use the colors of the rainbow to represent your experience as a refugee?
NB: “My Beautiful Colors,” my first book, started as a chapter in my upcoming memoir. I had been in the US eleven years and working as a substitute teacher when I decided to write it. I came to the US at age 13. I was 23 when the following incident took place. While walking down the hallway of my former high school where I worked as a substitute in the mid 2000s, two boys had laughed at me because of the color of my skin, and during my lunch break, I began a chapter entitled “Black is Beautiful,” which I later decided to entitle “My Beautiful Colors.” I use various colors metaphorically to describe the different emotions of my refugee story.
LCT: I like the transformative effect of the colors you use—blue as sadness, but also as new growth. Do you see the colors as a representation of your evolution on this journey?
NB: I came from a refugee camp in Kenya to Dallas in 1995. After multiple years of facing racism, I started to see colors in a different way—for example, the green of fertile land in the Sudan blurred. Black went gray and the sky looked unclean during the war, but black was also the color which allows the stars to shine brightly, the color of my skin, and the color in which I will write my refugee story. After we moved, we were freed from the Civil War and the sky looked blue again. I believe the evolution of life unfolds through a color spectrum. In my situation, I saw colors transformed from beautiful to ugly or negative and then back to positive. It is part of the Wheel of Life. My refugee status gave me greater opportunity.
LCT: How did the Civil War in your country impact your early years?
NB: I was a toddler during that time. The war impacted my life from early childhood to age 15. The Arab Apartheid continued after the British left Sudan in the 50s, and then well into the 80s, when the Second Civil War of Sudan began. Cities in South Sudan were bombed. Along with my older sister, I had to live with my grandmother in the village. My mother had to split up the family—some lived in the refugee camp in Ethiopia and some in South Sudan while my father had to quit his job as an accountant and instead started working as a soldier. At one point, it was assumed my mother was dead because a ship she was on after dropping my sister and I off in the village was attacked. We didn’t know there had been a helicopter sent to rescue the civilians. We even had a funeral for her after not hearing about her whereabouts for over a month.
LCT: In your book, you describe the unconventional medicine your grandmother used to heal you and others. How has that impacted your own approach to healing?
NB: In the village, before the Civil Wars, we didn’t depend on Western medicine. We learned to heal from nature. We felt no shame. It is very hot in the Sudan and people walked around with few clothes on in our village, and it was not until civilization brought modern clothing that we had to cover up more. Healing was found in nature and the way people treated each other. My own way of healing came through dreams—I have vivid dreams that have helped me in my own life. We had medicines that had no name in English yet— like Thiemkeer. It is a type of grass and it was given to people who contracted Malaria. It is also used to help nausea and fever. We also made a kind of toothpaste from cow dung—it was dried and burned to produce a white substance called Achiul that tastes surprisingly like a salty toothpaste. The people built a relationship with nature and with animals. My grandmother had many snakes on her property but they never bothered her because she communicated with them.
LCT: What effect did South Sudan seceding from Sudan have on you and your people?
NB: People were happy about the independence of the Republic of South Sudan. It became independent in 2011. Unfortunately, it returned to war two years later in 2013. Currently there are approximately 2.2 million South Sudanese refugees hosted in neighboring countries and 1.6 million displaced within the country, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Some of my own relatives are impacted by this. They can only afford to eat once a day.
LCT: You use the color red to represent terrorism, xenophobia, and racism. I was sad to read about your own experiences with racism in refugee camps and in this country. What can be done to further understand between races?
NB: Refugees need a better quality of life. That begins with teaching everyone empathy and tolerance. When people can only eat one meal a day, they do not have quality of life they deserve. In my own experience in Kenya, I was treated as if I was uncivilized because I came from a place at war. It was as if I was being blamed for all the suffering, and not just by other children. For the first time in my life, it was a Kenyan teacher who first referred to me as black girl, and I was beaten in front of forty other children after wrongly being accused of being tardy. It would have been nice to have been referred to by my name because the color of my skin isn’t my name. In the US, I was bullied in school. Black people slightly lighter than me made fun of my darker skin color, calling me charcoal and purple. Kenyans have lighter skin than the South Sudanese and lighter skinned people are treated better. No child should have to go through mistreatment and discrimination because of the color of his/her/their skin.
LCT: When did you and your family receive refugee status in the US? How does your experience compare with those coming to the US now to flee violence, poverty, war, and human trafficking?
NB: My family and I received a political refugee asylum to relocate to the US in 1991, but it was not until 1995 that we were able to leave north east Africa. After the US gave us political asylum, it took us four years before we came to Dallas, Texas. During that time while awaiting in Kenya, we lived in fear of being sent back to the war-torn Sudan. Police knocked at the door and asked for documents. My younger sister who has a much lighter-skin and looks Kenyan has to answer the door. Imagine trying to live a better life and then being told you can’t stay because you didn’t have the right papers. When I was separated from my mom, I at least had other relatives to look after me, but the children at the border don’t have that opportunity when they’re sent away from their families. They need an end to this suffering that is being inflicted upon them. The worst thing that can happen to a child is being taken away from their parents.
LCT: I loved your description about being black, including the information about the heat in the South Sudan and natural pigmentation as protection.
NB: The sun is very hot in the Sudan. Now in the Southwest, I have no trouble with the sun but find the dryness difficult. I am used to humidity. My people evolved with a dark skin color to help them withstand with the hot and humid climate.
LCT: What is a wish you have as you move forward with your life in the United States?
NB: I want to help other refugees and complete my second book, a memoir of my time as a refugee. I hope to live for more than just myself. I’d like to be able to provide for others. Eventually I hope to start a non-profit in South Sudan.
LCT: What leaders or writers inspire you?
NB: I’m most inspired by my mother who had to raise my siblings and me in a refugee camp. She did this on her own. I also find inspiration in spiritual leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and his mission to make sure his own children would not be judged by the color of their skin. I like that Oprah Winfrey uses her vast wealth to help others. I like nonfiction writers and particularly spiritual writers like Marianne Williamson and Joyce Meyer because of the positive messages they write to help people have a better life.