Literary Activism

Harriet Levin Millan

Thursday, July 31, 2008

En Route to Syndey

Our plane from Brisbane to Sydney has been delayed, so I thought I'd start writing some about the past two days with Michael's family and begin to organize my thoughts.

When we first arrived, we were impressed by the sheer size of the house.  So it seems like Australia is a good choice for the family to be resettled in after all.  I doubt whether they would be placed in such pleasant surroundings in the States.You enter the house through a wood fence that is about 100 yards from the front door and to get to the front door you have to walk through a yard and down a path.   It's more like a compound than a single family house and Michael said that it's a good house for the family because it has grass and places to play and is removed back from the road.  The birds here are tropical.  We saw a couple of magpies around the house--they are big black birds something like ravens--and some other birds that are white and red with crested tufts.  Brisbane is like a big outdoor bird sanctuary.  You can see these red parakeet birds and white cockatoos just flying around.  After the emotional explosion of Michael seeing his family for the first time, we dragged our bags to the entrance and walked inside and sat down.  The inside of the house is large with many rooms and almost a separate little guest house through a door attached to the main house that was set up for Michael to stay in, with its own bedroom and kitchen.  

Michael's mother, Adior, or Maman Majok (the Dinka call their mothers by the name of the their first born child, and in this case, it is Michael) had gone to a lot of trouble to make Michael comfortable.  In the center of the room was a big double bed with a yellow sheet on it embroidered with flowers and the same matching patterns on the pillows and chair cushions. It was simple and beautiful and clearly adorned with much anticipation and love.  The room, as is the rest of the house, was stark and clean and fresh.  Noticeably, there was nothing extraneous around, no nicknacks or children's toys or pictures, a shocking reminder that Adior and her family had lived in Kakuma Refugee Camp for the past decade and had just come to Brisbane in January.

Even as we entered the house, Adior was still weeping.  Michael had been sitting down next to her but then he got up for a moment and she looked utterly forlorn as if she had lost him all over again. I sat down beside her then and took her arm and hugged her and asked her what she was thinking.  Even before she answered, I knew what she was going to say.  Afterward, I checked with Teddi and Ellen and Josh and Rick and they knew too.  It was one of those moments when the air was so electrified that her words just hung there before she said them and hearing them was verification.  She said, ''The years, the years," meaning that she would not be able to recapture all those years from the time Michael was five years old until now, notwithstanding Michael's brother, David, who was only three years old when their village was razed and with whom Adior has not yet had the opportunity to reunite.

Despite the tragic amplifications of Michael's life, his mother's life is the ultimate tragedy. Michael's future lies ahead of him, but for his mother, all is lost.  And don't forget that her tragedy gets multiplied by the thousands.  The devastation that occurred was systematic, village by village.  Michael's mother's father had been a chief and Adior grew up as the first daughter of a powerful man.  Nyankurdit, Adior's mother, and one of the wives of that chief, sadly still lives in Kakuma.

It was going to become intrusive for us to stay at the house, so after we were served tea and cookies, we started to bring out all the gifts we had brought for the family. This was a magical moment. The first gift I presented were the scarves my thirteen year old neice, Emma Phillips, knitted for Dut and Riak.   The scarves are very colorful and the children loved them. Aweil grabbed one and wrapped it around her neck.  We have some pictures of the children playing with the scarves, which they proceeded to do for the rest of the time we stayed in the house.  In the pictures, the children are so gorgeous that they look like models in a GAP ad, which gives you a clue about our culture.  When Michael gave his mother the gold Fossil watch and the earrings she was clearly moved. She just kept staring down at the gifts on her lap.  Then I gave Adior a bag of Ahava products we bought for her and explained how each of them get used.  We also brought a goodie bag for Aweil filled with hair products and lip balms.

Then we took a group picture together and hugged goodbye for the time being to leave Michael in private with his family and for us to go check in to our hotel.


ed said...

Your postings are great. We are glad everything is going well and the reception from his mother and family seems to have been well received.
Enjoy your stay in Sydney. Give our love to everyone.

Love: Mom/Dad

P.S. Did you give his mother the scarf Mom had made?

Harriet Levin Millan said...

You won't believe this, but Michael forgot Mom's scarf! We were all really really upset about that. But don't worry, we'll send it and it will be even better that way. But I did bring Emma's scarves and the children went wild with them. I'll post the pics of that soon! Love you guys!

Dawn and Evan said...

I just got wind of the existence of this blog. Having met Michael, I can almost picture him in this part of the story. What tales they must all have to exchange with each other!
I look forward to reading more of the entries to get up to speed.


handworkstudio said...


I first heard of Michael story through Cindy Waldman and her book club. I was happy to follow this tragic and beautiful story and was so appreciative of the information that Josh Millan shared. I was impressed with Josh's dedication to this mission and his maturity. I hoped that my children would grow up with such love and passion in thier hearts.

I was completely enjoying your blog, crying as you so tenderly recounted the story of the reunion. But then the biggest and most delightful surprise came when you mentioned your niece, Emma Phillips and her beautifully knitted scarves. Could she really mean MY Emma. The talented and creative girl that I have watched grow up to become a gifted crafter and designer? It was in that moment that I realized what Millan I was reading about. Having met you only occassionally over the years through your sister and my dear friend (mom of Emma), Cheryl Levin, did it hit me like a ton of bricks. Of course it would be you and your family. Your family who is always doing something wonderful to make the world better. You and your daughter who organized a group of high school students to come to The Handwork Studio to do a community service project. I have always been a huge fan and so proud of Cheryl and Bob and felt fortunate to watch them change the landscape of Philadelphia. Now, that pride spills over to your son and the work you are doing as a family. I also have to credit your parents for making such wonderful children. You and Cheryl are truly special and as a parent, I think they would appreciate some of the credit.

Thank you Josh for touching my heart and reminding me of the tragic story of the lost boys and reminding me how truly blessed I am everyday.

Laura Kelly

Harriet Levin Millan said...

Hi Laura,

Although I have never met you, I am truly honored that my work has touched you. I appreciate all of the compliments that you have given me as well as my family and I hope that this will inspire you and others alike to make a difference too.


Dr. Terry O'Connor said...

Thank you so much for sharing the story and posting the pictures! My thoughts have been with all of you and it is so exciting to see pictures and hear about Michael's reunion while you are still there.

I can still remember the day when Josh sat in my classroom and brought the idea to the students to raise money so that Michael could reunite with his Mother.
This is all so amazing and shows us all what is possible!

Love and best wishes,
Terry O'Connor

Harriet Levin Millan said...

Terry, all this was made possible because of you! The hunger Banquet was an incredible experience, and we look forward to next year's benefit and meeting the new recipient of the Reunion Project.