Yes We Can /ˈyes ˈwē kən/ phrase. – the affirmation that a group can accomplish or complete a particular task. The phrase was popularize by Barack Obama during his 2008 United States presidential campaign. Obama first used the catch-phrase in a speech following his second place finish at the New Hampshire Democratic primary (January 8, 2008). See Also. Yes We Can Can by The Pointer Sisters, Yes We Can by The Black Eyed Peas
So, my name is Buey and I’m a product of East Africa. My family came to the United States as immigrants. My father’s South Sudanese, my mother is Ethiopian. So we’re a mix of both countries. We came to the United States in the late ’90s and we’ve been in the United States for about 21 years. Currently, I’m the executive director of Aqua Africa and that’s a water giving organization providing access to clean drinking water in South Sudan and bridging cultural gaps here in the United States.
Aqua Africa, our mission is to provide access to clean drinking water in South Sudan. So we only focus in South Sudan. That’s our first half of our mission, our second half of the mission is to bridge cultural gaps in the United States. Our vision is to develop South Sudan and we don’t believe we could develop South Sudan without having United States and European or anybody outside of South Sudan as partners. So, we think it’s very important for us to bridge those cultural gaps by introducing who we are and things like that in the United States.
But, in South Sudan we try to provide access to clean water and we are more-so development than aid. We’re longterm strategists so in every community where we’re working we have what’s called a micro-democracy process where we go through an election process where they elect their own committee members that will be in charge of the water the water system. That way it allows us to implicitly introduce democracy because, you know, we’re South Sudanese Americans and we believe in the democratic values, but explicitly it puts together an institution there to take care of the water system for the community. So it allows us to hand it off to the community and establishes a municipality. So that’s what Aqua Africa is.
Without water nothing can grow. That’s our slogan. I truly believe in that. The reason why I got involved in the water sector in development is because I truly believe whenever you have education or health and things like that, the turnaround time to seeing that community improve is a long period of time, whether it’s five years, 10 years, or whatever. In water, it’s the next day. You see a community going to the river, going to the pond, and getting contaminated water. But then you construct a water system and as soon as you open it, that community’s life is changed the next day. They don’t have to walk six miles a day anymore. They don’t have to drink contaminated water anymore. So their lives transform the next day. That has a powerful impact on how I see development work.
With our water system I think sustainability works because the people feel the impact of the water being gone the next day as well. And a prime example is that we built a water system in a place in South Sudan called Nimule and after we built the water system, we established a water committee and the water committee is functioning and maybe a year later the inverter for the solar system was stolen and we don’t know who it is. So we told the community, Well, if the inverter was stolen, this is negligence. Aqua Africa is not going to get involved in terms of replacing the inverter. People came to us and go, Listen, you don’t know who it is, we don’t know what happened, but we really need your help. And we come from a culture where snitching is not allowed. So we know they know who it is. You live in a small village where people talk. So we said we’re not going to get involved. Then the community came back to us and said, Look, we don’t know who it is and we can’t afford to buy the inverter, but we’re willing to go on a payment plan. Is there any way Aqua Africa could buy it? Cause it’s a $2,000 inverter. If you guys could buy it for us and we’ll payback in a monthly installment. And we said, Perfect idea. And yeah, we bought it for them and that inverter wasn’t stolen again. The people got used to having access to clean water for a year and they couldn’t imagine the thought of the water being gone. So really like the water sector has a special place in my heart.
Beauty to me is about comfort and confidence in who or what a person is. I think no matter where you are, no matter how you act, a lot of the times I find beauty in somebody that understands who they are. Whether they’re loud, whether they’re quiet, whether they’re angry, whatever the case, that’s who they are and they stay consistent.
I didn’t have a dog growing up. In Africa we have dogs running around, but never as a pet. And now I have a dog named Oso and I’ve been wondering why I’m so attached to that dog. And really, he’s just consistent. He’s excited when he sees treats. He’s upset when we leave. Like, you never have to guess who that person is. And I find that very attractive about him. And that’s how I think I would’ve defined beauty as a whole.
It’s hard to say what Black beauty is because then you don’t give space to what shade of Black. I have a father that’s one of the darker people in Africa, my father being South Sudanese. I have a mother that’s one of the lighter people in Africa as an Ethiopian. And a lot of the times I think we make a lot of noise about how beauty is described in the Black community. But, again, for me it’s just wherever you are. I mean, whether it’s Uganda, Kenya or, Nigeria it’s that comfort you find in who you are and the confidence that you are that person, that’s what I find really engaging. And really, that transcendence between Black, Asian, whatever it is when you’re looking at cultures, cultures differ. I mean Africa, it’s huge. Even in South Sudan culture between the North, the Dinka, the Equatorians, all of that differs. So it’s hard to say that I belong to one culture versus the other.
I’ll admit that I was never confident in who I was because I have my feet in both countries in Africa and then I have my feet in both worlds in the United States as a South Sudanese American. So I never was confident in who I was. I allowed everyone around me to tell me what I am. The biggest challenge is when you have six or seven people pulling in different directions and you start to question who you are, you start to question what you’re about. And that’s the most difficult thing I’ve had growing up.
And now as an adult Black guy, I’m married to an Argentinian that’s a White woman. So now my own Black culture is telling me I’m not Black enough because I didn’t marry a Black person. And then in South Sudan they’re telling me I’m not South Sudanese enough because I didn’t marry a South Sudanese. And in Ethiopia, I’m not Ethiopian enough. Every Black person experiences that, whether it’s in our culture or whether is outside of our culture, we’re told who we are all the time. And I feel if we had the confidence just to say, Look, as a person, I’m going to make decisions about how my hair is, how I dress, and how I act. As long as it’s appropriate to me and I conduct myself in an appropriate way, I couldn’t care less what any of these people think. I think we’d just be in such a better position.
Yeah. The racism that I experienced in the United States is a lot of the underestimation. And, to be honest, I use that to my advantage. People expect less of you. You perform greater than that, so the reward is surprise and they reward you with more responsibility. So I used that to my advantage.
But one of the greater racisms is now we’re doing a project for Aqua Africa in Hiyala, South Sudan. And the community that we’re working in is trying to force us to do extra wells that we don’t have enough budget for because they’re convinced that me and Mabior, my program director, are not the bosses. That we have white bosses in the United States we’re answering to, therefore we’re just going to do that because our desire is to get paid for the project. That we’re going to meet their demands and we’re going to do what they ask. So, being blackmailed by your own people because they believe you’re not in a position to make decisions because you’re Black. I mean, I would love to say racism is when I get pulled over by cops, but I even experienced it back at home.
Yeah, two people for me. Steve Jobs has shaped a little bit of my my life. Not because of his accomplishments but, because he was a terribly flawed person. Like his flawed-ness and everything else got in the way, but he was able to finally be like, I’m a corrupt human being, but I wanted to do something for the world. So that always trying to make yourself better while acknowledging your shortcomings I think is a powerful thing. And the other person, Elon Musk is a very influential person for me because when he started the electric cars, he said he wanted to push the other car companies. He wanted to corner them into a point where they accepted building electric cars is feasible. And he did that. And I respect that so much. Now, I don’t know about his personal life. I don’t know what he does, but that aspect of it, I find so brave and so strong and so visionary.
I think the biggest thing I’m proud of, and I’m still working on, is trying to understand who I am as a person. As a South Sudanese American, as a half-Ethiopian. All of that stuff and my place in this world as a Black person. I feel like I’m doing a better job coming to terms with it, a little bit more. And, working for an organization, like I never knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I knew that’s the realm I wanted to work in. So I feel very privileged to have enough people to support me to be able to do what I do and pushing that forward a little bit. So, I’m proud to be doing what I love to do.
My future dream is to raise a son that’s going to live in a better world, or a daughter that’s going to be living in a better world. That’s one of my dreams. The second dream is moving back to South Sudan and getting involved in making our country better in some way with all the experiences and education that I’ve been able to receive here. That’s my dream and I hope that’s my future.
Being a Black person in this country, I think the biggest problem that we have is just the legacy of segregation and slavery and it affects us every single day. It has divided our people in our country in different locations. It’s put us in the way back of the line. In terms of African Americans and us as Black people trying to reach the starting line, we’re just so far behind. And then the indignity that we face, those people in the front of the line telling us to catch up. It’s even worse. So, I feel like that’s the biggest challenge we’re facing. And no matter what we think, we have to pull ourselves to the front of the line. No one is going to do it for us. And that’s scary in itself.
My dream for society in America is we all wake up on what we need to make the country better. Part of that is we have to acknowledge the ghosts that still haunt us when it comes to segregation and slavery on both sides. We have to find a way to rectify that. The more we deny it and the more we try to push it under the rug, that psychological damage isn’t going to go away. And I think we’re facing international threats, whether it’s from China, Russia, whatever, and we have to compete politically and economically and you can’t do that with mental issues of past wrongs.
I mean, it creates a bias. My wife could hear something and she’s willing to let that roll off her back, but if she’s arrogant about that it gets me angry. Like if she goes, You know, just, just let it slide off your back. Of course you would say that because it never affected you. So like that patronizing kind of comment I don’t like and that’s what I have to tell my wife about like our communication. Just like she’s an animals’ rights activist and I can’t be like patronizing her about that. It’s just that you have to accept what other people are going through without trying to seem like you truly understand and seeming fake, I guess for lack of a better word.
Well, for me, it’s starting off like personally. We’re going to tell my son or daughter, One day somebody’s going to call you a n****r even though you’re half Black and half White. And we’re gonna have to deal with that. And how does that make you feel? And then how do we move forward as a family? And then we’re gonna you’re gonna go to South Sudan and they’re going to tell you you’re not South Sudanese, because you don’t look like it. And you’re going to come here and people are going to tell you you’re not American because you don’t look like it. So as people, I think like especially for us, you just have to be confident in who you are and, I would hate to go biblical cause I’m not a huge Bible guy, but forgiveness and repentance has to be a critical formula moving forward.
I mean, as a Black person a lot of the things I see does anger me. But whether you’re talking about South Sudan or you’re talking about here, the United States, we just can’t move forward if we’re not willing to accept people’s wrongs and forgive and if people are not willing to accept their wrongs and repent. So if that’s not happening, whether you’re in South Sudan or over here in the United States, a cop will shoot a Black guy and Black people will say, He shot him because he’s Black. And White people will say, Well, you shot him because he felt threatened, without stepping back and being like, What is the circumstances? And similarly in South Sudan If it’s an Arab, he will say whatever, I don’t care. I’m going to vote my way. If he’s my tribe, I’m going to support him regardless of how corrupt people tell me he is.
I mean, I can’t speak for the whole of Africa. And even in South Sudan, I’m not talking about cities, but in the rural areas they have an opportunity where they could leapfrog technology. So, it used to be phones — you invested billions and billions of dollars to construct phone lines throughout the community and give people access — to where now cell phones, you could construct a cell phone tower and then thousands of people would have access and it just costs millions. And that transformed Africa, or South Sudan. And I would estimate Africa, but I don’t know. I haven’t been to the other countries to say that. So now, something like that is happening with renewable power and off-grid technology. So now you have solar power where you could establish an off grid system where solar power could pump the water for them and give them electricity. So it’s transforming these small communities who would otherwise not have access to technology.
But more to the point of your question, how is this impacting people and how do they feel about it? It’s like if you’ve never watched TV before, you never really miss it. It’s that first time you see it, or after spending time with it, then you know the value of it and you want it. But with having access to clean water, you’d never know walking six miles a day is burdensome until you saved six hours. So once you introduce that, girls go to school, women start micro-businesses, or things like that. Once you give them that time, they’ll find more productive things to do with it. So to me that’s the transformation we have to keep in mind. It’s like once you put an iPad in their hand, it just takes three weeks before they’re well versed in it and then it just takes three months before they can’t live without it.
Lack of opportunities. I think mismanagement in leadership and mismanagement in resources and everything else has deprived a lot of our South Sudanese people of creating a better life. And that’s a major challenge for the country as a whole.
In South Sudan we would have a visionary and honest leadership.
Ever since I was born all I’ve known is war. I would hate to blame all of that on colonialism, but that’s exactly what we were fighting. You know, they empowered the North and the North dominated the South and they refused to grant us our independence. Worse yet, they refused to develop the South. So they wanted us to stay poor and subjugated and we fought against that. So what colonialism passed down to us was just death.
I mean it’s not like people work to make life difficult for us as South Sudanese. I just think it goes back to colonialism and then after that the ghost of colonialism still haunting South Sudan. You empowered the few and you subjugated the rest. And we’re trying to climb out of that. A part of that is leadership has to realize that can’t move over us and that is part of the problem. Being ruled, that’s going to take time where we have leadership that understands that they’re there to work for the people and their time is limited and they need to govern in an honest way.
That’s a really tough one cause I would hate to tell other people how to be. But, I would say the more time we take to understand who we are as individuals, not as a group. Like as Black people or as Chinese or whatever, as individuals. And to understand what we want. Then distinguishing what’s noise from what’s moving us forward. I think that’s the best thing we could do. The best people we could invest in are the people that are closest to us first. And then as that gets better, I think society as a whole starts getting better. I plan on having that discussion with my kid.
Yeah, that’s a difficult one (question) too when I’m talking to people and they that they understand…Do they truly understand? Or even, why should they understand?
Like my wife is White… How do I explain to her me being aggressive when a police officer stops me? Where that derives from. Why I can’t be that quiet respectful guy and say “yes, sir” all the time. Like, F*** that. So like why, where does that anger coming from? How do I explain that to her? But she does acknowledge it’s there and we have to live with it. So, that’s the first step. (Finding understanding)
I feel like the most transformative experience that I had in the United States, besides the racism and everything else, is even when you’re a little guy you’re still a human being and you have rights. There’s certain unalienable rights here in the United States that no one takes from you. And that over anything else makes this country one of the greatest places I’ve ever known about.
That’s what I value about this country because as a human being you have certain rights that other people can’t take away from you or they have to fight hard to do that. In some respects I feel like people in other countries want the same exact thing. They want a right to free speech. They want to be able to vote and determine who their leaders are. They want property rights. They want an opportunity. Everything that we think are American values are human values. I think that’s where we kind of lose perspective. We think these are just American values. No, this is global. That’s what a human being wants. They want to be free, they want to have their rights protected and you know, they want to be able to make a case for themselves and a life for themselves. So I think a lot of the times we make the mistake of thinking, Yeah, that’s just us here. It’s everywhere. And the absence of that affects people there as well, whether you’re talking about South Sudan, Ethiopia, East Africa, Africa as a whole, Eastern European countries, anywhere that you go.
Interview Date: December 20, 2020
Day 7 — Story posted on February 6, 2020
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