Michael & Deborah’s Marriage
We have exciting news!!! On July 2, 2012 Michael Ayuen Kuany married Deborah Nyap Majer Akon in Bor, South Sudan and their story was nothing short of incredible. This week, I was given a great gift as I sat down with the newlyweds and heard them recount their courtship and vision for their shared future.
Both refugees from the war in South Sudan, their journeys out of the Kenyan camps took them on completely separate paths. Michael became a Lost Boy under Clinton’s administration and was sent to Wisconsin in the United States while Deborah traveled with her mother and brothers to Adelaide in Australia. There they both pursued education to develop tools to someday return to their country and help to rebuild their nation.
Longing to visit to South Sudan for the first time since they were children and be reunited with their family members, they both independently visited South after the referendum in 2006. At that time, Michael was reconnected with his mother and brothers, and Deborah had found her father, a General in the Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan, whom she and family thought had been killed in war. They recounted similar experiences of their time there and knowing that they had finally found their home.
School and work obligations required them to return to the US and Australia but independently returned once again in the summer of 2009. It was that trip where they would first be introduced. Both shy but interested, they exchanged contact information and for the next year and a half, wrote emails and Skyped across continents, building trust and a love for one another.
It was in January of 2012 that they decided to come to their parents with their request to wed. While they were both quick to admit they are not traditional village people, they still wanted to respect the marriage process of their tribes and move forward with the appropriate rituals, though their transcontinental courtship had been anything but traditional.
The process first began by each family’s investigation the other, looking into the life and actions of not only the suitor but also his and her family to make sure they are clean and respectable amongst the community. Then the family and clans met each other through a series of introductions and feasts. Deborah travelled to Kenya to meet Michael’s mother and Michael, at the request of Deborah’s father, came to visit him for the first time in March of 2012 (which was only the second time Michael and Deborah had even talked face to face!)
Michael also began the dowry process, “In America, this would be seen as buying your woman. But it’s not that way. The dowry gives the groom and opportunity to thank your bride’s family for raising your wife and to honor the clan for carrying her.” Michael had been saving his money in preparation for this gift back to Deborah’s family, extremely grateful for the gift of a partner in life he would receive in her.
The young people of each clan were also a part of the negotiations. “The young men of Deborah’s village came to my village to see the cows that our clan. If they are satisfied with the cows, then they will continue to negotiation, deciding which cows will be given to the family members, the best ones for the mother, father, brothers, and the rest of the trip. Once they have negotiated the cows, then have a feast to celebrate.”
During this process, Michael wasn’t the only one pursuing Deborah’s hand. Several other men whom Deborah didn’t know were requesting visits with her family but thankfully, her father honored her choice rather than making the choice for her, “I don’t want these other guys; I just wanted to be with Michael.”
However, with Michael still in the US and not with his bride to be, some of these men could have forced her hand. It is not uncommon for a suitor to take a girl and consummate the marriage without the family’s approval. Hearing rumors of this happening, Michael and Deborah sped up their plans. “We were not planning on getting married so soon as we wanted a very big wedding and involve our friends from all over the world at the end of the year. But when the threats started coming in, we knew we couldn’t do it any more. I did not want to lose my wife and my wife did not want to lose me. So we decided to have a small ceremony in South Sudan.
A small wedding, I quickly learned in South Sudan meant over 200 people and a full day of celebrating. All of their family came from the cities and far of places to Bor. A cow was killed for the wedding feast and all the elders and uncles gave speeches and words of wisdom to the couple.
Only days later, they left South Sudan, but now hand in hand. They are setting up their home in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Deborah needs to quickly set up immigration paperwork to allow her to stay. It is so clear to me that even in this brief conversation that they are a perfect match. Michael smiles as he says, “This woman is driving me crazy. I think about her all the time and don’t want to miss any moment with her. Now I have a new energy.”
Independently, they have committed to give back to their nation of South Sudan and now they are excited to do so together. “No one will come from heaven to do this work. It will have to be the people who have gone through hardship who can bring peace and stability.” Deborah had actually followed the work of Michael and Rebuild South Sudan before they even met and she is excited to contribute her interests in education and women empowerment to our team. “I knew I wouldn’t have to fight him for my dreams for my dreams were already his dreams. We both share some much in common and it’s hard to find that; once you do, you don’t let it go.”
Please join us in celebrating Michael and Deborah’s union. Please send all well wishes and monetary gifts to cover their visa expenses to them at 922 Greewood Ct. Oshkosh, WI 54901 or email us and we can pass on your celebratory wishes to them.