I walked 93 days with no food through the Sudanese Desert to find refuge in America. Don’t tell me I’m not American.

Photo credit: Priscilla Luviano (Orange County Labor Federation)

Death was all around me.

I didn’t know when they would come for me.

As a 14-year-old boy living in Ethiopia in the ’80s, I knew life was not sustainable. The civil war and the military’s reign of terror meant that tens of thousands of people were being tortured and murdered. Even children.

My seventh-grade classmate was hanged because it was suspected he was involved in anti-government activity.

On Sundays, we had what was called the “Red Terror.” The military would take mostly high school students, our neighbors, kill them and leave their bodies on the street corners for us to see as we walked to church early in the morning. The signs on their chests would read, “Don’t touch. Red Terror.”

No one was safe.

That’s when I decided to escape to the United States for my freedom and a better life.

I was joined by three friends and my nephew, and we hired a guide to lead us across the desert to the Sudanese border, which should have taken two-and-a-half weeks. Half way through our trip, our guide and his accomplices robbed us at gunpoint. We had to keep moving, but we had no idea which direction to take.

We survived by eating what we could find and walking at night, when it was cooler. Sometimes we found ourselves in the same place we were a week ago, but we couldn’t stay in the desert, we had to make it or we would die.

Some cattle herders helped us make it to the border on the 93rd day of our journey. I had lost 33 pounds.

I eventually made it to the United States but not without many more roadblocks. I want everyone to know that as an immigrant, living through these things, you are essentially on your second or third life by the time you make it here.

That’s why we need to continue to fight for the American ideal of welcoming those brave people who want to be free.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim, Mexican or Ethiopian.

Watch more of my story below:

Read more: “The Three Lives of Tefere Gebre” in Orange Coast Magazine.

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