The American dream of FourtyTwo
FourtyTwo meets the McClains; FD couple provides guidance; Yet decides to give back to U.S. by joining military
Editor’s note: This is the second story in a two-part series about the life of FourtyTwo Yet, a Sudanese refugee who defied the odds to find success in the U.S.
One of the first things FourtyTwo Yet noticed when he stepped foot in the Midwest was the white stuff falling from the skies. He had never seen snow before.
“I thought it was the end of the world,” FourtyTwo said.
The cleanliness of the water was another observation made by FourtyTwo.
“It was cleaner than I ever drank before,” he said.
FourtyTwo’s assimilation to U.S. culture wasn’t seamless by any means.
He didn’t particularly like American food and hadn’t been exposed to substances like alcohol before.
Fortunately, he would soon meet a Fort Dodge couple who offered some guidance.
While taking classes at Iowa Central, FourtyTwo also took on part-time custodial work. It was during that time, about five years ago, that he met Samantha McClain, director of the college book store.
“He really wanted to assimilate,” Samantha McClain recalled. “He wanted to look like an American and talk like an American.”
But she could tell FourtyTwo was having a difficult time, especially in regards to the food.
“I took a loan out to pay for food, but wasn’t eating at all,” FourtyTwo said. “That’s when I met Sam.”
Samantha McClain and her husband, Brian McClain, a probation officer employed by the state of Iowa in Webster County, decided to offer some assistance to FourtyTwo.
“We helped him get an apartment and he moved in with us for a time before transferring to UNI,” Brian McClain said.
Samantha McClain said she and her husband have offered support to other students trying to adjust to life in Iowa.
“Brian and I try to befriend an international student or student who lives far away who doesn’t have a support group,” she said. “Knowing FourtyTwo didn’t have a family here in the U.S., whether it was somewhere to go for Thanksgiving or a ride to Walmart, we just wanted to help.”
And they did something about the food situation, too.
“We got some groceries and did our best to make Ethiopian foods,” Samantha McClain said. “He loved that.”
While at Iowa Central, FourtyTwo also played soccer for the Tritons.
Brian McClain describes FourtyTwo as “hopelessly optimistic.”
FourtyTwo is working toward a master’s degree in social work from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
He decided early on while in America that he was going to give back by serving the country in the military.
“I was brought from nothing to something,” FourtyTwo said. “I wanted to give back — to show my appreciation. Many people in the camp want to come here, but they don’t make it.”
FourtyTwo is a unit supply specialist with the Iowa Army National Guard. He’s currently stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, awaiting deployment to Kuwait, which he has described as a “vacation” opportunity.
One of his goals while deployed is to be able to run two miles in under eight minutes. His best recorded time is 2 miles in 9 minutes and 52 seconds — a feat he achieved while living in Africa.
And FourtyTwo hasn’t forgotten about his family and other refugees in Africa.
Any extra money FourtyTwo makes, he sends to help his family and other refugees back at the camp.
“Any money that doesn’t go to car payment or phone, he wires back through international service to his feed nieces and nephews still in the camp,” Brian McClain said. “We decided to help any way we could, so we picked up the tab for five of his nephews to be able to go to school and pay for room and board.
“What we’ve offered to do pales in comparison to the thousands he has sent back to help those who don’t have an opportunity. He’s single-handedly shoring up 20 to 30 people in a refugee camp with any money he makes in the U.S. Because FourtyTwo has lived in such dire situations, I think at a very cellular level it becomes a sense of obligation since you know exactly what they are dealing with. Whenever they call for help, he gives them anything he can possibly spare. He understands waiting in line for 12 hours for rice and never getting any.”
After being separated for more than 15 years, the McClains helped FourtyTwo reconnect with his mother through a phone call. The American Red Cross out of Omaha, helped make the connection.
“She couldn’t believe I was still alive,” FourtyTwo said. “I told her I would bring her here, but she didn’t want to hear about that. She didn’t want to leave the village. She told me the killing still exists.”
To hear his mother’s voice after so much time had passed was emotional to say the least.
“If I had tears, I would cry,” FourtyTwo said. “I lost all my tears back in the war.”
His mother passed away about a year ago.
As FourtyTwo reflected on his path to this point, he said he’s grateful for the chances he’s been given.
“I have no idea how I survived, to be honest, because you’re just waiting for your time,” he said.
He credited the McClains for their generosity, referring to them as family.
“You have to have someone show you the way,” he said.