You may recognize him from the glossy pages of your high fashion magazines, or his turn as the strong wise type in the 2004 hit I Heart Huckabees. Yet Ger Duany definitely has something to say. A former child soldier in war-torn Sudan, Ger has been working on a documentary about the separation of Sudan into two countries, Africa’s newest in 30 years, as well as his incredible reunion with the family he left behind. I recently met Ger at a fundraiser he was hosting at the LES’s Spur Tree Lounge, a trendy Jamaican restaurant with a vibe as cool and mellow as Ger himself. We later met for coffee and talked the incredible journeys both he and his new homeland have made.
Strangers Have the Best Candy: Something that struck me in an article I read about you was that you mentioned that while you were in school in that States, you felt like you did in Sudan, kind of wandering, like a nomad. I was wondering if you feel more a peace since you reunited with your family, like you have a place in the world?
Ger Duany: My life in Sudan kind of mimicked my life in America. When I was in Sudan during the civil war, I was always moving from place to place. If something happened in one place, we would have to move somewhere else. We were just in survival mode, constantly. In ’94, I found myself in the same mode. I lived in, like, 11 cities in America. I’ve never really lived in one place, the first time was in New York, for about the last seven years now. Going back this year, after 18 years, finding my mom, my dad, my brother, that kind of brought peace. It gave me clarity about what I wanted to do after all these years.
SHTBC: In addition, your return comes at the same time that Sudan will split, creating Africa’s first country in 30 years.
GD: Yeah, the biggest country in Africa is splitting, and that’s pretty big, because nobody ever thought that Sudan could be split into two parts. When you think of the wars in the countries in the Middle East, they kind of followed the lead of what happened in Sudan. We went through a civil war in 1955 before we got our independence, and 1956. For us, fighting for a decade, we kind of set an example for all the other countries, for the dictators, that you have to stand up for yourself, and become a world unto your own self. With South Sudan becoming its own country, you see Egypt going through something, Libya going through something, all those countries. Sudan is considered one of the Middle Eastern countries, but we [the South] never really wanted to be part of the Middle Eastern Arab league, we’re African descendants and that’s it.
SHTBC: So there’s a lot of talk about how the countries are going to share the wealth. What are your thoughts on that?
GD: It’s tough, but the comprehensive peace agreement that was signed in 2005 covers that. The oil that exists now, they’re going to try to split it 50/50, but there’s a lot that hasn’t been discovered yet, so that we’re not going to split 50/50. If it was up to me, I would just give them the area to develop and then redirect the pipeline to a different area, then we wouldn’t have to split with North Sudan. But because they are children of Sudan, it’s ok. It doesn’t have to be 50/50, to me it should be at least 10 per cent more for us for a certain amount of time, maybe 10, 15 years, and then we change things around.
SHTBC: In terms of connecting with your family, what are your plans? Will you have them visit you? How are you going to work on your relationship going forward?
GD: A lot of people have been asking me that, because America, it’s become attached to me, but my birthplace is also important. As far as my family coming here or me going there, I’m not seeing that. What I see is closing the gap between this country and my birthplace. My work is there, as a young man now, I see how important it is for me to work there. I can always come back to this city and this country, but I want to be in Africa and helping. Maybe I could be the voice that comes to you guys and tells you what’s happening there…
SHTBC: Yes, an ambassador for this new country…
GD: Yes, exactly!
SHTBC: So tell me about how you feel living in New York, being a model and an actor and how you feel about this new reality, compared to your beginnings. Is it surreal and strange?
GD: Well, it is sometimes, be being a model and in the fashion industry. They don’t know what happened in my past. For quite a few people, they were shocked to learn that I was a war child who had fought for nine, 10 years in civil wars, because they never saw that part of me. It was something that I stayed away from. Modelling was good for me. It was good that I stayed away from my story for so long, because people could have been overwhelmed and sympathized with me, and I didn’t want that. I wanted them to see me as just another kid from Sudan, pursuing my dreams like everyone else in America. I struggled just like any other American. But modeling has been good to me. I’ve done well and I’ve met so many people. I think this is what I’m supposed to be doing, to connect with people. It’s not about me collecting wealth. Sean [from Spur Tree Lounge] gave me some great advice the other day, he said, “Your wealth is inside of you.” And I always used to say to myself that the answer to what I’m looking for in life is right here [points to his chest], so whatever I’m doing, whether its modelling or acting, if I get a job I get it, but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. SHTBC: Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you can talk about?
GD: I do. I just made a movie, about a year ago, it’s called Restless City. The director actually came out to support me at the fundraiser at Spur Tree. It’s about five guys from West Africa who come to New York City, being young, black, and African, no parents, just pursuing dreams, falling in love with girls [laughs]…
SHTBC: Sounds like your story…
GD: [laughs] Pretty much, that’s the life of New York. So that’s one project. They had a premiere on the 29th of June I think, and then they’re going to a lot of festivals. Then there’s my documentary.
SHTBC: Yes, that was going to be my next question. Are you done filming or still shooting?
GD: No, we’re still shooting. I’m going back to shoot the last sequence, when we raise the flag and all that. Also, my father is in prison, which you may remember from the feature I sent you, he will be released. That makes my whole story come together.
SHTBC: Yes, I can imagine. In terms of fundraising efforts for South Sudan, do you have any more plans for that? For example, will you use any of the proceeds for the documentary toward that?
GD: Yes, definitely. My focus is really to go to Sudan and capture what is happening and then go from there. I don’t really have the money to make the documentary happen yet. The people that work with me, they just like my story, I can’t afford to pay them. The director and I, we have the ownership of the whole story, so that makes it a lot easier. So we work with what we have most of the time. The last time we went to Sudan, we didn’t have any money, we each had $500 in our pockets [laughs]. We had mosquito nets and blankets, we were eating one meal a day, but that was it. All the money that we get goes into travel.We have to fly everywhere in Sudan, because it’s so big, and it’s an NGO world, so expensive. To stay in a hotel is like $200 a night. So we said, nah, we have to use our mosquito nets. So once the documentary is finished, I want to share my story with everyone, all over Africa and the states, and all over the Caribbean. I just want to tell my story to the people. Then maybe I’ll do some more fundraising all around [the US], but by then I’ll be doing fundraising to build a school, in the area from where I was displaced, and a few clinics.
SHTBC: Ok, last question, what’s something you miss about life in Sudan, that you can’t experience here in the states? Other than your family, of course, and what’s something that’s not in Sudan, that you appreciate about the States?
GD: Yes, I definitely miss my family. My childhood there, even during the civil war, there were still good things. I love the Nile, I love going to it, going fishing, or just looking at the water. Or, early in the morning when you’re getting up, there’s always a natural rhythm, the cricket noises, the sounds of water. For the States, when you look around at the culture here in New York, and the people, they come from all walks of life but we all have the same drive, to make a difference, and I think that’s what I get in New York. It kind of balances my energy. I get it in Sudan too, but it’s there because you come from big families, so you’re never really alone. You may be alone in your house in New York, but when you come out, like sitting in this coffee shop right now and looking around, you’re not quite alone. Everybody is driven. That’s very motivating. Everybody is doing something.
To do something, or to find out more about Ger and South Sudan, visit www.gerduany.com.
Happy World Changing!