By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator 

Amid the chaotic setting of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on a busy Thursday night, Dauda Sesay was encased in his own emotional cocoon.  

While taxi drivers were picking up fares, and passengers were scrambling to make flights, Sesay was silent among the flurry of activity, corralling a preponderance of emotion that was 16 years in the making. Eventually, the gates opened and tears of joy flowed as he embraced his children, not wanting to release them from his grasp ever again.  

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Overcome with emotion, Dauda Sesay is embraced by his children, Bai, left, and Mariama, shortly after arriving at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Dauda Sesay had not seen his children since fleeing Sierra Leona 16 years ago.  Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

The roots of this family reunion go back 16 years, when Sesay was forced to leave his native Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of what would be a decades-long civil war, after witnessing the brutal murder of his father.  

He would embark on a long journey that would eventually land Sesay and his wife, Alima, with the assistance of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge through its resettlement program, in Baton Rouge. But there was no way of knowing the length of such an anguishing separation, and for a long time he was even unaware of their whereabouts.  

“Seeing them for the first time was tough; it was a mixed emotion,” said Sesay, who works at Dow Chemical. “I shed tears, but this time the tears I shed were not the same as the ones I did 16 years ago.  

“These were tears of joy.”  

“I was very happy to see him,” said Bai Sesay, Dauda’s 17-year-old soft-spoken son whom he had never met.  

Nearby, 20-year-old Mariama could not stop smiling, barely leaving his side as if to reassure herself this was no dream and that indeed she was home for good.  

“I was so happy; I feel like crying and shouting,” she said of seeing her dad for the first since she was four years old. “I was missing my dad so much. I am happy to be united with my family again.”  

Dauda recalled those painful memories of separation. After escaping his native country he was sent to a refugee camp, and it was not until several years later he learned of his children’s whereabouts.  

In 2015 the decision was made to bring Bai and Mariama, who had been living with Dauda’s mother in Sierra Leone, to the United States. Because navigating the often perilous waters of bureaucracy, a process that was originally scheduled to be completed in one year, stretched into two.  

“Right now, it’s not how long have we been separated but how to build our lives together,” Dauda added.  

Although separated in miles, the distance between hearts was simply a phone call away, and so Dauda was able to keep up, although on a limited basis, with his children. Calls averaged about $10 for 20 minutes.  

“I have all of those bills,” Dauda said with a smile. “We talked sometimes once a week. And they sent photos.”  

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Bai Sesay, left, plays with his younger brother, Adam while Daude Sesay looks on at their Baton Rouge home.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

Fitting into a new society will be quite the adjustment for the Sesay children, beginning such basics of how to access email, as modern technology is limited in Sierra Leone. But the transition does bring certain advantages, topping off with, of all things, ice cream.  

The dreamy dessert is cost prohibitive in Sierra Leone, costing about $1 in a country where most families are forced to survive on $2 per day. Neither of the young people have ever had a malt or milk-shake, and the same was true for Dauda when he first arrived in the United States.  

He recalls he and Alima filling the basket with candy bars and ice cream, as well as chips on their early visits to the grocery store.  

“I’m looking forward to ice cream,” said Mariama with a broad smile, adding her favorite flavor is strawberry.  

The challenges obviously extend far beyond ice cram and social media and includes such fundamentals as learning to drive, the appropriate way to interact with others and the proper respect to be shown to law enforcement officials.  

Dauda said the first priority is getting them settled in school, with Bai enrolling in a local junior high. He will be enrolled in the eighth grade.  

Although he played soccer in his home country, Bai is hoping to be able to run cross country or track, and perhaps learn “American football.”

Mariama hopes to enroll in LSU and eventually study law so she can help her native homeland. 

“I want to bring justice to my country, to my society,” she said “I believe if I become a lawyer, I can bring justice.  

“So many people are being denied of so many things. That is my goal (in becoming a lawyer). It’s not about money.”  

Despite the changes, Mariama said the transition will be easy.  

“With love anything is possible,” she said. “I love them so much and they love me so much.”