Unit project brings class curriculum to life

What is the What character, Moses, posing with his family for a recent Christmas photo while living in America.
Photo Courtesy of Arianna McDowell

When RAHS junior, Arianna McDowell, embarked on her newest project in Junior Literature, she was definitely not expecting the interview of a lifetime. The classJunior Literature is currently doing a project that is related to the latest book that they read, What is the What by Dave Eggers. This project involves the real stories of immigrants in American society, and the journeys and stories they have had. McDowell received the tremendous opportunity, in that she got to of interviewing an important actual character from this non-fiction story.

When RAHS junior Arianna McDowell embarked on her newest project in Junior Literature, she was definitely not expecting the interview of a lifetime.

“The project we’re doing in savsSavishinsky’s right now is interviewing immigrants or refugees that have found their way here,” said McDowell. “I brought this up with my mother and she told me that the Smith tower had a lot of refugees who worked for them in maintenance.”

What is the What is the story of Valentino Deng, who, at 8 years old, fled Sudan with over 20,000 other children (The Lost Boys of Sudan), while under constant hardship.

“I brought up the book we are reading, “What is the What”, and she said there was a Lost Boy who worked at the Smith tower.,” said McDowell. “So she gave me a contact of a close family friend, who gave me a contact of one of the refugees, who was Moses from the book (Valentino’s best friend).”

This unlikely connection helped her learn the story of someone she had known forever, but never knew the backstory of.

“It was a connection of people that iI found him through,” said McDowell. “I even used to know him when iI was really really young — he used to greet us whenever my mom would go to work with me.”

This contact almost sounded too good to be true at first, but McDowell was able to confirm Moses was the real deal.

“At first i was a bit suspicious — I was suspicious because the book told a different story than what Moses did,” said McDowell. “That is when Sav told me Valentino (the main character of the book) was only 7 when everything  happened, so of course he’s not gonna remember everything.”

The verification did take a little bit of inquiry and digging, but it all paid off.

“I did a lot of research before asking moses if he was moses from the book, and when he said yes, I thought it was insane. ,” said McDowell.

McDowell was able to interview someone who is exactly the same in real life as he was in the book.

“He [Moses] is such a sweet person, the personality of Moses conveyed in the book is exactly like who he is,” said McDowell. “He is so eager to tell his story, after one question he just took off and told his whole story without having to ask any questions.”

Moses was able to give amazing detail of his harrowing journey.

“It’s almost like he read my question sheet and knew what to say beforehand,” said McDowell. “But he has just told his story so much. He even told me about the differences in climate between Seattle and Sudan.”

The story starts with the civil war in Sudan.

“It all started because of the war in sudan between the north and the south,” said McDowell. “His village was raided and he was separated from his family. So he started to run away, and he walked for months, going through deserts, going through crocodile infested rivers. He even found safe havens, but sometimes they were not safe for long enough.”

The story was massive, and it displayed endurance.

“He kept going on and on, and it was just super thrilling because these bad things were happening, but he’d find a way to lighten the mood, said McDowell.

One interesting story is how his name is not actually what it is currently.

“One of the best part of his story is about when they were in a city between Sudan and Ethiopia,” said McDowell, “where the UN was helping them and doing immigrancy checks to pick and choose who they wanted to have immigrate. He actually failed the test, but because his friend (who went back to South Sudan) was not there, he took his name and was able to come to the US.”


Moses’ story was not only funny at times, it was also filled with intense, violent, and unforgettable moments.

“He also told me a prominent story in the book where he was carrying his teacher’s goat across a river after they were raided,” said McDowell. “He heard gunshots and then saw blood all over him. He checked all over for a wound even though he felt no pain, He thought he was simply in shock, and realized it was the goat in his arms that was shot. It is definitely an intense story.”

The class overall seems to be very excited for this unlikely connection, and interest throughout the school is rising.

“It has become increasingly popular,” said McDowell. “Ive had alot of people ask me about it, people asking how the interview went and stuff like that. A Lot of people are excited because it’s the best friend of the main character in the book, and a prominent character in the novel. Its has just surprised everyone that this connection has been made.”

McDowell is still stunned that this was the direction her project went.

“I am overwhelmed myself because i know i have to make this good,” said McDowell.


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