By Katherine Long
Bang Ayeil and Adit Meukuir, parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse, are the proud parents of Naywel, a 6th grader at Cathedral Academy at Pompei; Deng, a CAP 4th grader; and Nafoni, 18 months. Bang and Adit originally hail from South Sudan; they made their home in Syracuse in 2004. The Sun sat down with the family to talk about what makes the Ayeils the Ayeils.
Unique and universal families
Sticking with the traditions of their culture is what makes the Ayeil family unique, Bang said. That means holding on to ethics and values and respecting the family, he said.
In Sudanese culture, family is not just parents and children, it’s more a family tree, Bang explained. That tree includes siblings and cousins, but also neighbors. “Your countrymate or your villagemate, that is your relative,” he said, all banding together with love and respect.
And the family says they have created a family tree here in Syracuse, too — friends are family, and their children are nieces and cousins.
The Ayeils’ expansive family tree mirrors every other family tree in a simple way: “We’re all humans,” Deng said. “We all came from God.”
Faith and family
There are several branches to the Ayeil family’s tree: their nuclear family, their wider family of friends and fellow parishioners, and their diocesan family, “a broad family, living under one umbrella,” Bang said.
The family is proud to be Catholic and is very involved at St. Vincent’s, where Bang is the youth minister. Though Adit is usually working on Sundays, the family always remembers her in prayer at Mass. The family also prays together and eats meals together regularly.
At school, Naywel says they learn about their faith all the time, from learning about the saints and the good they did to learning about the love and sacrifices of God.
The family celebrated Thanksgiving with their parish family at a special Mass. Naywel, along with other girls from the parish, performed a dance during the liturgy, an annual tradition. The family later shared a meal with friends — another tradition they will repeat for Christmas.
Christmas is a big event in Sudanese culture, Bang explained, and after Mass the family will spend the day going house to house visiting friends and family. “It’s like Halloween [with] no costumes,” he joked. The day offers a chance for family and friends to reconnect and celebrate.
What does family mean?
Naywel has an elegant description of family, one that speaks to her wide family tree: A family is a group of people who are “honest and loving to each other,” she said. And little Nafoni piped up with a squeal at the question as well.
“That’s the love,” Bang said with a smile.