When Peter Nguany Machar works in his garden, he sings to his plants. When he walks away, it’s as if the leaves curl up in his absence.

“It always seems like the leaves are reaching out to him,” said Nyamuon “Moon” Nguany Machar, his daughter. “They’re used to the language of my dad’s spirit.”

Peter Nguany Machar Photo courtesy of Nyamuon Nguany Machar

She is trusting in that spirit now.

Peter Nguany Machar was seriously injured when he was hit by a car on Congress Street on Jan. 21. His daughter said the impact broke both of his legs and vertebrae in his spine, punctured a lung and led to bleeding in his brain. He has been in the hospital for nearly three weeks and undergone four surgeries. After he arrived at Maine Medical Center, he tested positive for COVID-19, which has complicated his recovery and prevented his family from visiting.

Hospital staff have updated his daughter constantly and set up video chats so he could hear her voice even when he was unconscious. Their reports have included some signs of progress, but he recently had to go back on a ventilator, and the family is asking for prayers for his recovery.

“This is not going to take him,” Moon Machar said.


Machar had finished his workday in the laundry room of a local hotel and was on his way to buy groceries at Shaw’s in the Westgate Shopping Center at about 6:40 p.m. when he was hit by a Honda driven by a 23-year-old. He was one of three pedestrians hit by vehicles in Portland during a two-week stretch. One of those people was killed.

Peter Nguany Machar working in the garden. Photo courtesy of Nyamuon Nguany Machar

Machar, 65, has endured trials before. He survived being a child soldier in what is now known as South Sudan, and he fled the war in his homeland for a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He met his future wife there, and their family eventually came to the United States as asylum seekers in 1995.

Nearly three decades later, Machar is a respected elder in the South Sudanese community, as a GoFundMe campaign set up to pay for his expenses points out.


“The elders in the South Sudanese community, they’re like libraries,” said John Ochira, 34, a family friend. “The stories he tells people, we couldn’t Google it. We couldn’t look up those experiences and try to get it anywhere else.”

Moon Machar, now 31, was just 5 when her family moved to Maine. She remembers her sadness and anger when they left Ethiopia because she had saved the seeds from her favorite watermelons and planted them to start her own patch. Her parents had given her a name that meant rich and fertile soil, she said. Her father assured her that she could find another place to grow things in her new country.


And she herself has grown here – into an activist for asylum seekers and refugees, a mental health professional and a spoken word poet. A mural in East Bayside captures her smile and honors her role in the community. Moon Machar now works as a multicultural liaison in a sexual assault response program.

In 2019, she read a poem she wrote about her father at an outdoor picnic in Portland. Her words, captured in a documentary about her work as an advocate, evoke her childhood. She spoke about the scars on his back and the wild stories she created about their origins.

“In my mind’s eye, my father took on the role of a noble lion hunter king, who protected the villagers from the wildcats and the lions in the jungle,” she said.

Her poem describes the day when she was sitting at her father’s feet and he finally explained the source of the scars. He told her of the horrors he had witnessed and endured as a child soldier, memories that still traumatized him and brought them both to tears.

“Like a sprout, I felt a change begin to blossom inside me,” she told those at the picnic, her voice strong and unwavering. “I am a warrior princess, not only of my father, but of my father’s father and his father that came before him. I took a vow that I will protect the villagers of humanity to my dying breath from the lions and the wildcats called injustice, and I would dedicate my life to putting an end to the wildcats of hatred.”



She paused before the poem’s closing words, then said:

“You see, I too now have a mark. My father’s scars have been ingrained on my heart.”

In the documentary, called “I Come From Away: An Immigrant in Maine,” Peter Machar said he chose the United States and later Maine for his family’s home because he wanted them to live in a safe place.

“They say Portland, Maine, is a good state in the USA, a peaceful state,” he said.

In Maine, Machar worked in factories and eventually got a job at Jordan’s Meats in Portland, where he stayed for 15 years. Moon Machar said her father wears a dignified suit and tie everywhere he goes, even if he is checking the mail or working in his garden. He knows seven languages. But he is often discriminated against here because he speaks English with an accent.

He taught his children to write and remember the names of their ancestors going back many generations. He dedicates his free time to creating a record of the Nuer language spoken in South Sudan. He is a funny and lively storyteller. Her 7-year-old daughter is now the giggling recipient of his gifts of mango juice and wise parables. (One favorite: “My dad would say, the baboon would point at the bald butt of the other baboon and forgets that his butt is also bald.”)


His words are appreciated in the South Sudanese community here, too. Ochira, the family friend, said he appreciates the stories that “Uncle Machar” tells because his only memories of his country are faint ones from his childhood.

“It is so important for especially the younger generation in our community to have a sense of identity and pride in where they come from,” Ochira said.

Pious Ali, a Portland City councilor and a leading voice for immigrants in Maine, said he always can count on Machar.

“He is one of the people that you can call and say, ‘I need someone in the community,’ and he knows who to connect you to,” Ali said.


Machar was one of three pedestrians to be hit in Portland in just over two weeks.


On Jan. 18, a person was injured by a hit-and-run driver near the intersection of Forest Avenue and Bedford Street, a few steps from the University of Southern Maine library. Police are still investigating that crash.

On Jan. 21, Machar was hit in Congress Street near the intersection with Caleb Street. The crash report is short on details but says the driver was not impaired or distracted. A spokesman for the Portland Police Department said no charges are expected.

On Feb. 2, a man was killed when he was hit by a pickup truck on Riverside Street in the early morning hours. The driver was a 24-year-old Portland resident. Police are still investigating that case.

Moon Machar said her family has contacted lawyers and wants to conduct its own investigation into the crash. The GoFundMe campaign to help pay for these expenses and others had raised $6,665 of its $20,000 goal by Wednesday afternoon.

“This has been the most humbling,” Moon Machar said of what has happened to her father. “It’s like you’re standing on the shoulders of a giant, and the giant falls down. You have to think about the view from there.”

“I Come From Away: An Immigrant in Maine” will air on Maine Public TV on Feb. 17 at 9 p.m. and Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. 

Comments are not available on this story.