Saturday, December 01, 2007

They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky

Title: They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky
Authors: Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, Benjamin Ajak

I was fast: that was my gift. If I did something bad, I would run. If something bad happened to me, I would run too. That night all turmoil broke out, I ran, like my mother had told me…

The recent genocide in Darfur is not the only bloodbath that has wracked Sudan. From 1983–2005 the Second Sudanese Civil War was waged between the northern Arab-dominated government and the southern non-Arab peoples. Still ongoing in some regions, the conflict has killed more civilians than any war since WWII. Along the way, some 27,000 boys either were orphaned when their parents were murdered, or displaced when they fled the government’s attacks upon their villages. Today, they are known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky tells the stories of three of those boys, whose childhood and adolescence were spent wandering from Sudan to Ethiopia to Kenya in search of family and a home.

This was a fascinating read, particularly because the authors (now living in the United States) are near my age. Benson, Alephonsion, and Benjamin were 5 to 7 years-old when they fled the government's attack upon their farming villages in the 1980s, and their youth was spent either in refugee camps, seeking refugee camps, or fleeing refugee camps. Individually, they each walked nearly 1,000 miles. The dangers they faced were formidable. The desert menaced them with snakes, lions, hyenas, scorpions, and the ever-present threat of death from thirst. In the refugee camps, starving adults wouldn’t hesitate to steal food or a scrap of blanket from a child. Death from disease or starvation was never far away. And as the boys grew older, they faced the equally-dangerous prospect of being impressed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to fight on the front lines of the war.

Benson, Alephonsion, and Benjamin tell their stories with the straight-forward innocence of children caught up in a whirlwind of death and destruction they can’t possibly understand. Not found in these pages is either political analysis or, aside from what the boys' own experiences testify to, an extended condemnation of the easy-to-condemn Sudanese government. (These are the same people who recently wanted to flog a British school teacher for naming a teddy bear Mohammed.) Rather, TPFOUFTS is a straight-forward tale of survival, courage, and the importance of family.

Most importantly, Benson, Alephonsion, and Benjamin prove that humanity can survive even the most wretched circumstances. Throughout the horrors they endured, the boys were supported by the unbreakable bond of family. Benson and Alephonsion are brothers, and Benjamin is their cousin. Although often separated on their journeys, the boys never forgot or stopped searching for each other. They cared for and defended each other when possible, and placed the well-being of family above all other concerns. In a time when they had nothing else to rely on, family was truly the only thing they had.

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posted by Elizabeth at 1:59 PM


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