“IT WAS JUST BOYS WALKING”
AN EXCERPT FROM A FORTHCOMING BIOGRAPHY OF DOMINIC AROU, A YOUNG REFUGEE FROM THE SUDAN.
Dominic recounts the first months of his journey from the time he left his native Marial Bai in 1987 to seek refuge in Ethiopia. As a part of a group of 17,000 making its way across the Sudanese desert, he endures hunger and exhaustion, crosses the White Nile, and flees the ever-present threat of lions and the murahaleen.
In the last installment of “It Was Just Boys Walking,” we found the author and Dominic Arou, a Sudanese refugee now living in Atlanta, on their way from Kenya to southern Sudan. Dominic was attempting to make it back to Marial Bai, the village of his birth, to find and visit with his family, whom he hadn’t seen since fleeing in 1987, at about the age of eight. This month we begin from the beginning, when Dominic Arou left home during the civil war which has engulfed Sudan since 1983, killing about two million people and displacing four million. Though there are many tribal and regional conflicts in the country, at its core the war has pitted the government of Sudan, based in the northern city of Khartoum and controlled for the majority of the past two decades by Islamic fundamentalists, against the black Christians in the southern part of the country. The south, generally supportive of the efforts of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), has been seeking secession from the north, and the establishment of their own nation, and the equitable division of the oil wealth which has been found under southern Sudanese soil.
Dominic is one of the young refugees known as the Lost Boys, about 4,000 of whom now live in the United States. They were driven from their families during the war, and together thousands of them walked to Ethiopia. Hundreds, if not thousands, died along the way. Below is Dominic’s own account of the first months of his journey, after he and other children from his village fled to avoid murder or capture at the hands of the murahaleen, Arab militiamen in service to the Islamic government. Dominic and his companions began walking across the dry terrain in hopes of reaching Ethiopia, where they expected to find asylum.
This installment is told in Dominic’s words, and reflects his style of English, which he learned during his eight years in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya. Dominic speaks softly, but passionately, frequently punctuating his speech with exclamations. Though his account of harrowing circumstances, of starvation and death, is so matter-of-fact it seems somehow past feeling, Dominic’s outlook is filled with wonder and optimism—anything but fatalistic. Dominic, and the Dinka people generally, are devout Christians, and they see the trials of their past and those before them as preordained by God and imbued with purpose. The story that follows is a result of dozens of hours of interviews and has been edited by the author.
“At first, I did not know where we were going. I’d never heard about the name ‘Ethiopia.’ I had never had a journey like that before. But I just took it as part of what is happening to me. It was like escaping tragedy. It was like going into a better place. And we would go every morning, every night, and I was thinking, ‘Tomorrow is going to be the end.’ But it was never the end.
Sometimes we go this direction, then we face another direction, and go that way. I was confused. I did not know where I was going.
I was far from home. I don’t know about the miles. My group was over a thousand. Every day we’d get new people from the villages we would pass—boys and a few girls. But the girls with us would not always stay very long. The girls would get adopted into families. The way southern Sudanese culture is, people don’t leave baby girls to wander. So families would adopt them and take care of them.
But the boys, they were a target; they would be killed. That was how it was calculated at that time. The boys become the fear of the entire nation.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt.
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