Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"God Grew Tired of Us"

My wife and I recently watched the moving documentary, God Grew Tired of Us, about the Lost Boys of Sudan. In 1987, the Muslim Sudanese government decreed death for all male children in the predominantly Christian and animist south. As a result, 27,000 boys made their way on foot to neighboring Ethiopia, where they stayed about four years in squalid conditions. In 1991, they were forced to flee south to Kenya, where they settled in a refugee camp in Kakuma, not far from the Sudanese border. Of the original 27,000 only 12,000 made it to Kakuma. The taller boys -- no matter what their age -- were expected to look after the young, and small, improvised family units were formed.

The documentary follows the odyssey of a handful of these young men, all the way into the third year of their immigration to the United States. It's a heartbreaking story of disjuncture, as the jobs the boys take prevent them from seeing each other, not to mention those they have left in Kakuma. The sense of community they had relied on all their lives is now removed, along with everything else familiar. Many Americans have the impression that, if the refugees can just make it to American soil, their quality of life will automatically improve; God Grew Tired of Us illustrates the fallacy of this kind of thinking. The challenges are just beginning, as the immigrants are faced with learning an entirely new way of life -- from electric lights and appliances to Western-style toilets, from strange food to taking on multiple jobs in order to send money home out of a sense of obligation and duty to those left behind.

Some of the Lost Boys ended up in my own city of Nashville (not shown in the film), where they have started a foundation. Some friends of mine recently told me they had sent their children to an art camp at a downtown gallery run by the Lost Boys Foundation, where they delightedly learned how to make African masks and other creations. If you are aware of colonies of Lost Boys in your city, find out how you can be of support to them. Some of them are pursuing degrees in order to return to Africa and help lead their people to higher ground.

Coming soon to this blog: an interview with one of the Lost Boys.

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