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The two worst days of his life: Sudan’s Lost Boys in Seattle

May 26th, 2004 · No Comments

I am grateful for Jim Moore, and for his compassion and care for Sudan. I confess though that I feel I need to educate myself and learn more about the situation there. I want to care but as my days disappear, I am failing to take the time to study and learn. The sun rises, the sun sets, the world spins around. Time passes through me. I could embellish various explanations for my excuses, but the truth is that I haven’t taken the time to care.

The other day Jim in The attention economy and the economy of caring linked to Boris Anthony’s post An economy of caring which speaks truth:

The information is all there, available to any one of us. The “Attention Economy” is, loosely, about getting enough attention to the information that matters or is of value. Weblogs seem to do this quite well. But there is another threshold: caring. Once one’s attention is grabbed, for example the news of genocide somewhere in the world, there is a gap between intellectually “getting it” and viscerally “feeling it”.

I think, in the information overflow of today, we’ve definitely turned on some sort of desensitization mechanism. A major part of that mechanism is a belief, and therefore actualization, of helplessness. “Yeah but what can I possibly do?”

Sunday’s Seattle Times carried a front page story about a couple of Sudan’s Lost Boys Young Sudanese men survive war, starvation — and U.S. culture shock Some days I don’t spend a lot of time reading the paper, but this story with its front page placement, photo, and most of all, topic, caught my eye and my heart. It didn’t take a lot of effort for me to read it, the paper sitting on my table, asking for my attention. The story is helping me bridge the gap Boris Anthony describes of getting to the place where I “viscerally feel it”, where I want to care and act on what is happening in Sudan.

The article describes the story of Peter Deng.

But his story, or at least the tale of the Lost Boy from Sudan, is coming to an end.

In a few weeks he’ll graduate from Ingraham High, then head to college. He is working part time, already paying rent and is engaged to be married.

Deng has so adapted to the life of an American high schooler that he’s experienced the twin emotions familiar to impending grads everywhere: senioritis and stress.

Weeks ago, he dug into his Great Land backpack only to discover he’d lost a floppy disc containing his 13-page senior project.

Deng sighed and said, “Second-worst day of my life.”

The worst day, Deng recalls later, was when soldiers forced him and other orphans from a refugee camp in Ethiopia back to their native Sudan, where a decades-long civil war raged.

Deng stood at the Gilo River. The striped scars on his forehead indicated he was a member of the Dinka tribe, which likely meant he could swim.

Desperate nonswimmers were shoving guns at the swimmers or jumping on their backs for a ride across the Gilo, extra weight that could drown both human ferry and passenger.

Deng dove deep.

“I dove in the river so they can’t see me,” he said.

Thousands drowned that day. He was 9 years old.

What Boris Anthony said about desensitization is true. I can feel overwhelmed by the stories in the news. But this one spoke to me – selfishly?! – because I can relate a little to where Peter Deng is. I was once a high school senior in Seattle. That’s about all we have in common. But this story about a student, someone in my hometown, shopping for shoes, surviving high school, going solo to the prom, scars on his face, is one that I can see and understand. It hits my heart.

While finding this article, I discovered another article published by the Seattle Times two years ago, this one describing the life of another Lost Boy, Santino Lual, and his life as an elevator operator in one of Seattle’s historic buildings. A Journey of Countless Steps. This one too affects me. I don’t know how I missed reading it when it was first published.

YOU ARE EATING Sunday breakfast at a plastic-menu pancake place with Santino, his roommate Tong Mel who is also a Lost Boy, and a Burien family who watched Tom Brokaw’s Dateline TV report about the Lost Boys last September and decided to befriend them.

Physician Tom Hulse and his wife Linda own an apartment building in Burien and rent to the Lost Boys at a good rate. They take them to church every Sunday and introduce them to Wendy’s hamburgers, Godfather’s pizza, snow in Snoqualmie, high-school basketball games.

The Hulses are one extreme of a complex answer to a question Santino asked Brokaw on the TV show: Why do so many people in America not know much about Sudan? Do they even care?

Americans, Brokaw explained, are busy working and raising their families, and Africa seems so far away that no, they don’t think all the time about people suffering in Sudan.

Yes, that’s me. I’m guilty.
But I want to change.
After I wrote this post, I took some time to go through some of the links on Jim Moore’s site.
I started. Then I had to stop.
How hard it is to read about Sudan when the desensitization starts to disappear.

Tags: news