According to an African proverb, "When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled." Nothing validates this truth more than the experience of the Lost Boys of Sudan, the thousands of youths who have fled their villages during the long, ongoing Sudanese civil war.
Under the guidance of Judy Bernstein, volunteer mentor for the San Diego International Rescue Committee, Benson and Alephonsion Deng and their cousin Benjamin Ajak, all younger than 7 at the time their Dinka village was attacked, narrate their experiences in "They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky," a moving, beautifully written account, by turns raw and tender.
One can hardly imagine such an account being pleasurable to read, but when considered as a tribute to their character, it is compelling. In language elegant with understatement and metaphor, Benson speaks of "the wail and the woe" of crossing the wicked Gilo River, dodging gunfire and ferocious crocodiles. "Thousands of people flowed into the river and disappeared, like water poured into the sand of Sahara." And again, "War determined to fling us into the wind like moths…. I could feel the sorrow in the trees." Perhaps such imagery has its source in the oral traditions of their tribal life.
Their yearning for education was so keen that in a Kenyan refugee camp they chose rudimentary schooling over a chance to earn money for food. Although the experiences themselves deliver an indictment, the account is remarkably without condemnation or self-pity, and the boys exhibit an underlying innocence and purity. One aspect of the story in "They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky" remains for us to deduce: the effect of its telling on the three young men themselves. The tone of the ending suggests that while excruciating to relive it to write about it, the process has been if not healing, then at least therapeutic. One would hope.