'Lost Boys' tell haunting tale
Youths who fled war in Sudan share horrific experiences
By Dolores Derrickson, Special to the News
June 10, 2005
Alephonsion Deng's mother woke him from a sweet sleep one night with
terror in her voice.
"Go with your big brother and don't ask questions," she said.
"I want you to walk into the bush . . . If something ever happened
to your dad or me, please don't cry."
These were the last words Deng heard from his mother as he walked into
the elephant grass without asking questions. His story, with those of
brother Benson's and cousin Benjamin's, re-creates the confusion these
boys experienced while spilling out of blazing villages that were attacked
by Arab horsemen in Dinka, a farm region in southern Sudan, in the late
Their book, They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of
Three Lost Boys from Sudan, is an amazing account of boys who managed
to survive a terrifying ordeal.
Prior to the invasions, they had lived peaceful lives in a close-knit
community of grass-roofed houses, farmland and tribal councils. Benson
had the same father as Alephonsion, but another mother, and was staying
with his aunt in another village at the time of the attacks. The boys'
father had provided a pleasant life for his family, but had been worried
about rumors that a fundamentalist jihad of the northern government
was bearing down on the southern villages.
One day he pulled Benson aside and told him if their village was ever
attacked to "hide where the gun's fire embers can't reach you.
Hide so that they don't scoop you up onto a horse and take you as a
slave to the north."
"So I ran like my father told me to," Benson writes. "I
ran from the fire-balls, bullets and screams into the dark where the
hyena and lion and scorpion slithered and prowled."
Benson draws readers into his world and shows unexpected depth and sensitivity
in his analyses of situations. He writes about being so afraid when
his aunt's village was attacked that he left in his underwear and without
shoes. He kept falling down and stepping on painful objects. When others
found him, he was trembling and sobbing and pointing back toward his
family's village, saying, "I've got to find my mum."
Benjamin, the third author of this book, had been in the fields at the
time of an attack. He looked up and saw men of different colors looking
at him "like a cobra looks at mice." He was only seven but
could tell that one of the men was trying to talk the other out of killing
him because he didn't know anything and was "just a kid."
Eventually, the three boys met up in the Tonj region of the Sudan and
joined thousands of other boys crying and yearning for the protection
of their parents. As a group, they walked day and night, endured thirst,
beatings, jail and starvation. They slept together in the middle of
roads and, over five years, walked 1,000 miles to gain refuge in Kenya.
When they reached the Upper Nile region, their problems multiplied because
they were surrounded by muddy waters, crocodiles and mosquitoes.
Collectively, they came to be known as the Lost Boys of Sudan, and reporter
Bob Simon related their story on 60 Minutes.
The authors of this book, now young men living in San Diego, give amazing
accounts of what it was like to be among the Lost Boys of Sudan. Their
stories diverge because they were separated and then reunited. There
are parts of the book that are difficult to read: The authors eventually
witnessed other Lost Boys die of thirst, starvation, lion attacks or
grief because they couldn't cope with the loss of their families.
Still, there's a kind of haunting beauty to their story. And good things
happen, as well. A water truck carrying rebel forces drops by and carries
the younger boys to the next village. A lead antelope spots Benson and
turns the other antelopes just to the right so they won't trample him.
Kind people share food and water, sacrificial gifts to starving children.
After reading this book, readers may feel like they've been on an adventure
- or in hell, depending on their point of view. Whatever the case, this
book is an eye-opener.
Judy Bernstein helped the authors write their story so that the world
could better comprehend the tragedies of Sudan. At the end of the book,
she writes: "In a world where we witness war on television as impersonally
as an action movie, personal accounts are necessary reminders that for
someone, somewhere, war is all too real. It has tragic and lasting consequences
on people's lives, particularly children's."
Dolores Derrickson is a freelance writer living in Aurora.
Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.