Inside Bay Area
Afew weeks ago, on a flight from Phoenix to Oakland, I sat next to a man who told me: "I'm from Sudan, a country in North Africa."
I wasn't sure how to respond.
In the last 21 years, the civil war in Sudan has killed at least 2 million people. More casualties than Angola, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Liberia, the Persian Gulf, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Rwanda combined. And the man beside me assumed that I — a 29-year-old blonde American woman — didn't even know where on the planet Sudan was located.
The sad truth: Until recently, even though I was familiar with Sudan's geographical location, I knew very little about the country's ongoing tragedy. Since having this conversation with my seatmate, I've asked several people if they knew anything about Sudan's situation; most of them did not. And no one knew that the Bush administration is credited with brokering the country's recent, but fragile and not inclusive of Darfur, peace agreement.
I work on the events staff at Cody's bookstore in Berkeley, and coincidentally, a few weeks after this flight the authors of a book about Sudan were scheduled to read at our store. I had the book in my carry-on bag. "They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky" details the journey of three young boys from the south of Sudan who walked thousands of miles to refugee camps outside of the country. These three boys, the authors of the book, are now 23- to 25-year-old men living in San Diego.
I showed the book to my seatmate. For the first time he looked directly at me and I saw that a raised, cloudy white film covered his right eye.
He looked away and said: "Those Lost Boys, that's not the whole story."
My seatmate — also in his mid-20s — was from northern Sudan. Generally speaking, the civil war in Sudan was between the northern government and the southern people.
Later, my seatmate told me about his eye. He'd been blinded in "a Ghost Room," a euphemism for an interrogation center. His twin brother and father had been killed in one.
When the Sudanese authors came to Cody's, they too spoke of those who'd been lost.
Alephonsion Deng talked about a dream he'd had while sleeping on the flight from Sudan to America. In the dream, he stuck his head out the side of a moving vehicle and saw, as he had when he was an
8-year-old boy, the skeletons of human bodies lying beside the road. This time, however, the skulls smiled and spoke to him: "Son," they said, "you will fight this war. We all paid for it. Everybody will pay for it. To pay for it you must start the process."
"The process?" Alephonsion asked the skulls. "What is the process?"
The skulls answered: "The process is to find peace in your heart."
When I think about the stories of these young men from Sudan, I wonder: Why are we, as a nation, so unaware of the tragedies occurring outside of our country, particularly those in Sudan? Are we not robbing ourselves of the opportunity to learn from those who know about the casualties of war? These young men could teach us about the strength required to choose to honor the lives of all people.
When Alephonsion asked the skulls how he could start the process, they said: "If you answer that question, everybody will answer that question."
Alephonsion is doing his part; isn't it about time we do ours?
Amy Wilson is an Oakland resident.
When I think about the stories of these young men from Sudan, I wonder:
Why are we, as a nation, so unaware of the tragedies occurring
outside of our country, particularly those in Sudan? Are we not
robbing ourselves of the opportunity to learn from those who know about
the casualties of war?