Story Publication logo May 31, 2007

Homecoming for Garang


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Gabriel Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, Southern Sudanese "Lost Boys" in the U.S., were forced...

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Multiple Authors

Jen Marlowe, for the Pulitzer Center

We could hear the ululations, singing and drumming as we approached Lang village, just a short drive from Akon, in an SUV we borrowed from the home of Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan. (he is from Akon).

The village was expecting the return of their lost son. And all the village turned out, as well as people from neighboring villages. Garang climbed down from the car and was immediately surrounded by a swarm of people who wanted to touch him, hug him, kiss him, make sure he was real.

A brown floppy hat with a long feather was ceremoniously placed on Garang's head by one elder, where it perched atop of his black NY Yankees baseball hat. A yellow cape that had the words "play together" was tied around his neck by another. Then, accompanied by singing and dancing and drumming--Garang was led to the small river, which he crossed along with the rest of the village and our unique party of Lost Boys and Khawajas (white people). A calf was held down on its back, its legs held straight up, for Garang to step over, followed by the rest of our party, and sacrified immediately thereafter. Spears and sticks were placed on the ground for Garang to step over. Water was poured from a gourd onto his shoes, splashed on him and an elderly woman lovingly spit in his face. There wasn't time to ask the meaning of any of the rituals--I was either trying to sprint ahead of Garang so I could film the procession or thrust my camera between dozens of people thronging around him in order to get a shot of the water sloshing his shoes.

Garang was solemn and his eyes were red. Several times he wiped his eyes with the corner of the yellow "play together" cape. Embraced by elders on either side, they led him to a certain tukul. A woman ran out to greet him in ectasy.

"Jen, this is my mother."

Garang was led to a seat to hold court with all the people who wanted to see, touch, or talk to him. His mother followed. Garang pulled her, a little woman, onto his lap. She grabbed his face with both hands and, sitting on the lap of the 24 year old son that she hasn't seen since he was a little boy, kissed him, laughed, hugged his head tightly, and kissed him again.

The women offered more ululations, singing and dancing in celebration.

I zoomed in on Garang's face as he held his mother in his lap.

I hoped the camera didn't pick up the sound of my tears as I watched Garang's.


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