Story Publication logo June 6, 2007

Where are the guys?


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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

David Morse, for the Pulitzer Center

Here 'on the ground' in South Sudan, the ground is very very wet. It is a sea of mud. Yesterday afternoon a torrential rain accompanied by fierce wind blew down the tent where I had slept the first three nights in Akon. Wind slashed at trees and blew open the door of our tukul, everything lit in a greenish milky light and water sheeting two or three inches across the WHO compound where we are staying. I would guess eight or ten inches fell in the space of an hour.

We don't know where the three guys are: Chris/Koor, Gabriel/Bol, and Sam/Garang. They were walking home from Arien, Bol's home village. The three women and I had gotten a ride with Abraham, who wears a bunch of hats - driver, state minister of finance, and missionary. An expert driver, with an unerring eye for contours in the rutted tracks that could spell the difference between smooth going and a bone-jarring jolt or worse, Abraham drove for the Sudan People's Liberation Army. The off road experience shows. This is mostly off-road. There are no real roads here in South Sudan. How a driver discerns which of several braided tracks to follow, while tooting away goats and cattle and avoiding newly planted sorgham patches, is beyond me.

We don't know whether they started out on foot in the afternoon, as planned, and got caught in the downpour, or whether they ended up staying the night in Arian. We have no way of communicating with them, because there are no telephones in South Sudan - except satellite phones, and we have only the one Thurya, mostly for use in emergency - if somene should get bitten by a poisonous snake or or if we need to contact the pilot, Saleh, concerning the condition of the landing strip.

Yesterday, spent giving out mosquito nets, went well, thanks to the ride from Abraham - on informal loan to us from the New York based group Our Sister's Keepers, and thanks to all othe other folks who contributed in Tucson, Chicago, Syracuse, Storrs, Connecticut, and elsewhere round the planet to help us deliver these life-saving treated nets. The repellent lasts for five or six years, and is considered the single most effective deterrent to malaria. The nets reached villagers in Arien, and Myen Pajok. On each occasion, there was a gathering of people under a huge ficus tree - the trees that are emblematic of village life - attended by elders, including the spearmen or shamen and crones, the chief and the sub chiefs. There is vociferous argument over what is fair distribution, because there is not enough; there will never be enough. The argument includes the theme of how little in the way of social services or humanitarian aid filters into the hinterlands from places like Akon, with its landing strip and international humanitarian aid agency presence. How several dozen children in these villages died of measles in the past two or three months, while the measles campaign run by UNICEF remains focused in Akon and the towns. So it is bitter sweet, but it is something for now. I don't think any of us involved in this project can stop here. The need is too great. We have seen it in its human faces, from the snake-bitten girl to the talented young people who have no schools. to the work-rhythms and ceremonies of an agricultural society that is still intact and gorgeous but which needs our help.

The great beauty of yesterday, for me, was the time spent following Bol around his village. Bol has a plan. He will establish a school in Arien. He gave out tee-shirts to the children, who assembled for the occasion, some of them walking for as long as an hour. He spoke with elders, and he spoke separately with teachers. I am only touching on the content of a day of blessing that still washes over me. For the first time, Bol's dream was palpable. I realized he was really going to make it happen. Jen found the whole thing as moving as I did. One of us will describe it in more detail.


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