The Lost Boys of Sudan, now on DVD, recounts the story of thousands of boys whose villages in Sudan were destroyed in a civil war while they were away at “cattle camp.” In this conflict, claiming over 2 million lives in two decades, only providence spared their lives. Fleeing into the bush, some 20,000 of these children from Dinga tribes formed into a makeshift group, wandering the desert north to Ethiopia and then south to a UN refugee camp in Kenya. The distance covered by their route approached one thousand miles by some estimates.
They accomplished this amazing feat by banding together, forming makeshift families, the patriarchs as young as 11-years-old. According to the filmmakers, approximately half of this original group survived. During their crucible, they faced starvation, hostile fire and attacks by lions and others animals. Particularly painful was the ongoing task of burying those who died in this catastrophe-driven pilgrimage.
Their perseverance drew media attention and 4,000 members of the refugee camp were relocated to various parts of the United States. Grateful to gain shelter and nourishment, they nonetheless struggled to adjust to a culture of which they possessed little to no understanding. Unlike many immigrants, the material bounty of America did not necessarily seduce them. They found their new neighbors closed and distant—lacking in warmth, affability, and concern for the welfare of others. One who had witnessed a woman crying in public, asks why no one goes to help her.
Until their malevolent uprooting, these young men lived in surroundings they described as idyllic, suggesting a well-ordered culture in hospitable surroundings. From the River Nile in which they swam, to the variety of foods and the animals, a fondness for their former home, families, and way of life repeats itself as a theme in their conversations.
Relocated in towns from Syracuse, N.Y. to Santa Fe, N.M., these North Africans received US government support for three months, after which they were on their own. Their introduction to electricity, toilets, and showers and as well as a trip through a grocery store, provides a light and amusing aspect of their initiation to American culture.
As critical as this relocation was to their survival, they were for the first time in their lives without the support of their community. Concern remained for those they left behind, both in the refugee camp, and their immediate families, from most of whom they had heard little or no word since the original attack 16 years prior.
The Lost Boys, a tight and engaging documentary, provides testament to the riches in African culture. These Dinga tribesmen, capable and industrious, long for their home, a land devoid of I-pods, SUVs, and widescreen televisions — a place that most of us would regard as primitive. It’s food for thought.