Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Long Walk To Water

Upon hearing a story of impossible journeys, filled with physical torment, uncertainty, loneliness and loss, we ask, "How do human beings survive such things?" Think of the courage of Cambodian refugees in  the novel Never Fall Down, in a previous post. I hear stories of genocide and I wonder how anyone survives such ordeals.  What would I do?

And so it is with A long Walk To Water by Newbery Award winning author Linda Sue Park. This novel for middle grade readers and older is based on the story of two Sudanese children, one is about a girl named Nye and how her life is influenced by the drilling of a well in her community.

The other is longer and more detailed, about Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Linda Sue Park is known for her fiction, and although Salva's story is partially fictionalized, it is based on his personal experience during the war between the Sudan military forces and rebel forces. One day, after fleeing for his life from school to escape the approaching government forces, he travels alone, on foot across desert to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. During these many long months he experiences starvation, he sees others die of thirst, unspeakable violence takes the lives of loved ones and he even swims across a crocodile infested river. Surely luck is involved in his survival, there has to be. But what else propelled him forward? What boosts his courage?

At one point in Salva's desert march, Salva is crying, his courage is waning, his feet injured. He is about to give up. His uncle, who is in the same dire situation and marching, appears by his side and directs him:

     "Salva Mawain Dut Ariik!" he said, using Salva's full name, loud and clear.
     Salva lifted his head, the sobs interrupted by surprise.
     "Do you see that group of bushes?" Uncle Said, pointing. "You need only to walk as far as those bushes. Can you do that, Salva Mawien Dut Ariik?"
     When they reached the bushes, Uncle pointed out a clump of rocks . . . . After that, a lone acacia . . . another clump of rocks . . . a bare spot . . .
     Uncle continued in this way for the rest of the walk. . . . Each time, Salva would think of his family . . , and he was somehow able to keep his wounded feet moving forward, one painful step at a time.

     So it is, it seems, that for many with no choice but to go forward or die they must try see an impossible journey as a progression of smaller tasks and take "one painful step at a time."

    I have focused on Salva's story here, but the story of Nye and girls like her, whose lives revolve around the procurement of water, is a riveting story as well.

     A Long Walk To Water is a must read.


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