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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    John Bul Dau, a Lost Boy of Sudan, Speaks Out

    The author of the book “Good Grew Tired of Us,” John Bul Dau, spoke yesterday at the Staller Center to a large number of students about his struggle growing up as one of the lost boys of Sudan. From the eruption of applause and cheers that came during the beginning and end of the speech, it was easy to see that the students were happy to have him there.

    Dau was born in the Dinka tribe of Sudan and at the mere age of 13, was forced to flee when troops attacked his home. He was not the only one going through this pain. He joined thousands of boys on foot to walk all the way to Ethiopia.

    On their journey there the boys faced starvation, dehydration, unbearable weather, wild animals, disease and they were always being pursued by armed soldiers. “After almost three days we found amudro which is a root,” Dau said. “That was our first food after almost three days. In the United Sates people say, ‘If I go one day without food I’m gonna die.’ It didn’t happen.”

    Dau had to grow up quickly. When they got to Ethiopia, the boys were put into groups of 50, and because he was taller than the rest of them, he was put in charge. They were between the ages of five and 15.

    The group soon grew to almost 200 boys. “I remember the boys in the group would all cry for their mothers. They want to see their fathers, and they want to drink milk. But there was nothing you could do but say, ‘Okay, today is bad, but tomorrow may be better.'”

    Boys were dying around him from diseases as well, and he had to help bury them. “We’d find the bodies from yesterday eaten by hyenas or other wild animals from the night,” he said.

    “It was very graphic part of our life stories, but we didn’t give up. We kept pushing on with life. And then later the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) was bringing us food, blankets, and soap. Life was getting better in Ethiopia.”

    After four years in Ethiopia, things were finally looking up. When their lives seemed to have some order and structure again, rebels overthrew the government and told the boys they had one week to leave the camp. 18,000 lost boys, and some girls, fled across the Gilo River back to the Sudan.

    There were many crocodiles in the water and so many of the boys couldn’t swim across. They had no choice but to cross the river because they were being shot at by the rebels. Thousands of boys were shot, eaten, drowned, or captured. 1800 survived.

    It wasn’t long until the Sudanese government found out that the boys had returned. The boys’ camps were bombed twice a day by aircrafts that the government would send to get them out. They started to move again to a different refugee camp in Kenya where Dau would spend the next 10 years.

    There, at the age of 17, Dau began his formal education of writing letters and numbers with sticks in the dirt. “By the time I finished third grade I was 20 years old,” Dau said. “I was like you, but in my third grade years.”

    In 2001, he was one of 3,800 refugees resettled in the U.S. and one of 140 that were brought to Syracuse, New York. “One of my friends was telling me, ‘You know it’s okay to be lazy in America because if you go to a restaurant and tie a green card around your neck, you can eat for free,” he joked as the audience laughed

    “One of the other guys said, ‘If you go to America, they have very good technology. If you go to a restaurant you don’t need anybody to serve you. What you have is a big table in front of you. On that table are buttons. You have a chicken button, a beef button?’ so lets say I wanted the chicken, I just push the chicken button and it will appear and be cooked in front of me.”

    Dau played with the audience a lot like this throughout most of his time with them. “Another one of my friends was telling me, ‘If you go to America, be very careful because the American girls are crazy,'” he said as the audience became even more engaged with the rise of laughter.

    “He said, ‘They always carry a small bag around with them. And in there bag, there is a gun. So you better not mess with them or they will shoot you.’ I said, ‘What can I do? This is a country where you have chicken buttons and girls killing people? I’ll just stay away from the girls.'”

    America was a very big culture shock for Dau. He had never used electricity, never been in huge supermarkets filled with food, and there are women driving cars.

    With all of this accounted for, John Bul Dau is proud to say that he is living the American dream and knows he’s doing something very useful with his life which is always helping others. He has founded three non-profit organizations, working to raise funds for health and education projects in southern Sudan.

    He captivated the audience with his experience. “I ate mud, so I could stay alive. I drank human urine, so I could stay alive. I seen my brothers die here and there, but I survived. I survived because of two things: One, the Almighty God. God helped me. Number two, because I didn’t give up. I stayed the course, I persevered, and that’s why I survived. I came to your school to convey one message. That is to never give up. Never ever give up.”

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