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Alephonsion Awer Deng

Alepho Photo Alephonsion Awer DengWhen government troops attacked my village in Southern Sudan, my peaceful world fell apart.  As a boy of seven I ran barefoot and naked into the night and joined up with streams of other boys trying to escape death or slavery.  We crossed a thousand miles of war-ravaged country without hope of safety or sanctuary. I experienced a world where bullets replaced food, medicine, shelter and my loving parents. To survive, I lived on wild vegetables, ate mud from mother earth and drank urine from my own body.

When I arrived in the United States as a refugee, I had never turned on a light switch, used a telephone, or driven a car. Eventually I became acquainted with most modern things, but I still faced a much greater challenge.  I’d lived with war, now I needed to learn to live with peace.  Even in America I had not parted with the sound of guns or the cries of vulnerable women and children dropping next to me like leaves shaken off a tree in a storm.  All those years the smell and taste of death, the vengeance, and confusion spread within me like poisons.  I thought I was in hell when people talked.  I thought I was dead when people laughed.  I knew I was crazy-mad when other people could still smile.  I held a weight as heavy as the earth and conflict as difficult to resolve as bringing peace to the world. Sanity could not exist in me while I held onto that vengeance.

Now, after ten years, I have begun to realize that the gigantic hollow created within me when I was young had nothing to do with me and I couldn’t have done anything about it.  Finding out that my mother is still alive in our village helped to fill the hole inside me.  Speaking about my life experiences to schools, universities and community organizations and writing my memoir have also been a healing.  Sharing these feelings with others lessens the burning inside me.  All those years I had lived with revenge as the song in my mind.  Now I’m a man wanting love, dignity and hope replanted in my heart and peace throughout the world.