The Journey Home: The Story of A Lost Boy

November 24, 2008
The sound of rustling, screaming, and gunshots wakens me from a heavy, deep slumber. I shake my head, stumble out of bed, and call for my parents. No answer. I look around the hut, and realize that no one is there. They must have tried to run. I had a feeling this day would come. I stretch and hastily gather my small belongings: my sack, a whittled walking stick, and a rubber ball given to me by an American that stayed in our town for awhile. I run outside.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I see. Rough soldiers are busting through entrances to every hut in our village. They shoot all males: babies, children, fathers, grandfathers. Their screams stab through the cool night air. Then the soldiers turn to the women. The pretty ones are spared, and must witness the massacre of their grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters. They are then raped and shot.

I quickly take a glance around the small village that I call home: burning huts, sounds of agony and death, and bright red blood spattered on the dirt. I am too hurt to notice the tears silently rolling down my cheeks, or my chest pounding with the beating of my heart -- these come to me in a memory later on. I know that if I don’t make it out now, I won’t survive. I begin running.

I run fast, I run furiously. I keep my head down and keep to the sparse forest land. If I am caught on the road by soldiers, I’ll be captured or murdered. Soon, I hear faint voices in front of me. I slow down to a fast-paced stride, and try to silence my heavy breathing. As the footsteps and rustling get louder, I dive into some bushes. The dry twigs and branches will leave pale scars for days. I keep my head down and listen.

“James, how much longer must we walk?” A young boy whines in an exhausted voice. I catch a look at the group: it is comprised of six boys -- most look to be about my age. The boy that has spoken is about seven years old.

“Quiet, Matthew. We cannot let the soldiers find us. Only a few more hours before we reach the next village.” The apparent leader of the boys speaks to the others in a hushed but impatient tone. Did he say something about a village? I realize that he is talking about my village! If they go there, they will all be killed! I cannot let this happen. I spring out from underneath the bushes.

“Stop! Don’t go to the village. The soldiers have already come and killed everyone. If you go, they will kill you, too! I am running from them.” I warn the group.

“Alright. But who are you? How can I trust you?” James wonders aloud.

“I am...uh... John.” I decide to rename myself. “ I am from that village. Only a few hours ago, I awoke to find my family gone -- probably dead by now. Can I come with you to wherever you’re going?”

“Sure, just keep quiet.”

And so begins the journey. I learn that we are headed south, to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda; anywhere but here. We sleep in the bush during the day, and run hard and fast in the night. We have no food or water, so we eat the leaves from the trees and the stiff desert grass. At first, I am sick, but I recover and keep moving. As I flee with the boys, I see many people dying along the sides of the road. I see small, emaciated children. Malnourishment makes each rib visible on their tiny little bodies, and their stomachs are swollen from the emptiness. They look like little black skeletons, with bones that could snap in a heartbeat. Eventually, we stop for good.

We are at a refugee camp on the border of Sudan and Kenya. It is filled with others like ourselves -- lucky survivors. This camp is run by an American group. The pale-skinned volunteers pass out food rations to mothers first, then the elderly and the young children. This means that us boys rarely get the good foods. We’re often left with the leftovers, if there are any. Oh, well. At least we have scraps of food instead of leaves. We sleep eight to a tent. The tents are meant for three or four, so many people are often on top of the smaller people, like us boys. I fear suffocation. At this point, I’ve lost track of the days. For all I know, it’s been years.

I get word that the camp is offering visas for healthy refugees. I go to the infirmary and request to see the doctor. If he recommends me, I am basically free.

The doctor’s examination room is small and cramped with medical supplies. Many of the supplies are still in boxes with American postmarks. The room is dimly lit with only one small window. I try to relax and look as healthy as possible. I smile and greet the American doctor as he walks into the room. He nods tiredly.

The doctor begins to look me over, wordlessly and with a straight face. He asks me to bend over so he can check my spine. I know what this is for -- polio was a huge problem in our village. I pray that I am not one of the children that has gotten it without knowing. He asks me to straighten up. I look into his eyes, silently pleading for him to pick me.

“You’ll be going to the United States, John. Congratulations.”

I sigh, grin, and thank the doctor. The next thing I know, I’m on my first plane ride, on the way to America! I cannot stop marveling at the plane, the view, and the strange food that they serve! I fall into a light doze for the rest of the flight. I wake just as we are landing. I have finally made it.


That was five years ago. I’ve been through everything since then: counseling, a group home, and a loving adoptive family. I’m a senior in high school this year. I get stares from some people, and have even been told to “go back to your own country” by some. I’ve overcome this and so much more. I’ve become slightly more Americanized, but Sudan is where my heart is. As long as I keep it there, I’ll always be home.

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