“They poured fire on us from the sky”
Alephonsion Deng is a tall man with a pleasant disposition and an inviting smile, yet behind his congenial appeal lies the psychological pain of a man who has endured thirty years of unimaginable torments as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. “I never knew of war, my world was peaceful,” said Deng at the SMC Black History Month event, “Africa, America, and the Hope of Transnational Connectivity,” hosted by the Black Collegians Program last Thursday.
His voice quickly turned sour as he recounted his experience as one of approximately 20,000 South Sudanese boys forced to flee their homes in Sudan.
According to the International Rescue Committee, these boys were kept in “limbo” due to the 1983 civil war in Sudan which lasted 22 years.
Deng’s village was attacked when he was a child by South Sudanese rebels. He fled his hometown with other members of his community, beginning his childhood journey of uncertainty and despair.
“I felt that people had lost control of themselves,” said Deng. “People became objects; and when objectified, we lose humanity and create evil.”
According to the US State Department website, the Sudanese conflict stemmed from the violation of the Addis Ababa Accords—an earlier peace treaty agreement between the North and the South—after oil fields were found in South Sudan in 1979.
Deng insisted that xenophobia and greed caused good people to commit horrible acts. “The North didn’t know who we were. They thought they could squash us, objectify us. That’s what happens when we don’t know each others’ stories.”
Despite his extremely difficult childhood, Deng preaches a message of understanding and forgiveness. Sudan has been divided into two autonomous states, Sudan and South Sudan. Deng refers to his former, northern countrymen, as his brothers. Deng said he could have retained anger against them, but chose not to hold a grudge.
Black Collegians Program Leader, Sherri Bradford, stressed the importance for SMC students to hear Deng’s story.
“It’s part of history,” Bradford said. “No matter who is affected, it is important for all of us to know how many inhumane things are going on.” .
Deng’s co-author Judy A. Bernstein, who is also the co-founder of the IRC Lost Boys Education Fund, pointed out that the media often concentrates on the welfare of soldiers and on governmental issues in their coverage of conflicts, yet stories like the Lost Boys of Sudan are not emphasized.
Bernstein added that events such as the “Africa, America, and the Hope of Transnational Connectivity” are “part of the process of fighting” and that “education is key.”
Deng is co-author of the tripartite memoir, “They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky,” and now lives in San Diego.