The days became a never-ending walk. Salva’s feet kept time with the thoughts in his head, the same words over and over: Where is my family? Where is my family?
Every day he woke and walked with the group, rested at midday, and walked again until dark. They slept on the ground. The terrain changed from scrub to woodland; they walked among stands of stunted trees. There was little to eat: a few fruits here and there, always either unripe or worm-rotten…
After about a week, they were joined by more people…Men and women, boys and girls, old and young, walking, walking…
Walking to nowhere.
Salva is an 11-year-old Dinka boy from Southern Sudan. It is 1985, and he has been propelled by the deadly civil war onto a trek to save his life. This trek will take him, along with hundreds of thousands of young boys across war zones, through lands populated by marauding lions, across swollen rivers where deadly crocodiles lurk, through scorching deserts, always with too little to eat, too little to drink, in fear, without shoes, and without family. Many died, while thousands straggled into refugee camps in Ethiopia and later Kenya. Salva is one of the survivors.
Nya took the hollowed gourd that was tied to the handle of the plastic container. She untied it, scooped up the brown muddy water, and drank. It took two gourdfuls before she felt a little cooler inside.
Nya filled the container all the way to the top. Then she tied the gourd back in place and took the padded cloth doughnut from her pocket. The doughnut went on her head first, followed by the heavy container of water, which she would hold in place with one hand.
With the water balanced on her head, and her foot still sore from the thorn, Nya knew that going home would take longer than coming had. But she might reach home by noon, if all went well.
Nya is an 11-year-old Nuer girl, living in Southern Sudan. It is 2008, and her village has survived despite the wars and droughts and the generations-long conflict with the Dinka people. Nya spends her days trekking back and forth to a pond where she fills a massive plastic bidon with water for her family. Back and forth. Back and forth. Three times a day. Grabbing a bowl of sorghum meal at home to fill her stomach, drinking the brackish, parasitic water at the pond to quench her thirst before hauling the backbreaking, heavy container home.
These two lives intersect in 2009. How that happens is as much a miracle as the individual survival of each of these children.
Linda Sue Park is one of my very favorite authors. Here she takes the true story of Salva Dut, who now lives in Rochester, NY, and interweaves it with a fictionalized account of one young girl who is helped by a well-drilling project Salva has begun in Southern Sudan. Her writing is as graceful as ever. Her account of the harrowing, sorrowful journey of the Lost Boys strikes a perfect balance between enough detail to properly convey the horrors of that time, while not being utterly overwhelming for young readers. The pacing of the two stories is perfect and the shifting back and forth between the two narratives works well. Above all, despite the appropriate grief for the people of Sudan this book conveys, its overall message is one of hope and kindness.
Quite new, published in 2010, this is a fantastic read for middle-elementary and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story