As a child of the eighties and nineties, my life consisted of the following:
- A warm breakfast before school, preferably sausage and pancakes with a mountain of syrup.
- A snack after school, preferably the sugary kind.
- More Nickelodeon
- Rollerblading down the hill in front of our apartment.
- Trips to my great-grandparents house on visits to Kentucky.
- Grassy fields.
- Fried meals.
- More Nickelodeon
As a child of the eighties and nineties I assumed that others like myself were enjoying a similar childhood. Perhaps my neighbors weren’t making trips to see their great-grandparents in Kentucky, perhaps they weren’t playing Skip-It, or rollerblading down hills, but without a doubt they were experiencing a childhood. In the bubble of my mind and the shelter of my childhood, this experience was being had by all. It was not.
While I was watching cartoons and eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch on Saturday mornings, children seven thousand miles away in Sudan were experiencing a childhood that I, at 8, could never have fathomed.
While I was playing Aladdin on my Sega Genesis, there were children being pulled from their homes during the day or night, fleeing for their lives from men with guns and men with machetes and men with machinery. These children wondered and worried about their brother or sister or cousin or aunt or uncle or mother or father. They worried and wondered about family they might or might not see again. They wondered and worried about life and death and not if, but when they would be next.
While I enjoyed the comfort of light up sneakers, these kids walked for hundreds of miles, barefoot against scorching hot land.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Reading stories about children who managed a strength to survive that I can’t even fathom has begun to put life into perspective for myself. Not everything and not everyone begins with a warm breakfast or Nickelodeon or roller blades. Not everyone’s reality is coming home to a warm bed, or coming home at all. The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) consumed the lives of two million people. Children were not immune to the chaos that this war and strife brought.
The Red Pencil, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, tells the story of Amira, a 12 year old Sudanese girl living a normal life until the Janjaweed arrive. Torn from her village, she not only loses the person she is closest to, she also loses her voice, until a woman arrives with the gift of a red pencil.
A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story, written by Linda Sue Park, alternates between the two stories of eleven year old Nya and eleven year old Salva. Although they are experiencing life decades apart, their stories intersect when the life changing force of water brings them together.
Brothers in Hope: the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, by Mary Williams, describes eight-year-old Garang Deng’s determination to lead himself and 34 other Lost Boys from Sudan to the safety of a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Their journey continues from Ethiopia to Kenya, where (years later) they are given the opportunity to seek safety in America.
Fiction or non-fiction, these are the books and the children within that have stuck with me. These are the authors who help us to not forget.