John Bul Dau was naked when he ran out of his village after 2 a.m. on a night in 1987. According to the author in his memoir God Grew Tired of Us, all Dinka children of southern Sudan sleep naked and there was no time to find clothes and dress in the dark when the Djellabas attacked. He ran eastward into the bush with a man he thought was his father, but he learned when they stopped that the man was a neighbor. They nearly died several times on their march to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Thirteen year old Dau was naked most of the way.
There was much nakedness among the Lost Boys of Sudan in the initial months before they received international aid. Many boys had run away in the night like Dau. Others bartered their clothes away for food. Some who had kept their clothes wore them until there was nothing left. As bad as nakedness was, it was only one of the problems for the Dinkas, who were being hunted down by the northern Sudanese. Even in the relative safety of the refugee camps, there was terrible heat, disease, and hunger.
If God Grew Tired of Us stopped at the point Dau reached Ethiopia, it would be a shocking, but not insightful book. Things get worse before they get better, but Dau claims that he always had hope, even when he jumped in a crocodile rich river to escape Ethiopian rebels. He and his friends continually find ways to stay alive. The book is mostly upbeat. I can not explain the title, as Dau always seems to think tomorrow will be a better day. He may have adopted the title to align it with the documentary by the same name in which he appears.
After years in various refugee camps, where he learns to write and read, Dau is resettled in Syracuse, New York, where he is sponsored by a local Presbyterian church. They furnish an apartment with three other Lost Boys, teach him American customs, and give him rides to his work or school day or night.
Not all of his American experiences are positive. Some people think he is a potential terrorist or resent him taking jobs and federal aid. He has his bicycle stolen five times. He takes this all in stride. After you have seen people killed by the Djellabas or nearly starved to death, the ugliness of some American behaviors seem hardly noteworthy to Dau.
In the last part of the book, Dau tells about returning to Sudan to see his family after nineteen years and about his plans for the future, which include the clinic he is building for the Dinkas. In this part he both defends and criticizes American culture and foreign policy.
God Grew Tired of Us is an engaging book that may tell many reader an important story that they missed in the news. Many public libraries should add the book.
Dau, John Bul. God Grew Tired of Us. National Geographic, 2007. ISBN 9781426201141