Monday, April 21, 2008

God Grew Tired of Us

I watched God Grew Tired Of Us tonight. It had been sitting on my desk for a couple of weeks now, holding up my Netflix queue. I'd picked it because I thought it looked inspiring, but I found that once it got here, I didn't want to watch it... so it just sat there, and I began to appreciate the success of the Netflix business model. They get their 9 bucks a month whether I watch movies or not, you know? Not rocket science, but of course I thought it was a deal at the time I signed up...

To be honest, I have studied about the Sudan, and I expected to find it depressing. Sudan is a cause celebre of the Christian world and of celebrities. The idealist in me thinks this is a good thing. The student of conflict analysis in me thinks it is a neutral thing and can be very negative. The government of Sudan doesn't appreciate Western intrusion, and the framing of the conflict as Muslim/Arab North feeding on Christian/African south has led critics to see this as just another expression of American anti-Muslim sentiment and the colonial impulse. and of course, people are dying there now just like they were dying before George Clooney and his Dad paid Darfur a visit. I hope and pray that all the press results in a real end to what is going on in Sudan, and I hope that all the intervention has kept this from being as bad as it could have been... but there's no way to know.

All my pessimism aside, this movie is really wonderful. I mean, it's a movie, and it has an agenda. It doesn't show all it could show, but it does give a fuller picture of the lives of the Lost Boys than you can get from any book, and I learned quite a bit. When you see a documentary like this, you remember how important film really is, and how powerful. Even though I understand that the mere presence of a camera changes people's behavior and creates a world that isn't quite the real one, there is still something really compelling about seeing the stock footage of Sudanese orphans arriving skeletal at the refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, and realizing that the men whose stories the film tells went through a living hell before they even hit puberty, and that as children, they knew physical hunger and thirst deeper than most people can even conceive of, going days without any food or water, eating mud and drinking each other's urine to survive.

The film follows several young men who leave a refugee camp in Kenya --where they have lived for 10 years as orphans-- to begin life in the U.S. They fled Sudan when the Sudanese government announced in the mid 1980s that all young boys in the South were to be exterminated, wiped out. So they left their families, sometimes having seen those families killed by northern soldiers, and wandered literally hundreds of miles to refugee camps in Ethiopia, and then hundreds more miles to Kenya when Ethiopia's government collapsed in the early 90s. They have become permanent residents of the refugee camp and permanent wards of the U.N. The situation in the camp is desperate, with no real hope for any future, so the ones selected to go to the U.S. jump at the chance even though it is terrifying for them to leave the only family they know... each other.

The movie manages to show them learning about electricity, toilets, grocery stores, etc. without portraying them as buffoons, children or savages. I think that's when I realized I really liked the film, that it was going to show these guys as intelligent, brave, strong... because they are. I know you can't generalize about an entire continent, but it has been my experience with most Africans that I've met (that were raised in Africa) that they are much, much stronger than most Americans, much more dignified, and that their intelligence runs deep... but they don't parade it. I know that for some of them, particularly when they've lived here a while, that their strong ties to family and clan feel like straitjackets... the constant pleas for money become so tiring. But the culture they carry with them, the sense of being from somewhere, is something I envy tremendously.

The character that the viewer is most drawn to is John Bul Dau. He is so unbelievably articulate and wise and dignified and seems to have such tremendous character... even before he leaves the camp it is apparent that he is a leader and is set apart from the others. It's late and it's hard from my tired brain to find the words to describe him, but suffice to say that his story is the one that leaves me the hungriest to help... if I only knew how, really. There is something in the world that demands that such giftedness and dignity be honored. It's how I feel about V., the girl from Togo. She is like a queen, even as she deals with her troubling situation, and there is something wrong in the universe that someone like that should have to suffer like she does.

I'll be mailing the film back to Netflix tomorrow, so I strongly suggest you put it in your queue if you haven't seen it already. :^) You can also check out if you want more (or more articulate) information.

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