Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"God Grew Tired of Us"

God Grew Tired of Us is a documentary film that follows 3 young men from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (the same camp that was home to Valentino Achak Deng) to their new lives in the United States. The men were among the thousands of "lost boys" who walked away from their villages in southern Sudan during the 1980s, escaping war and chaos in their homeland. As adults, they were among the 3600 lost boys invited by the United States to live in America.

This award-winning film was directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn, who came to Indiana University about a year ago for a screening, shortly after I'd read What is the What. I was struck be certain parallels: here was another young (white) man with resources in the U.S. helping tell the story of young men in Sudan. The act of telling their extraordinary story alters their situation, while educating an American audience about the conflict.

A film about cultural disorientation and gradual adjustment to life in the United States, the men have financial assistance for the first 3 months of their stay, but then must support themselves. They feel responsible to those they've left behind, spending much of their time trying to locate relatives and friends in Sudan, and working long hours at menial jobs, sending what they can back to the camp.

These two projects – the book and the film – are fascinating when seen in relation to each other. What is the What focuses much more on the experience of the young boys in flight, while the film shows up the contrast between life in the U.S. and in the Kenyan refugee camp. Most affecting is the sense of shared responsibility among the young men, their struggle with loneliness and isolation in the U.S., and their determination to preserve and protect their Sudanese heritage. Both projects are also about developing a capacity for brotherhood, fostered by adversity and necessity. They also indicate a remarkable kind of brotherhood across cultures, between the story tellers and their advocates.

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