Benjamin, Alepho, and Benson were raised among the Dinka tribe of Sudan. Theirs was an insulated, close-knit world of grass-roofed cottages, cattle herders, and tribal councils. The lions and pythons that prowled beyond the village fences were the greatest threat they knew.
All that changed the night the government-armed Murahiliin began attacking their villages. Amid the chaos, screams, conflagration, and gunfire, five-year-old Benson and seven-year-old Benjamin fled into the dark night. Two years later, Alepho, age seven, was forced to do the same. Between 1987 and 1989, thousands of other young Sudanese boys did likewise, joining this stream of child refugees that became known as the Lost Boys. Their journey would take them over one thousand miles across a war-ravaged country, through landmine-sown paths, crocodile-infested waters, and grotesque extremes of hunger, thirst, and disease. The refugee camps they eventually filtered through offered little respite from the brutality they were fleeing.
In They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, Benson, Alepho, and Benjamin, by turn, recount their experiences along this unthinkable journey. This is a captivating memoir of Sudan and a powerful portrait of war as seen through the eyes of children. And it is, in the end, an inspiring and unforgettable tale of three young boys who, cast against all elements, had the will, the tenacity, and the very good luck to survive.
TEACHING AND READING GUIDE
In the Classroom
This disarmingly intimate memoir delves beyond headlines to bring readers deep into the heart of the Sudanese conflict – and into the flight of three children determined to escape it. It deciphers Sudan’s struggle from the inside. Who is fighting it? Why? Who are the victims? How did these boys survive without food, without family, for so long? At the same time, the journey of Benson, Alephonsion, and Benjamin over these many years and these thousand miles reveals how small minds comprehend and process the violence of war. Their story also begs the question: Can and should the international community intervene? What can be done?
Have students bring in recent news articles and clippings regarding developments in Sudan. Try to piece together the conflict from these accounts and clippings. Discuss the history of Sudan’s war. How do the students feel about the conflict? What do they think it is like to grow up during wartime? You may also invite them to bring in articles regarding intervention or immigration. Do they think intervention important? How do they feel about refugees, like the Lost Boys, seeking asylum in this country?
USING THIS GUIDE
To the Teacher:
Reading and Understanding the Story examines the reader’s comprehension and retention of the book itself, and of the war as Benson, Alepho, and Benjamin relate it. Students should refer to the narrative to answer these questions. Themes and Context encourages students to use the book as a lens into larger ideas, events, and issues. These questions encourage students to think freely and independently on the war in Sudan and the broader moral and political debates stemming from it. Teaching Ideas offers course-specific projects, essays, and discussion questions for classes: English/Language Arts, Geography, History, Science, and Social Studies.
READING AND UNDERSTANDING THE STORY
Ask students to define the following terms with reference to the book: Dinka; SPLA; refugee; jihad; genocide; murahiliin; UNHCR.
Look at a map of Africa. Locate Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Kenya. Identify the Nile River. Find Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum. Try to locate Bhar al Ghazal (the region where the Dinka live).
Before this phase of the Sudanese war, a treaty had brokered peace between northern and southern Sudan. What was the name of this treaty? (See Judy Bernstein’s introduction.)
Describe the landscape in which the...