Escaping Sudan, Torture, and Brad Pitt

John Dau of Sudan stars in a film about refugees

I’m a little behind in postings, but rest assured this blog ain’t dead.

Here’s a fantastic article from the Washington Post about John Dau, a Sudan refugee now living in N.Y.

What debt does a man owe his past? Do survivors have an obligation to the dead?

As a boy, John Bul Dau ate mud, drank urine and swam rivers to outrun the men with the guns. He survived a 1,000-mile trek from his village in southern Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He dug shallow graves to bury children who collapsed. The next day, a hand or foot would be stretching out of the earth, gnawed by hyenas.

As a man, John Dau is a 34-year-old security guard and college student in Syracuse, N.Y. He’s recently married, a brand-new father and a citizen of a strange country called the United States.

But Dau, the subject of the National Geographic documentary “God Grew Tired of Us,” which opened in Washington yesterday, is using his life here to try to improve the lot of people back home. Life in its fullest sense, he says, is something in which connections remain, over the years, over the oceans.

That first sentence, what debt does a man owes his past? Do survivors have an obligation to the dead? is not only beautiful in the literary and philosophical sense, but a creed to most survivors and refugees worldwide. John Dau is definitely thinking about those who fell behind:

So even as Dau landed in America, with one inglorious job after another — factory worker, burger flipper– he sent money back to the refugees. He also helped create a tiny nonprofit at a local church, the American Care for Sudan Foundation . It’s all volunteer, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward building a hospital clinic in his home region.

He’s just starting work at a new nonprofit, Direct Change, that is trying to push the clinic funding from its current $180,000 level to its $230,000 goal. They’re scheduled to start construction next week.

Contrast Dau’s behavior with the current right-wing rhetoric of every man for himself. People don’t have to go through such horrible life experiences to help out – that’s John Dau way of helping because that’s what life dealt him. What better way to restore the honor and integrity of the United States than helping out the world’s destitute? They are not asking for a handout – they are asking for a fair chance at a decent life in this world, nothing more.

He certainly commands attention:

He’s talking in a small office in the National Geographic headquarters in downtown Washington, soft of voice, shy of manner. He’s wearing a leather jacket and a Disney “Cars” watch. He is 6 feet 8 inches tall. Last week, Variety reported that at the Hollywood premiere of the film, you could pretty much walk up to producer Brad Pitt and chat as long as you wanted. Dau? Forget it. The man was mobbed.

Good for you, John Dau.

In fact, there’s a better way to salvage the reputation of the U.S. Get those soldiers out of Iraq – where they don’t want them – and move them into Sudan – where they are sorely needed. That’s a surge I would support.

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