A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, 2011) is a fictionalized version of two related stories in the recent history of Sudan. It tells two parallel stories, one in the 1980s and the other just a few years ago.
In the early story, a young boy is caught in the crossfires of the Southern Sudan Civil War. The parallel story, told in alternating chapters, is about a young Sudanese girl in 2009 whose job is to walk from her village to the water at the somewhat nearby pond and walk home again, twice each day. With an interesting twist, the two stories are able to come together.
First, when gunfire is heard, the boy flees his school with his class, only to find that they will never be able to return to their town again due to the violence. He spends many months walking on foot, seeking to find a place of refuge and, as is the case with many such stories of the lost boys of Sudan, he enters Ethiopia where he once again can attend school and receive food and water. However, when the fighting extends toward the border of Sudan with Ethiopia, once again he must walk, seeking refuge. Eventually, the boy arrives in Kenya where he is able to live in a refugee camp. As with many of the “lost boys,” this boy was able to be adopted into a North American family and continue his education, eventually becoming a contributing member of society.
For the more modern girl, her days are long and boring, and she must carry the water on the way back. I don’t remember how far away the water source was, but because it took her all day to go there and back twice I can get some idea how far the water was from her village! The girl worries about the dry months when the distant water source dries up and her family must relocate to a different area, where there is more disease and filthiness. She wishes she could stay in her village all year, but they cannot remain when the water is dried up. It’s amazing to me to recognize the difficulties a contemporary child faces simply as she strives to provide her family with water.
I will not tell you exactly how these two stories relate to one another but I will say that the girl eventually will be able to go to school because water will be much closer to her home and the boy who had become a lost child of Sudan is able to find his family, who has not all been killed. And he also was able to contribute back to southern Sudan despite the remaining political struggles there.
I really like the story and I liked the parallel telling of the two children in two very different eras. Although I could not get my son interested in the book (yet), I do think has value for boys and girls alike in our time. It does help kids today recognize the things that we take for granted, such as the water that is easily available to us, simply by turning the tap of our faucet.
It also inspires me as Iqbal did yesterday. I am more encouraged to seek ways that I might be able to help the world. I can’t do much to stay-at-home mom, but it would be great to know that I too can make a difference in some way to someone, like the girl in the story.