This is an excerpt from Chapter 24. In this chapter, Valentino is about thirteen years old, has left the Pinyudo refugee camp in Ethiopia, and with thousands of young boys like himself, has been forced to walk to a new camp in northwest Kenya. This will become the Kakuma refugee camp, and will eventually be home to 80,000 Sudanese, Ugandans, Ethiopians and Somalis. In this excerpt, it is important to note that at at this point, Valentino Achak Deng was known simply as Achak.
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....After my walk to Kenya, when Maria found me on the road wanting to be lifted back to God, I spent many months thinking about why I should have been born at all. It was a grave mistake, it seemed, a promise that could not be fulfilled. There was a musician at Kakuma, the only musician in those early days, and he would play one song, day and night, on his stringed rababa. The melody of his song was cheerful but the lyrics were not. "It was you, mother, it was you," he sang, "it was you who birthed me, and it is you I blame." He went on to blame his mother, and all the mothers of Dinkaland, for giving birth to babies only to have them live in squalor in northwest Kenya.
There is a perception in the West that refugee camps are temporary. When images of the earthquakes in Pakistan are shown, and the survivors seen in their vast cities of shale-colored tents, waiting for food or rescue before the coming of winter, most Westerners believe that these refugees will soon be returned to their homes, that the camps will be dismantled inside of six months, perhaps a year.
But I grew up in refugee camps. I lived in Pinyudo for almost three years, Golkur for almost one year, and Kakuma for ten. In Kakuma, a small community of tents grew to a vast patchwork of shanties and buildings constructed from poles and sisal bags and mud, and this is where we lived and worked and went to school from 1992 to 2001. It is not the worst place on the continent of Africa, but it is among them.