Changing Hands Book Signing
Speech by Deng Mayik Atem
Thank you for coming this evening, and a special thanks to Cindy Dach and the great team here at Changing Hands for hosting this launch event for my memoir, Jumping Over the Ram. And other special thanks to the team who have helped get word of this launch out.
I am one of a group called the lost boys and girls of Sudan. I’m not the only person from Sudan here tonight or the only Lost Boy or Girl.
And you, my dear friends from South Sudan and Africa, I want to thank you for coming tonight and for your support.
Now, I don’t know about you other guys who are from Sudan, but I never thought of myself as lost. I knew exactly where I was from, what tribe I was a member of, and who my parents and extended family were. I even knew for which of my father’s cows I had been nicknamed. If you’re a Dinka, you are given a cow name and your traditional name. My original name was Mam, which means Suffering; my cow name was Makol which is red and white in a mixed pattern.
Seriously, how can you feel lost when you are so closely connected and feel such a part of a community, a family, and perhaps even a herd?
By the way, if you want to know how I came to be named Deng, well, read the book. And you’ll also learn why I’m known as Columbus and Moses. What a journey life has been.
What did happen to us, Lost Boys and Girls is that we had to leave our home villages. Why? Because Sudan, which at that time was made up of what is now the country of Sudan and the country of South Sudan, was caught up in a civil war, a war between the Arabs, who lived in the north, and the tribal Africans such as my tribe the Dinka, who lived in the south. Until 1956, all of Sudan was governed by the British; but they had left, leaving behind some unresolvable conflicts.
When I was 8, that was in 1986; I was caught up in that war. Swept along in a desperate march, I walked hundreds of miles to Ethiopia. Along the way, I survived hunger, thirst, crocodiles, and more. Many were not so lucky. The man who rescued me from the middle of an attack was one of those who were not so fortunate.
When we got to Ethiopia, we arrived at refugee camps designed not only to give refuge but also to train us to be soldiers. Again, many did not survive. I learned how to deal with loss, with death and how to go on.
So, as I said, I was not lost. However, I was no longer on the traditional path of a Dinka boy. If things had gone according to tradition, I would have been tending my father’s animals, at first his goats and then those cows. I would be part of the rhythm of village life, helping to plant, taking part in hunts, and waiting until I was old enough to be marked with the traditional markings, and then, as a young man, I would begin the search for a wife with whom to have my children who would in their turn take care of my cows.
Instead, I entered a new and different world, one in which I had to discover who I was and figure out who I wanted to be. I had to become me. As you can imagine, that world beyond our village was a confusing place. There were dangers, illnesses, a God I had never heard of, military training, and even battles. Then there were sports, something called football, what we in the US call soccer; what a joy that was. And, perhaps most exciting of all, there was education. Oh, how wonderful to discover books.
Jumping Over the Ram is that story of self-discovery as I made my way through those camps, not just in Ethiopia but in South Sudan and Kenya. It is my journey as a child discovering the world and as a boy turning into a man and finding himself. If you haven’t yet bought your copy, please ask the folks here at Changing Hands. If you prefer electronic books, yes, Jumping Over the Ram is available on Kindle.
It will also soon be out as an audiobook, which is particularly good since many of my fellow South Sudanese have not had the educational opportunities I have had.
Now, I’d like to ask you for your assistance. Please, help get word of my memoir out into the world. Tell people. Share on social media. Please post your reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, and wherever else. The better word of mouth, the better the sales, so thank you in advance for your support.
Now, I know you’d like to hear a sample from Jumping Over the Ram. Ken Weene helped me write the book, and I asked him to read one of the chapters for you this evening.
Thank you so much once again for your support.