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'What Is The What' Lost Boy Casts Sudan Vote

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'What Is The What' Lost Boy Casts Sudan Vote


'What Is The What' Lost Boy Casts Sudan Vote

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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To Southern Sudan now, where voting continued for the second day in a referendum that's expected to split Africas largest country. There were no reports of violence at the polls.

Travelling in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the vote.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): This could be a great example of a peaceful outcome of a longstanding conflict.

Among those voting this week are Sudan's so-called Lost Boys, men who were orphaned or separated from their families as children during the countrys brutal civil war. NPRs Frank Langfitt caught up with one Lost Boy, whose life became a best-selling novel in America and who has returned to his homeland to build a school.

FRANK LANGFITT: Im driving around Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, with Valentino Achak Deng. During the country's civil war, in which some two million people died, Deng fled to Ethiopia on foot. He was separated from his family for 17 years.

After a peace agreement between north and south, Deng returned to Juba in 2006. He says when he got here the place was still a wreck.

Mr. VALENTINO ACHAK DENG: On some of this street, you can see destroyed war tanks. On some of these roads or some of this neighborhood, you could see the bones and skulls of dead people.

LANGFITT: Today, as Southern Sudan appears headed for independence, Deng is optimistic, and Juba looks a lot better. Paved roads arrived for the first time in 2007. Deng and a friend are now taking me past hotels and restaurants.

Mr. DENG: Juba is a booming city.

LANGFITT: And one of incredible contrast. Next to barefoot women selling piles of gravel by the side of the road - so were passing, right now were passing - is that a Toyota dealership?

Mr. DENG: Yes. Just imagine, we have a Toyota dealership.

LANGFITT: Peace is spurring investment and consumer demand. Jubas growth is driven by Southern Sudans oil revenue, as well aid from foreign governments and non-governmental organizations.

Deng grew up in a small village called Marial Bai. In the 1980s, northern bombers and Arab militias came.

Mr. DENG: They bombed Marial Bai, destroyed it, killed everything, burned, took crops and livestock.

LANGFITT: Were you there when they came?

Mr. DENG: I was there. I ran away with the rest.

LANGFITT: How old were you?

Mr. DENG: I was nine years old.

LANGFITT: Deng joined thousands of Lost Boys, who spent months trekking across Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia. His experience is captured in What is the What? a novel by Dave Eggers, which reads like a modern-day story of Job.

The boys, some naked, march across an unforgiving landscape, facing Arab horsemen, bombing raids, lions and crocodiles. Deng eventually resettled in the U.S., where he attended college and was mentored and sponsored by ordinary Americans.

In 2007, he returned to start a high school in Marial Bai, where there was none.

Mr. DENG: We have 250 students. Our annual budget for now stands at about 200,000 because the school is free.

LANGFITT: The school is funded by Dengs private foundation. He says most donations come from Americans touched by his story. Deng is now 32 years old. He says, for a Sudanese child of war, his lifes journey is almost inconceivable.

Mr. DENG: I never imagined that I would be any person I am right now.

LANGFITT: Earlier this morning, Deng cast his vote for independence. Polls will remain open through Saturday, and final results are due next month. Independence, if it comes as expected, would occur in July.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Juba, Southern Sudan.

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