A modern tale of slavery, survival, and escape
In 1986, 7-year-old Francis Bok was taken from his village in southern Sudan by raiding Arab militiamen from the north and forced into slave labor, along with hundreds of other Dinka women and children. His parents were murdered. Escaping when he was 17, Mr. Bok made his way to Cairo where, with help from other Dinka refugees, he secured UN refugee status and eventually an airplane ticket to the United States. Since 1986, nearly 2 million southern Sudanese - black Africans who are mostly Christian or followers of local religions - have died as a result of a civil war with the northern Muslims; 4.4 million more have been forced from their homes. Bok, now 23, is in school for the first time. His work with the Anti-Slavery Group in Boston has earned him congressional and White House recognition. He is coauthor of the new book, 'Escape from Slavery,' the story of his journey. Below are excerpts from his book.Skip to next paragraph
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Everyone was running in every direction. "The murahaliin are coming!" And wherever the people scattered, they ran into men with guns entering the marketplace. First men on horses, shooting people with bursts of fire and smoke from their rifles. Then men on foot, running and shooting and slashing at people with their long knives. Not 10 men, not 20, but many more.
I had never heard so many screams. I raced from the marketplace. Someone grabbed me from behind. Another Arab, yelling at me and waving his gun. What was he saying? He pushed me back toward the marketplace with the other kids, boys and girls, those who could barely walk along with the 5-year-olds and bigger kids like me. Everyone was crying and screaming for their parents. What was happening to us?
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With no Dinka men standing, the killing seemed to be finished. While a few murahaliin guarded us, the others began loading donkeys with big baskets on the side. A man picked me up and deposited me in one of those donkey carriers. We headed out of Nyamlell. Behind the horsemen, the soldiers, and our donkeys walked the older Dinka kids and women, forced to carry the very things that we all had been selling and buying not long before.
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As the sun came up, I noticed the countryside was different. I was sure we were across the border in northern Sudan in the part where my father said the Dinka did not live, only the Arabs. We rode through a village where the people seemed to know my [captor, Giemma]. We kept riding until we came to a farm. He got off the horse, untied my belt and set me on the ground like a package. Some children came running out of the house. Happy to see their father the children ran up and hugged him. I didn't notice they were carrying sticks - until they started beating me. Their parents did nothing but watch. My body buzzed from the blows.
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This new world made no sense. More than anything I wanted to talk to the [neighboring] Dinka [slave] boys herding animals through the forest and standing at the river, who spoke only Arabic. I had to learn this language - which seemed a strange wall of sound. I began to listen carefully to everything Giemma and his sons said as they showed me how to do my chores.
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