Ger Duany Author Essay
Walk Toward the Rising Sun By Ger Duany with Garen Thomas
Growing up in the Greater Upper Nile region of South Sudan, I did what every boy and girl did: I ran wherever the wind blew, played traditional games, swam, and sang songs in the Nuer language. I would spend my days trekking to the bush with my club and spear to hunt birds and other creatures in our thick forest. Looking back, this is by far my fondest childhood memory.
My mother grew up with the important responsibility of raising her four siblings, as her mother passed away when she was only a teenager. I really don’t know much about my grandmother, but what I did come to learn about my mother’s upbringing I learned through her character. What I saw most vividly was how vigilant my mother and uncle—who looked nearly identical to her—were about the civil war that surrounded us.
My father, mother, and uncle did everything in their power to keep my family safe. Dad and Mom brought us up as city kids and never allowed us to undergo scarification, a tradition for young boys in Sudan. My siblings and I thrived on being whatever we wanted to be. Like many children in the Greater Upper Nile, I imagined the world was limitless and entirely under my control, despite my awareness of the impending war.
In 1983, the war began to take shape in an ugly way, and I was taken to Liet village, located west of Akobo. Many people there gossiped and considered us spoiled because we came from the city of Malakal. They assumed city children were lazy and weak. The gossip bothered me, so I took it upon myself to learn about the lifestyle of the village by bonding with cousins from my mother’s side. They became my keys to mastering this new life.
Mum also taught me about the freedom fighter Anya Anya, and about my father, a prominent soldier who protected his people in the 1960s and ’70s. The stories served not only to educate me about my lineage but also to instill hope during such dark times. My adolescent dreams persisted. I realize now that the stories that my parents shared with me cultivated the inner strength I would need in order to endure the suffering that war would bring. Little did I know, the months to come would change my life forever.
To escape the daily routine of war, I learned to create alternate realities in my mind, traveling to better, safer places in my imagination. If anyone taught me about the power of storytelling, it was my parents and uncle. My love for culture and community began with them. That same love propels me to view the world with curiosity and compassion and to seek the places where I can best serve humanity.
My memoir, Walk Toward the Rising Sun, is a collection of my memories—stories that are always with me. I want others to learn from my experiences, to understand how they have molded me into who I am today. I believe there are parts of my story that anyone can relate to, regardless of who or where they are. At our core, we all have the same dream of a good life, free of war, pain, and suffering. We all crave happy, peaceful times with family and friends and the opportunity to connect to one another through storytelling.
My memoir discusses the importance of a childhood free from violence; the reality of families who are dispersed to all corners of the globe, causing the circle of family to grow smaller; and the challenges we must face in order to understand who we truly are.
What I want readers to take away from Walk Toward the Rising Sun is an appreciation for freedom of expression, self-determination, and cultural history. Ultimately, mine is a tale of hope: a portrait of the rich and complex human condition, full of joy, pain, inspiration, and dignity.
An abridged note from the guide writers
This guide for Ger Duany’s Walk Toward the Rising Sun comes after more than a decade of collaboration, mentoring, teaching, learning, and friendship. Our work with literacy, refugee relocation, history, storytelling, and youth advocacy is why we were honored and thrilled to be part of this book’s introduction to educators and librarians.