Double Documentary Weekend, Part 2: God Grew Tired of Us

>> Friday, September 25, 2009

As I wrote yesterday, I was in a documentary watching mood last weekend, so on Saturday night I watched The Disappearing Male (about the effects of chemical use on the male reproductive system) and on Sunday night, I watched God Grew Tired of Us.

My husband has this annoying habit of adding documentaries to our Netflix queue, but when they arrive, he doesn't watch them. So they sit on top of our TV for weeks, sometimes months (completely negating the value of renting from Netflix rather than a video store), until finally I beg him to watch them so I can get some cheesy chick flicks.

When God Grew Tired of Us arrived in our mailbox, I showed it to my husband, and he said, "I don't remember adding that to the queue." It's from 2006, and it has probably been in our queue for about that long. Knowing that meant he was going to hold up my video enjoyment again, I almost popped it right back in the mailbox. But then I read the description and thought it sounded pretty interesting and green-related in a round about way, so I decided to watch it.

Documentary #2: God Grew Tired of Us

In the 1980s during a bloody civil war, over 25,000 boys in southern Sudan were orphaned or fled their homes during attacks on their villages by government troops from the north. The boys, dubbed the "Lost Boys of Sudan," wandered for five years across Sudan into Ethiopia and then down to Kenya where they found refuge in a UN camp. In 2001, the United States invited 3800 of the boys to relocate to America.

God Grew Tired of Us introduces us to three of the Lost Boys (by this time, grown men in their twenties) who have been chosen to journey to the U.S. to make a new home for themselves in a completely foreign environment. The film follows them for four years as they transition into their new lives, get jobs, attend college, and finally work to improve the lives of the boys they left behind in Sudan.

I had a number of thoughts as I was watching this film. First, as the young men were shown around their new apartments and cities, with all their technological modern conveniences, I was struck by how lucky we are to have such bounteous wealth. For instance, these young men, who had struggled to survive for five years in the wilderness and who had watched many of their fellow travelers starve to death (children watching children die and then having to bury them) - these young men marveled at all of the foods in a supermarket. How do you eat this? they kept asking. What do you do with this?

Watching the young men discover supermarkets and refrigerators and TVs, I felt so blessed for all we have available to us and that most of us here in the U.S. don't have to struggle to survive. And I thought that even as we work to make the world greener and cleaner, we can't discount the fact that technology has in many ways made our lives better.

But as the movie went on, I was surprised to see that although the three young men were grateful for the opportunity to be in the U.S., they weren't really happy. They deeply missed the other boys and families they had left behind. One young man found his lost family through the Red Cross, so he dropped out of school and worked three jobs so he could save enough to bring them to America. The other two young men planned to return to Africa as soon as they could - one to establish a school and the other to marry his girlfriend.

That brings up the question - what makes us happy? Supermarkets and refrigerators and TVs? Even after living through the terrible trauma of their childhoods, all the Lost Boys wanted was to be reunited with their friends and families.

My final thought was that although the subject of this movie seems more like a social justice issue than an environmental issue, the two subjects are actually entwined throughout this movie, as they are in so many aspects of life. According to the film, two of the main causes of the war were oil and gold. Our dependence on cheap fossil fuel and our insatiable appetites for stuff has a much farther reaching effect than just polluting the air or filling up landfills. There is also a human factor, and I hope we environmentalists never forget that.

This film was a deeply moving account of three amazing survivors, and I definitely recommend adding it to your own Netflix queues.

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Robyn September 26, 2009 at 1:15 AM  

just a side note, I saw a story on ESPN a few years back about one of the Lost Boys who was living in New York and was going to be competing in the Olympics- or maybe he had a track scholarship, but I think it was the Olympics. It was interesting.

JJingle,  September 26, 2009 at 6:18 AM  

State of Things had an interview with Emmanuel, a Lost Boy, this past week. Emmanuel is a research assistant at UNC.

tangledhair September 26, 2009 at 3:42 PM  

If you want more on the Lost Boys, you should read What is the What. It's a fantastic retelling of their journey as boys alone, then living in the refugee camps, then coming to America. I picked it up because a lady I know has worked with the Lost Boys in Atlanta for a very long time. She told me a story of helping one of the young men track down his mother in Sudan, and gathering funds to travel to Africa to reunite them. The day the were preparing to return to the States, his mother walked 8 miles to bring Gini a jar of homemade peanut butter as a gift. She said, "You are my son's mother now. Continue to take good care of him."

Cherie September 27, 2009 at 3:52 PM  

Erin - your husband does the same thing I do with Netflix - put documentaries on the list and then not be in the mood when they arrive. But I do love Netflix for the fact that they offer obscure documentaries. I think God Grew Tired of Us is on my list.

Since my trip to Haiti this past summer, I've seen so many of the same things there that you pick up on in the documentary - happiness (or lack thereof) in a world of plenty, the effects of environmental degradation on people, and how we've benefitted from technology. It is so eye-opening to see how the rest of the world lives, to realize how much we have, and to know we can lose it all. It makes me even more determined to spread the word and to try to make a difference in the world.

Jennifer September 28, 2009 at 4:44 PM  

I just finished reading Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible last left me struggling with a lot of these same questions...thank you for this post. (I'll put the movie in our queue too!)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper September 28, 2009 at 9:13 PM  

@Robyn - I'm amazed at how well the Lost Boys are doing here in the U.S. - at least the ones whose stories I've heard about. I don't know if it's because they had a lot of aid through the charities that were helping them, or if their past experiences made them stronger, but it's very interesting.

@JJingle - I'm going to listen to that as soon as I get a chance. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

@tangledhair - Thanks for the recommendation. I'm adding it to my "to read" list. The Lost Boys' story is so amazing.

@Cherie - I completely agree about the obscure documentaries on Netflix. Most of the documentaries that we've seen have been great. My favorite was called King of Kong, about this guy who decides to try to beat the world Donkey Kong score. It sounds really dumb, I know, but it was so good. Thanks for sharing a little about your Haiti experience.

@Jennifer - I love Barbara Kingsolver! It's been years since I read that one, though...

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