For Poni, life in her small village in southern Sudan is simple and complicated at the same time. Stay in school. Beat up any boy who tries to show attention. Watch out for the dangers in the river. But then the war comes. When soldiers arrive in her village, and bombs begin to rain from the sky, there is only one thing for Poni to do. Run for her life. Though many of the villagers do not escape, she does. An unknown man carries her across the river, and then she is walking & a long, dusty trek across the African countryside with thousands of refugees. Along the way, many die from starvation, land mines, wild animals, and despair, but Poni does not, driven by the sheer will to survive and the hope that she can make it to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and one day be reunited with her family. Even more than the dramatic events of the story, it is Poni's frank and single-minded personality that carries this novel. In a heartbreaking final twist, she finds her mother just as she is about to leave for the U.S., and must make the hardest decision of all.
Leah Bassoff and Laura Deluca are the authors of Lost Girl Found (Groundwood Books.) Leah Bassoff is currently a middle school English teacher in Denver. She lives with her husband and two children.
Laura DeLuca (my co-author) and I first met at a conference in Denver in 2007. This conference brought together Southern Sudanese women from all over the world. These women were at the conference to share a message that females, not just males, are essential to the government and the future of Southern Sudan.
Laura was a presenter at the conference, while I was attending the conference in order to do research. Drawn in by the question of why so much attention had been given to the Lost Boys while the Lost Girls' stories had, for the most part, gone untold, I was trying to write a book about the women.
In fact, the women I met at the conference did have amazing stories. However, after hearing them, I realized there was a great deal I did not know or understand about the Sudanese culture. After speaking with Laura, I saw an opportunity for a wonderful partnership. I could do the writing, while Laura, who is a professor of anthropology and has so much expertise in African studies, could help me with details of language, culture, and history.
Together, Laura and I discussed what format would work best for sharing the women's stories. We decided that fiction would allow us to weave together the greatest amount of experiences at once.
Though the women we spoke with were generous and open in sharing their stories, because many of them were very young when they had to flee their villages and because many of them experienced a great deal of trauma, remembering was often a painful or difficult experience. Fiction allowed us to fill in gaps, string stories together and focus on themes. Though Poni is a created, composite character, she is based on the resiliency and perseverance of all of the women we spoke with. These women possess a determination to survive, get an education, and give back to their nation which inspired and continues to inspire us.