Their great odyssey

Liana Aghajanian

God Grew Tired of Us” is a heartbreaking and heartwarming documentary that chronicles the story of three Sudanese refugees who have been displaced from their country due to a bloody civil war and resettled in the United States of America.

After escaping Sudanese death squads, boys and young men walked more than 1,000 miles from their homelands in southern Sudan. Surviving dehydration, disease and wild animals, John Bul Dau, Daniel Abul Pach and Panther Bior, the film’s protagonists, lived in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp for 10 years, quite longer than any of them had expected.

John, Daniel and Panther, along with 25,000 others, are known as the “Lost Boys,” because they were separated from their families or completely orphaned. Together with the other refugees in their camp, they formed strong bonds in makeshift families that supported and looked out for one another. In 2001, John, Daniel, Panther and 3,600 other boys were given an extraordinary opportunity to resettle in America and change their lives forever. And so their fascinating journey continued.

In the film, John, Daniel and Panther, both excited and anxious to see what lay ahead for them in the fast-paced Western world, contemplate what life will be like in the U.S.

“I’ve never used electricity,” one of them said, while John commented on how small New York looks on a map.

As they made their way to the U.S. by way of Nairobi and Brussels, Daniel and Panther resettled in Pittsburgh, while John, the oldest and tallest of the three, was sent to Syracuse. The men were expected to eventually work and pay back their airfare for the trip to the United States.

While being shown around their new apartment, their guide introduced them to what seems like one of the most vital inventions to the survival of Americans: the alarm clock.

“In America, time is money,” the guide reiterated to the men. As they took their first trip to a supermarket, the men were mesmerized by typical American food. A generous employee at the bakery counter even introduced them to donuts, which are pretty much as synonymous to American culture as tea is to the English.

Their journey is documented over a span of four years and the boys soon discover the stark contrast between American and African life. They worked sometimes two or three minimum wage jobs to support not only themselves but also the brothers they had left behind in Kenya. In the film, their interactions with Americans were limited and they observed that many were unfriendly, distant and cold, another stark contrast to the warm and friendly environment they knew back home, where a person’s house was always open to strangers.

The charisma and genuineness of the men, as they adjust to a sometimes frustrating and peculiar new life in the U.S., overshadows their horrible childhood experiences, from being forced out of their homes, to losing family members and seeing people being killed along the way – a tragic but rich story of struggle in Sudan.

The men’s almost perfect English coupled with their warm and inviting personalities was not what one would expect of refugees who have endured endless tragedy. The successes that John, David and Panther achieve in the U.S. make them an embodiment of the American dream, and prove that no matter where you come from, you can make it as long as there is hope.

The making of the film, much like the story of the boys, had its share of ups and downs, as the financial burden the film crew faced threatened to shut down production. Nearly a year after shooting the last footage, through various connections the directors had in “tinsel town,” Brad Pitt took a look at an early cut and not only decided to financially support it but also to lend his name to the project. Pitt’s celebrity enabled the team to secure the private financing needed to complete the film.

The documentary is narrated by Nicole Kidman, whose soothing yet stern voice is simple and clear, juxtaposed next to horrific images of war and a new life in a foreign land. The documentary, directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tommy Walker, brings important humanitarian issues to light and is bound to touch, inspire and educate any moviegoer, as it did at the Sundance film festival, where one woman, after being so moved by the documentary, approached John after the screening and handed him a check for $25,000.