My village was a paradise. As a boy, I loved staying outdoors, tending goats, hunting in the woods and playing with my friends in the fields…mornings were the best. The air was always clear and cold; it just slid into your nose. Waking up and smelling that air was like going for a run and then getting that first cup of water. My lungs were always thirsty for that air in the morning. It was my favorite time of day, that morning light, it made the greens on the hills so much greener and the sky was always that perfect blue.
There were the weekend dances. People gathered from the other villages for the dance competitions. There was a lot of merry-making and laughter and life. And then the soldiers came and I had to run.
As I ran away from my burning village, I had no way of knowing that those first steps were the beginning of my journey across many parts of Eastern Africa and finally to Australia.
When I was in a refugee camp in Africa, I saw a book in the hand of one of my friends who could read and write.
In one warm afternoon while we were sitting under a tree, he told me how books are made by the white man. He said that white people are so intelligent that they have a machine that does exactly what they want…if they wanted a book about a boy’s journey from Sudan to Australia, they would just tell the machine that and the machine would print a story of the boy. That’s easy, I told him. If I got chance to sit close to that machine, I would talk it to and make it print a story that I wanted.
But he said, no you can’t do that. The machine does not speak Dinka. So you will have to learn to speak English to talk to the machine.
I knew then that I would be telling stories to boys sitting around firelight for life.
When I came to Australia, my very first job was cleaning. I worked by night and went to the Catholic English Intensive Centre by day. One day, my class was given an assignment to write a story. I wrote one and in the following morning, I was called in to the office. I was worried that I didn’t do my assignment well. When I arrived in the office, I had a chat with the teacher and she told that my story was very good and that I should think about becoming a writer. The story of the machine was still clear in my head, so I found it hard to believe.
Of course, as I became more proficient at English, thanks mostly to the wonderful people at the Catholic Intensive English Centre, I realised that books are written by people for people, not by a clever machine. I think there is something even more magical in that.
I was encouraged to keep writing. I went to the NIDA summer program and I then with the support of friends, to film school for a year where I made some short films and wrote a couple of scripts. One of the films I was involved in making entered in TropFest in 2006 and we were fortunate to be awarded the 2nd Runner’s Up prize. These experiences, and the knowledge that I gathered through all of this, led me to Beneath the Darkening Sky.
My novel is work of fiction, and within this fiction, I hope you will discover a truth about what is in us all that shapes as human beings. It is set in unnamed country in Africa. It’s a story about a proud and brave boy who wills himself to endure and rise above the madness, the despair, the nightmare and how he tries to survive and stay human in an inhuman world.
I am a dreamer and [am inspired] to dream beyond telling stories to boys sitting in a circle by firelight.
I will keep writing.
I hope you like my book.
Majok Tulba, 2016
(This is an edited transcript. For more information on Majok and his debut novel Beneath the Darkening Sky, click here).
We hoped you enjoyed reading this piece that Majok wrote a few years ago. Majok’s upcoming novel, When Elephants Fight, is a haunting coming-of-age story about Juba, young and old at the same time. Growing up in the South Sudanese village of Pacong, civil war forces Juba to flee the life he knows and loves, and it’s a privilege to follow his story as he journeys and adjusts to life in a crowded refugee camp far from his home.
When Elephants Fight draws a horrifying picture of what humanity can do to itself, but Juba’s story is ultimately one story of transcendence, resilience and even joy. When Elephants Fight is available on 2 July 2018.