For the last two and a half years I have been working on a feature documentary about Sudan.
The film is about a small organization and their friends fighting an uphill battle to promote reconciliation between the marginalized people of Sudan. One way they do this is to make videos. The other way is to build schools symbolic of reconciliation. Through this experience I have made some of my closest and most trustworthy friends.
One of these friends was Manute Bol.
Over the last several days, there is a good chance you have been hearing about him. This morning, Nicholas Kristof has written a tremendous endorsement of our work together, which you should read.
It was Rev. Tom Prichard, the director of Sudan Sunrise and his associate, Amanda Jane, who first brought me to Sudan. Eventually, I got to meet, and, for a short period, live with Manute Bol.
When he was in Sudan, Manute chose to live in his war-torn village in the same type of mud hut everyone else lives in. His village is on the edge of both Darfur and Northern Sudan. As a child, Manute ran away from his small village where there was no education. Manute was cocksure, funny and deadpan serious. He became a great leader when he used his unique position and all of his wealth to help all Sudanese. During the civil wars, he never felt more at home than in Turalei, which was consistently ravaged by the armies of the North. After the war, Manute worked his village like a master politician, encouraging his people on to greater creativity and self-reliance. It was no problem for Manute, wearing a basketball jersey, to talk with tribal chiefs for hours on end. He sat and listened, then quipped humorous insults, chuckled and did it all with a straight face. What he brought with him through his many years in America was the ability to see his local community's concerns as part of the greater struggle for a free and democratic Sudan. And throughout my visits, Manute was in the kind of physical pain which keeps one up at night. But it never stopped him from bringing me deeper into his experience.
Last Thursday, I told Manute I would be coming down to visit him in the hospital. He asked me to get him a cow. And what else? Some milk. I said OK. He asked me how much it would cost. I said $20,000. He laughed and said, "Matt, you're crazy." Either he thought he hung up the phone, or he just wanted me to listen for the next 20 minutes as he slept -- then the doctor came to speak with him, and then he fell asleep again.
On Saturday, I was driving to visit Manute with Amanda Jane, who is now working on the Doha Darfur Peace Process, when Tom called us with the news that Manute passed away. He was only 47 years old.
Two years ago I never dreamed I'd go to Africa to make a documentary about the work to overcome one the most oppressive governments on Earth. All because a few people introduced me to a few other people.
There are many things that I would like to show you as memories and hope flood into my head and my heart.
I want to tell you about Francis Buk, once a slave of Darfuris -- who speaks out for them. And Daniel Deng Kuot, who was shot by them and brought aid to their refugee camps. I want to tell you about Dr. Adam Adbelgabar, a Darfuri who speaks out for all. I'd like to tell you about a young Darfurian student in Sudan working with everyone to promote peace and reconciliation. And I could tell you about the Americans I have met who have joined Sudan Sunrise to build the camp of reconciliation: Bud McFarlane, Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor, and John Zogby, the Lebanese-American pollster who is among the most outspoken Democrats.
There are many tasks ahead over the next year and a half. Sudan Sunrise must finish the school in Manute's village and begin others. In January South Sudan will make the choice whether or not to become its own country. The International Criminal Court will make decisions about the allegations against President Bashir.
In the coming months, I will need help, advice and support to make my documentary the best it can be to honor Manute's life and commemorate his death and, moreover, to bring the reconciliation movement in Sudan to the forefront of public consciousness here in the United States and around the world.