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Dinka Diaries

Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources, 101 Morse Street, Watertown, MA 02472; 617-926-0491
Produced by Filmon Mebrahtu
Directed by Filmon Mebrahtu
DVD, color, 56 min.
African Studies, Urban Studies, Anthropology

Reviewed by Miriam Conteh-Morgan, The Ohio State University Libraries, Columbus, OH

Date Entered: 4/23/2007

The documentary brings into the public space the personal stories of three young southern Sudanese men—Abraham, Mike, and Joseph—as they attempt to understand their past experiences as war refugees in Kenyan camps and separation from family members, and cope with their present situation, again as refugees, in Philadelphia. Part of a cohort of 80-plus who were resettled in the United States in 2000, they open their hearts and lives to the cameras which followed them over a ten-month period.

Viewers get to see their inner turmoil, the challenges they encounter, and the joyous moments that intersperse their otherwise difficult circumstances. Abraham tries to make sense of the differences between the old and new value systems, and he ultimately finds equilibrium in the Christian family of his new church. He decides to stop attending Dinka socials, and nurses hopes about furthering his education at Pennsylvania State University. This dream brings on more anxieties as pursuing his education may mean separation from his brother who also lives in Philadelphia.

The latter, shown only at intervals, remains a silent figure in the film. Mebrahtu flashes shots of him walking around the city, earphones on, listening to taped words of wisdom from the elders in the Kenyan camp. He seems to personify the cultural tugging between old world values and expectations and new world realities that all new immigrants must endure, and simultaneously serves as the inner voice and living link between past and present.

Joseph is the most politically active of them all. More than just discussing the political situation with his friends, he visits the Sudanese embassy to learn more about yet another peace deal recently signed. From what he hears from the official, he comes away more cynical than reassured, with more doubts than answers.

Mike, on the other hand, seems to have adjusted better to life in America. As he attests early into the documentary, “We’ve been through tougher things.” Viewers go along with him to his school prom with a White American friend, and as he plays soccer with a team made up of mostly northern Sudanese, the “enemy” side of the conflict. The greater bond of being immigrants trumps the many divisions of home, and perhaps helps him rationalize his present situation.

Providing an outlet for the men to tell their stories may have been therapeutic for them. But by allowing viewers to hear from, rather than about, them, the director gives us the opportunity to see them as individuals trying to forge a place for themselves and their community in an American city, not as the “other” who remain faceless to many residents of large urban spaces. The film is informative and non-judgmental, which makes it a useful resource for classroom use.