The visitors have returned to Nya’s village with an “iron giraffe”—a huge drill designed to create a well. The villagers spend their days breaking rocks to make gravel. Nya still doesn’t understand what the visitors hope to accomplish.
Nya’s storyline picks up right where it left off, with Nya wondering what the mysterious men hope to accomplish by drilling in the dry earth. Her wonderment at the “iron giraffe” further reinforces her childlike perspective on events.
In 1985 in the Ethiopian refugee camp, Salva calls after the tall woman, praying that she’s his mother. But as Salva chases after the woman, he suddenly realizes what Uncle Jewiir had been hinting at: that his family is dead and he’s “all alone.” He wonders how he could possibly live without his family. But then he realizes, “How can I not go on? They would want me to survive.” The passage concludes, “If someone had told Salva that he would live in the camp for six years, he would never have believed it.”
In this important moment, Salva accepts the truth that, in all probability, his family is dead—but he refuses to despair. This proves how important Uncle Jewiir’s support has been for Salva: Jewiir teaches Salva how to carry on despite difficulty, concentrating on moving forward one step at a time. It’s partly because Jewiir has the willpower to live his life in this way that he survives the bloody Sudanese Civil War.
The year is now 1991, and the Ethiopian refugee camp is about to shut down. Salva is nearly seventeen years old now. He’s learned from the camp’s workers that Ethiopia’s government is on the verge of collapse, and the new government may not be so welcoming to foreign aid workers.
A lot of time passes in this chapter, but Salva’s life seems barely more stable than it was when he was eleven. Just as it did in the past, political strife is about to threaten Salva’s safety again and force him to wander across the continent in search of a new home.
One morning, soldiers show up at the camp and order everyone inside to leave—not just the camp, but Ethiopia itself. The soldiers fire their guns in the air, forcing the people to run toward the nearby Gilo River, which separates Sudan and Ethiopia. Salva knows that the Gilo has dangerously strong currents and crocodiles.
The Ethiopian soldiers, acting on behalf of their government, drive the Sudanese refugees out of their country, even though doing so will endanger the refugees’ lives.