In South Sudan in 2008, while going about her chores, Nya walks along a path and accidentally steps on a thorn, piercing her foot.
Nya endures a lot of physical pain for the sake of her chores (though it’s still not clear what these chores entail).
In 1985, Salva rushes out of the classroom and sees a massive cloud of smoke. He runs as fast as he can—seemingly for hours. He runs past many other people, all of whom are fleeing their villages. Soon, it grows dark, and the crowd stops. The people try to organize themselves by villages. Salva finds some people from his village, Loun-Ariik, but he doesn’t know any of them very well. He and his fellow villagers fall asleep.
In the confusion of the attack, Salva has been separated from his family members. However, he maintains a semblance of his old community by staying with other members of his village.
The next morning, everyone wakes up and continues walking away from the rebels. But in the early afternoon, Salva sees a group of rebel soldiers in the distance. The rebels aren’t pointing their weapons at the fleeing villagers, but they don’t seem friendly, either. They surround the villagers, and Salva feels afraid.
The rebel soldiers in the civil war hail from South Sudan, meaning that they don’t exactly bear Salva and his peers any ill will. However, many men in South Sudanese villages have been forced, at gunpoint, to fight in the civil war.
The rebels march the villagers to a camp, where they divide the villagers into two groups: men in one group, women, children, and the elderly in the other. Because of his age, Salva is placed with the women and the elderly. He’s one of the only children in the group.
The rebels appear to be dividing the villagers up so that they can recruit all able-bodied men for fighting, whether the men want to fight or not.
The next morning, the rebels move on, forcing the group of men from Salva’s village to carry their supplies. When one man refuses to do so, a soldier beats him with the butt of his gun. The remaining women, children, and elderly people proceed in the direction opposite that of the rebels—since they know that, wherever the rebels go, there will be fighting. In the evening, the group of women, children, and elders from Loun-Ariik arrives at a small barn, where everyone sleeps.
The rebels, like the villagers, are from South Sudan, but they don’t treat the villagers with any respect. Instead, they treat the men as servants, who must obey them or risk horrible punishment.
The next morning, Salva wakes up to find that the other people in his village have abandoned him—he’s all alone in the barn.
Although it is not explained why the others abandon Salva, it likely has to do with the difficulties inherent in looking after a child. Salva’s sudden abandonment by the villagers highlights the ways in which war can make it extremely difficult to choose to look after others. Salva will have to take care of himself from now on.