In 2008, Nya approaches a pond in the middle of the desert. Many other people are gathered around the pond, scooping up the brown, muddy water. Nya drinks some water and feels cooler. She fills a gourd with more water, balances it on her head, and prepares herself for the journey back home.
Back in 1985, Salva weeps: his village has abandoned him. He realizes that the other villagers have left him because he’s a child, and will slow down the group. In the horizon, he sees smoke, a burning barn, and—to his relief—a woman. Approaching the woman, Salva sees that the woman is Dinka—that is, she’s from the same tribe as Salva. Salva knows that the Dinka and the Nuer (another tribe) have a long-standing rivalry. The two tribes argue over land, and try to claim the areas that have the most water. They’ve been fighting for centuries.
Even though Salva has just experienced a crushing blow, he forces himself to continue moving, and before long he encounters another person. The passage also raises the issue of the rivalry between different South Sudanese tribes. These rivalries date back centuries and, according to Park, arise largely from the scarcity of water. If there were more water in South Sudan, Park suggests, tribal tensions would be eased.
Salva greets the Dinka woman, who’s very old, and she nods to him. She offers him a little food—some peanuts—and asks him, “Where are your people?” Salva cries and explains that he had to run away from the fighting, and doesn’t know where his family is.
The woman agrees to help Salva, at least at first. It’s implied that she helps Salva in part because Salva is from her tribe—had Salva been Nuer, the woman might not have been so friendly.
Salva stays with the Dinka woman in her barn. He makes a point of doing chores for the woman, so that she won’t kick him out—he fetches water and firewood. In the distance, he can hear the sound of gunfire.
Salva is a young child, but he’s used to working hard. He also understands that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” (which is more than a lot of eleven-year-olds understand), and for this reason he works hard to repay the woman for her kindness.
After four days, the woman tells Salva that it’s time for her to leave. The water is drying up, and winter is coming. Salva, she insists, can’t come with her—if he comes with her, the soldiers will hurt her. On her own, however, she’s just a harmless old woman.
Although the woman has helped Salva, she ultimately prioritizes her own survival. Therefore, she refuses to take Salva with her—since doing so would mean risking her own safety.
Frightened, Salva tries to decide what to do. Suddenly, he hears voices in the distance. As the people draw closer, Salva sees that they’re Dinka—he wonders if his family members are among them.
Even as Salva experiences setback after setback, he refuses to give up. Instead, he’s full of hope that he’ll reunite with his family.