One day, visitors come to Nya’s village. The visitors arrive in a jeep, and speak to the village chief, Nya’s uncle. Nya is confused about why the visitors are here. However, Dep informs her that they’ve come to talk about water.
This passage establishes the direction of Nya’s storyline for the rest of the book: Nya plays the part of the observer while mysterious men proceed with their project in her village.
Back in 1985, the group has arrived at the edge of the Akobo desert. It will take them three days to cross it. The first day feels like the longest of Salva’s life. The sun is hot, and he has very little water left. At one point, he slows down and nearly collapses. Uncle Jewiir uses Salva’s full name to urge him to keep walking, a step at a time. With great difficulty, Salva manages to stand up and keep moving, even though his feet ache.
In this important passage, Uncle Jewiir convinces Salva to keep moving by forcing him to concentrate on small, manageable goals—putting one foot in front of the other. This is a tried-and-true method for coping with pain, because it prevents the sufferer from becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of their task. It’s also significant that Jewiir uses Salva’s full name—this is another common method for motivating people, since it encourages them to “remember themselves” and push ahead.
The next day seems exactly like the one before. But then, Salva notices a small group in the distance. As he gets closer, Salva realizes that the small group is dying of exhaustion and thirst. One of the women in Salva’s group pours some water in the men’s mouths. But another man yells, “If you give them your water, you will not have enough for yourself! It is useless—they will die!”
In this passage, Park sets up a moral conundrum too profound for an easy answer: do the refugees have a moral obligation to give up some of their water, thereby risking their own lives? Or are they morally justified in saving their water, protecting their lives but effectively ensuring the deaths of the other wanderers?