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Child Soldier, Exceptional Man

Emmanuel Jal (Oslo Freedom Forum)

Emmanuel Jal had a pretty rotten childhood. A Sudanese, he’s not exactly sure when he was born — sometime in the early 1980s. When he was six or seven, he was forced to be a soldier. He spent the next several years — the heart of his childhood — in combat. “I was done evil and I did evil,” he told me.

His mother was killed. So were many, many other members of his family.

Eventually, he was adopted by a British aid worker, an extraordinary woman named Emma McCune. She smuggled him to safety in Nairobi. A few months later, she died in a road accident.

Etc., etc. I have done a podcast with Jal, a Q&A. “No one has a right to complain to you, certainly about a rough childhood,” I said. Everyone has problems, he answered. And “gratitude is the key. It takes us from a state of complaining to a state of appreciation, to identify opportunities.”

Today, Jal is a hip-hop artist, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a clinician, and other things.

One of his greatest achievements is to have conquered rage and bitterness within him. (He had a lot to be enraged and bitter about.) In our conversation, he made an amusing remark about bitterness: “You’re drinking poison and hoping that the other person will die.” When he said that we should be grateful for our problems, and the opportunities they present, he reminded me of that peculiar Biblical admonition to rejoice in our adversities.

And as I listened to him, I thought of Faulkner — a recording of whose Nobel lecture I borrowed from the library, when I was a kid: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.” That, Emmanuel Jal has done, is doing.

Anyway, that podcast, again, is here. It is out of the everyday, I would say.

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