Alek by Alek Wek

Alek_25Sudanese. Poor. Dinka girl in a hostile homeland. Awkward and suffering. This was Alek.

Her tale is written here in ‘Alek, the Extraordinary Life of a Sudanese Refugee’, and reveals what a journey she has had to her current world, now as a  supermodel. She was not discovered in the bushlands of Sudan, as is often suggested in the media, but struggled to adapt to a new world in London as a refugee.

There is much to be learnt from Alek’s story. It is a powerful insight to the strife and troubles faced in Sudan, due to civil war which killed nearly 2 million people, and unrest and power plays which continue today. Her family were poor survivors, headed by parents who were accustomed to life on the run.

At the age of six, Alek and her family fled their home village, Wau, in fear of the rising incidents of fighting and the accusations that the Dinka people were to blame for the conflict. With their sparse possessions, they left on foot to traverse the countryside to the shabby home village of relatives, who were even worse off than the Wek family. Interesting aspects of kinship and support are woven through the story, and the fragile status of refugees is also clearly reflected.

Another element which pervades Alek’s tale is the strength of her parents as they try to to their best for nine children, in a war torn country empty of hope. Escape becomes essential for survival, and it is only through familial links in Khartoum and finally London, that Alek gets her chance. For her father, suffering bad healing of a broken hip and consequent infection, escape to Khartoum, though achieved, came too late.

Life in London is by no means ideal for Alek, but with the absence of civil war, she works hard to support herself at her sister’s home, and to bring the rest of her family there. Conditions are far better for her health here, and her strong will and work ethic steel her against the racism she experiences, and her ‘exotic’  beauty is uncovered.

Alek’s tale is not an easy one. It reflects many cultural issues; the need for family, the strength of family values, the ties to a homeland, the struggle to survive,  and the blind acceptance of stereotypes. It also brings hope – for those who remain behind, as Alek has been able to bring attention to the plight of those left behind in her homeland, Sudan.

There are many thought provoking ideas in this book, and many challenges to the affluent westerner. Read it, and see what you think.

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