Summary: Chapter 17, Nya: Southern Sudan, 2009

Nya guesses that they are building a house, or a barn. A school, her father tells her. The nearest school is half a day’s walk away. But now that the village has water, Nya and the other children will no longer have to spend their days fetching it. Nya is nearly speechless as her father tells her that all of the children, girls included, will be able to go to school. But, he tells her before returning to work, now she must go fetch water. Nya picks up the plastic container. I am going to learn to read and write, she thinks. 

Summary: Chapter 17, Salva: Sudan and Rochester, New York, 2003–2007

Salva and his father reunite at the clinic. It has been nineteen years. Salva’s father blesses his son the Dinka way by sprinkling his head with water. He tells Salva that he never gave up hope that Salva was alive and shares news of the family. Mother is alive and well in the village. Salva wants to visit her, but war ravages the area. If Salva returned, he surely would be forced to fight. Salva’s sisters are with their mother. Ring is alive, but Ariik and Kuol are both dead. 

Salva’s father recounts how he walked three hundred miles to the clinic. He arrived barely alive, his stomach filled with worms from years of drinking contaminated water. He has recovered well and will soon be strong enough for the walk home. Salva promises to return as the two bid a tearful goodbye. 

On the trip home, Salva decides what he can do. Chris and Louise pitch in to help, and he spends hours planning with Scott, a friend who coordinates projects like Salva’s. To raise the amount of money they need, Salva must talk to groups about his project. He remembers the twice-daily planning meetings he held with the boys on the way to Kenya and summons up the courage. 

Three years pass. Salva holds on to hope, remembering his uncle’s urging. One step at a time. His goal is near.

Summary: Chapter 18, Nya: Southern Sudan, 2009

The villagers gather around the finished well. The leader of the workers hands one end of a blue canvas to Nya’s uncle while he holds the other end. The sign is in English. Uncle translates. It says Elm Street School. Everyone stands around the sign while someone takes a picture that will be sent back to America. The students from the Elm Street School in the United States, who raised the money for the well, will see the people for whom they raised the money. 

At the well, Nya reaches the front of the line and watches as her uncle pumps water into her bottle. She drinks the clean and cool water. It has come out of the same spot where the villagers had once gathered for fire, song, and celebration. Soon Nya, Dep, and Akeer will attend school. Other good things will happen because of the well. Next year, a marketplace then perhaps a medical clinic.

Nya’s village will share the well with many others, some who will walk long distances. No one will be refused, and villagers will cooperate to maintain the well. Nya’s uncle will be among those who solve conflicts, should they arise. As for Nya, she will no longer walk for water. 

The crew leader stands apart, watching. Nya watches him. Dep tells her that he is Dinka, which amazes Nya. The assistant and most of the crew were Nuer, like Nya. She had assumed the leader was as well. Dinka and Nuer are enemies. She wonders why he has drilled a well for the Nuer. She approaches the man. He greets her. She thanks him for bringing water. He asks her name. She tells him. The man then introduces himself. His name is Salva.

Analysis: Chapters 17–18

For Nya, having clean water will allow her to be a child again. To this point, Park has portrayed Nya’s life as hard, full of pain, and a struggle that one would think a child should not have to endure, with responsibility far beyond a child’s years. But when Nya learns that the village will now be able to build a school which she will attend, she “felt as if she were flying.” Nya heads back to the pond with the empty container, just as she did when she was first introduced at the beginning of the story. But this time, the readers senses the joyfulness of a child in her. Nya will get to go to school, play with her friends, and do the things children are meant to do. 

Water is a powerful image in Salva’s reunion with his father. Father blesses Salva by sprinkling him with water, signifying its life-giving symbolism and the hopefulness both Salva and his father had that they would find each other again. On Salva’s journey, the tiniest bit of water revived the men who lay dying in the desert. Water, though, also represents pain and suffering. Father lies ill from drinking contaminated water, which parallels the ailment that befell Akeer, Nya’s sister. Additionally, the raging waters of the river took the lives of so many thousands who were trapped and killed by either the soldiers’ gunfire, the hungry crocodiles, or the water’s swift current. Salva, though, knew that the banks at the opposite side of the river presented hope, as did every bit of water he was able to find on his journey. Salva knows the power of water, and he knows the hope clean water can bring to Sudan. From that hope, his plan emerges.

Salva must put into practice the life lessons he learned ever since fleeing his village back in 1985 in order to achieve his goal of bringing water to Sudan. The scope of the project is huge, and another person might easily be overwhelmed by it. But Salva breaks it down into manageable parts, much like Uncle had done for him when Salva had been paralyzed by the fear and the magnitude of suffering he was experiencing on their journey. When raising money for the project and meeting with potential donors, Salva draws on his experience of leading the boys to Kenya. Just as he had done with them, he would organize, encourage, and cajole others into committing resources to his project. He had been underestimated by some, and from that experience had come to understand the value of contributing and supporting to the group. Salva knows that, in order to achieve his goal, he will have to draw on the support of others. And, when he was fleeing his village, he knew that, in order to survive, he could not look back. Now Salva knows that, if his dream is to become a reality, he cannot look back; he must face the challenges every day brings and move forward.

The parallel narratives end in Chapter 18, as the story of Nya, a Nuer, and Salva, a Dinka, merge into one. Nya is surprised when Dep tells her that the boss who built the well is Dinka because Nuer and Dinka have been enemies and have always fought over water. The reader knows what Nya does not: men from the Nuer tribe killed Salva’s uncle and yet, here he is. Nya learns that the well will be open to everyone, regardless of tribe. It is evident that Salva has looked beyond the personal pain he experienced, and, as Uncle always did, he is able to see the bigger picture: The water projects that Salva brings to villages in Sudan will alleviate tribal tensions and the sort of enmity and violence that caused Uncle’s death. Not only does the well have the potential to lessen social strife, but it will have a significant ripple effect on the villages. There are schools and health clinics planned, which will result in a realignment of children’s roles and responsibilities. A will to survive, along with a lot of hope, determination, and hard work lead to the moment Nya and Salva finally meet.