slave:
person who is owned by another person

sword:
long knife-shaped piece of metal used for fighting

capital:
city where government is

peanut:
large seed that grows underground; eaten by humans in many places; also called a ‘groundnut’

stick:
long narrow piece of wood

Francis Bok (easy version)

Francis Bok grew up in Gourion in the southern Sudan. His father was a rich farmer who grew corn and peanuts. He also had hundreds of chickens, cows, goats, and sheep. Francis’ father had two wives and eight children. Of all his children, he liked Francis best because he was such a hard worker. Francis loved his father and he wanted to be just like him when he grew up.

There was a market in another town, close to Gourion. Francis’ father sold corn and peanuts and animals there and he often took Francis with him. But Francis was not allowed to go there alone until he was seven. Then one day in 1986 his mother asked him to take some eggs and peanuts to the market for her. He went with several other children who were used to working in the market. His mother knew they would look after Francis.

Francis and the other children worked in the market for three or four hours. Everything was going well. Then they suddenly heard the noise of guns. People were shouting and picking up their things and running away. Before Francis and his friends had time to run away, more than a hundred men came into the market. Some of them were riding horses. They were carrying guns and swords. They quickly killed all the men who were still in the market.

When Francis tried to run away he was stopped by a man on a big horse. He made Francis stand in a group with all the other children. The women were put into a separate group.

Then the children were taken away. The bigger ones had to carry the food they had been selling. The smaller ones like Francis were put into big baskets that were carried by donkeys.

The children travelled a long way. Finally, in the middle of the night, they stopped and slept. In the morning, the men divided the children between them. The man who got Francis was called Giemma. He put Francis behind him on his horse and rode with him to his farm. Francis had become his slave. Giemma could do whatever he wanted with him.

When they got to Giemma’s farm, his wife and two children were waiting for him. Francis was happy to see the children. He thought he would be able to play with them, but, to his surprise, as soon as he got off the horse, Giemma’s son and daughter began hitting him with sticks. They were laughing and singing as they did it. Giemma and his wife watched and they laughed too.

Like Francis’ father, Giemma had hundreds of animals—goats, sheep, cows, and camels. Giemma showed Francis where he was going to sleep. It was a very small, uncomfortable place like a house for an animal. For two weeks Francis just stayed in his little house. Giemma gave him little bits of food to eat—whatever was left over after his family had eaten.

Then, after he had been on the farm for two weeks, Francis started work. His job was to look after Giemma’s goats and sheep.

For the next ten years, Francis worked as Giemma’s slave. He was paid nothing. He could not leave. He was unhappy, but there was nothing he could do except keep working. If he told Giemma he didn’t like working so much, Giemma talked about cutting off one of his legs so he wouldn’t be able to run away. Francis knew this might really happen because he had seen a young slave on another farm who only had one leg.

When he was fourteen, Francis tried to run away. He got caught. Giemma hit him and talked again about cutting off one of his legs. Francis ran away again the next day and he got caught again. This time Giemma tied him up and pointed a gun at him. Giemma’s wife told him to shoot Francis. Giemma told Francis he was going to kill him in the morning.

In the morning, Giemma told Francis he didn’t want to kill him because he was doing a good job of taking care of his animals. But he also told him that if he tried to run away again, he would kill him. Francis decided to wait three more years before he tried again. He knew he had to be bigger and stronger and smarter first.

He did try again after three years and this time he didn’t get caught. After many adventures, he got to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. And in 1999 he went to the United States. There, with the help of Edward Tivnan, he wrote a book about his life called Escape from Slavery.

-- information from: “Escape from Slavery,” Francis Bok and Edward Tivnan, St. Martin’s Press, N.Y., 2000