How “Is It Night or Day?” got its title…

  • March 8, 2022
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When I was writing the story of my mother’s immigration journey as an unaccompanied minor, I read an article in the New York Times about the orphaned children in the Sudanese Civil War. Fleeing tribal warfare and animal attacks, the “Lost Boys” camped out, subsisting on rationed corn mush and lentils. Many died of starvation and thirst.

The article featured “three bone-thin African boys” who had the good fortune of coming to America on a church-sponsored program. Without money, coats, or baggage, the boys arrived in Fargo on a cold, December evening. Most had never seen a shoelace, seatbelt, fork, or light switch. Suddenly, they entered a completely new world of white faces, rolling suitcases, blinking television screens, flushing toilets, and moving airport walkways.

One of the boys looked out the airport window at the white dots against a black sky. Puzzled, he asked one of his sponsors, “Excuse me,” he said, “Can you tell me, please, is it now night or day?”

When I told my daughter Isabelle Chapman this story, she said, “That’s your title, Mom!”

The Lost Boys are the extreme, however, many child refugees are so disoriented that they don’t know if it’s night or day — literally and metaphorically.

My heart breaks for the Ukrainian child refugees.

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