Friday, October 03, 2008

Tears of the Desert are Tears of Blood in Darfur

Come here my love,
I have a song for you.
Come here my love,
I have a dream for you…

With such beautiful and soulful words of innate passion, Halima Bashir, MD, begins the lucid prose of her vivid memory of the poetic beauty of her childhood and Zaghawa family in Darfur in her unforgettable war memoir Tears of the Desert, but we are soon gripped by the gory horrors of her picturesque true life story as a ruthless Sudanese soldier stabbed a knife into her thigh as she kicked him in his groin in her desperate resistance against being raped by these devilish Sudanese soldiers on rampage in Darfur.

Here is an excerpt from Tears of the Desert, and reading the rest of the memoir would be more beneficial.


The Naming

Come here my love,
I have a song for you.
Come here my love,
I have a dream for you. . .

I sing-whisper this lullaby to my boy, my tiny child, as I rock him to sleep in my arms. Outside the window of our cell-like apartment the London traffic roars by. But here we are safe, he and I, this little sleepy miracle that I clutch to myself with a desperate joy in my heart. And as I sing, inside my head I am transported home, home to my beloved Africa.

Come here my love,
I have a kiss for you.
Come here my love. . .

This is the lullaby that my kind and gentle mother used to sing to me, of an evening by the fireside. This is the lullaby that my fierce Grandma Sumah would sing, on those warm African nights when she allowed herself to relax a little, and for her inner love to shine through. And this is the lullaby that my wonderful, funny, clever father would murmur in my ear, as he rocked me on his lap and ran his fingers through my hair.

Come here my love,
I have a smile for you. . .

As I sing this song I am in Africa again, enveloped in the loving warmth and security of my family. As I sing this song I am with my tribe again, the Zaghawa, a fierce, warlike black African people who are the most generous and open when welcoming strangers. I am back in the hot, spicy, dry desert air of my village, a child dressed only in dust and happiness, and all in my life is wondrous and good.
I am in my home, with my family, with my people, in my village, in Darfur.
Darfur. I know to you this must be a word soaked in suffering and blood. A name that conjures up terrible images of a dark horror and an evil without end. Pain and cruelty on a magnitude inconceivable in most of the civilized world. But to me Darfur means something quite different: It was and is that irreplaceable, unfathomable joy that is home.

Come here my love,
I have a home for you. . .

I sing this song for my little boy who is not yet one year old, and reflect upon the miracle of his birth—for it gave me the spirit and the will to live. Without you, I tell his shining, sleepy eyes, I would have killed myself from the horror and shame of it all. The darkness would have overcome me, dragged me down into its eager drowning.
We Zaghawa are a fierce, warlike people, and death—violent and bloody and at one's own hand—is far preferable to dishonor and shame. It has always been thus for my tribe.

Come here my love,
I have a hug for you. . .

"You know what rape is?" The face is a mask of hatred—eyes close to mine, his soldier's breath stinking. "You think because you are a doctor you really know what rape is?"
A second soldier lunges at me, pinning me to the floor. "We'll show you what rape is, you black dog. . ."
"You think you can talk to the foreigners about rape!" a third screams. "Let me tell you—you know nothing. But in rape we are expert teachers.. ."
"And when we are finished with you we might just let you live," the first one spits out. "Then you can go and tell the world. . ."
I try to block out the memory of it all, but sometimes it is not possible, and it comes crowding in on me, dark and suffocating, putrid and evil. I can still see their faces, even now, as if it were only yesterday. Bloodshot eyes, inflamed with hatred and lust. Graying stubble. Unclean breath, the reek of days-old sweat and unwashed uniforms. A flashing blade as one tries to cut my trousers off of me. I kick out, fiercely, aiming for his groin. He cries out in pain, recovers himself, and stabs the knife into my thigh. I feel the agony of that knife thrust, and a dead weight bearing down on my bound hands.

Come here my love,
I have a life for you. . .

I hug my little boy close to my pounding, fearful heart. It is you who gave me life, the will to live, the spirit to go on. And because of you—and the countless other women and children who never made it through the horror alive—I am going to sit at this desk in our tiny apartment while you peacefully sleep, and I am going to start to write my story.

Come here my love,
I have a story for you. . .

My name is Halima. It is an important name and you must remember it. It is important because my father gave it to me seven days after I was born, in the village naming ceremony. In a sense my father saw into the future, for he named me after who and what I was to become.

I was my father's firstborn child, and I was his favorite. I know all children say this, but I had an especially close bond with my father. For the first five years of my life I was an only child. I used to long for a brother or sister to play with. But I also knew that when one came along I'd have to share my parents with them, which was the last thing on earth that I wanted to do.

Whenever my father was home I would always be sitting at his side listening to his stories. He'd tell me about the legends of our tribe, the Zatghawa, or about the lineage of our family, which was descended from a long line of tribal chiefs. Or he'd tell me about his work buying and selling cattle, goats, and camels, and about his travels across the deserts and mountains of Darfur.

One day when I was very young we were lying on some rugs by the fireside in the center of our home. In each corner of our fenced compound there was a thatched, circular mud hut: one for the women, one for the men, one for my parents, and one for visitors. And in the middle was a thatched wooden shelter with open sides. Here we gathered each evening, lounging around the fire and gazing up at the bright stars, talking, talking and laughing.

My father was playing a game with me. It is just like the "This little piggy went to market" game that Westerners play with their children. He took my left hand in his, and traced a circle in my palm: "The camel's home," he announced, gazing into my eyes. Then he traced a similar pattern on my forearm: "The cow's home." Then higher up: "The sheep's home. . ." Of course, we'd played this game many times before, and I knew what was coming. I was giggling and trying to pull my arm away to escape.
"The chicken's home. . ." he continued, tracing a chicken coop at the top of my arm. And then, as I desperately tried to squidge myself up into a ball, he made a lunge for my armpit. "And who is this home for?!"

We fell about laughing, as he tickled me and I tried to fight him off. When we tired of the game we leaned back on the rugs, losing our thoughts in the dark night sky.
"You—you're my favorite little girl," my father murmured, as he stroked my hair. "You brought such luck to our family."
"But why am I so lucky, abba?" I asked him. Abba is "Daddy" in our Zaghawa language. I was at that age when I always wanted to know "why."
My father went on to tell me the story of my naming ceremony. In our tribe each child's name must be announced within seven days of birth. My mother and father were so proud of their firstborn that they invited everyone to the naming ceremony. My father was a relatively rich man in our village, as he owned many cattle, sheep, and goats, and dozens of prized camels. My father slaughtered several animals and a feast was prepared for all.

My mother was resting after the birth, and would do so for forty days, as was our tradition. So my fearsome Grandma Boheda rounded up some of the village women to help cook. There were trays piled high with kissra, a flat, sorghum pancake cooked on a metal plate over an open fire. There were cauldrons overflowing with acidah, a thick maize mash. There were bowls piled high with fresh salad, garnished with sesame oil and lemon juice. And there was lots of smoked cattle and goat meat, with hot, spicy sauces.

On the morning of my naming, people came bearing gifts of food or little presents. The women were dressed in topes, long robes of a fine, chiffon material, decorated with all the colors of the rainbow. The unmarried girls wore the brightest, with flame red, fire orange, and sunset pink designs. And the men looked magnificent in their white robes that swathed the body from head to toe, topped off by a twisted white turban, an immah.
"You were lying inside the hut," my father told me. "A tiny baby at your mother's side. A stream of people came in to see you. But Grandma Sumah was there, and you know what she's like.. .. She had your face covered. 'Please can we see the baby's face?' people kept asking. But Grandma just scowled at them and muttered something about protecting you from the Evil Eye."

The Evil Eye is a curse that all Zaghawa—and many other Muslims—believe in with fervor. With my mother resting, Grandma Sumah was looking after me, and she was very superstitious. She didn't want anyone looking at me too closely, just in case they had bad intentions and gave me the Evil Eye.
"She's so beautiful—what name have you chosen?" people kept asking. But Grandma just gave an even darker scowl, and refused to breathe a word.

My father had issued strict instructions. He wasn't prepared to announce my name until a very special person was present—the traditional medicine woman of our village. When she arrived, my father led her to the center of our house. "I'm calling my firstborn child Halima, after you," he announced. Then he took the medicine woman into the hut so she could bless me.
"But why did you name me after her, abba?" I asked my father. The tradition in our tribe is to name your children after their grandparents. I'd always wondered where my name had come from.
"Ah, well, that's a long story," my father replied, his eyes laughing in the warm glow of the firelight. "And it's getting close to your bedtime.. ."
I knew he was teasing me, and I begged him to tell me the story. Eventually, as was nearly always the case, he relented.
"At first I thought about calling you Sumah, after Grandma," my father continued. "But she refused to let me. . ." My father rolled his eyes at me, and I giggled. We both knew what Grandma was like: She'd never agree to anything if she could help it. "And then I remembered a promise that I had made when I was a young man. One day I was out on a camel rounding up cattle. The camel stumbled in a dry riverbed and I had fallen. Some villagers found me lying unconscious, and they were convinced that I was near death. . ."
"But you couldn't die, abba," I objected. "Surely you couldn't?"
My father chuckled. "Well, nothing they could do would wake me. All the herbs and medicines failed to stir me. They cut me open here." My father revealed a thick white scar running around his neck. "They wanted to bleed me and let the infection run out, but it didn't work. Even the hijabs that the Fakirs prepared didn't help. . ."

Click here to order for the Tears of the Desert,: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur.


Sal Ober said...

the fear we must win.
a fight to a truly victory.
we must open our eyes.

sorry. just because i can´t do anything.


Anonymous said...

Atrocities in Darfur continue to plague Sudan.

But help may be on the way…

That’s where London businessman Saifee Durbar comes in.

He plans to build a railway from Sudan to Cameroon, going through the Central African Republic.

This would link Africa’s eastern and western coasts.

You can find more details on the project on Durbar’s blogs:

sara said...

great book, i luvd it! too bad i rly cant do anything but i'm praying for you guys!

Ibrahimblogs said...

Thanks for this stirring and beautiful excerpt. I would love to read the book!!

Keep sharing!!

This is Ibrahim from Israeli Uncensored News