First published in 2008, Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur is one woman’s true story of surviving the horrors of the Darfur region in Sudan. Lewis, a BBC correspondent and Bashir, a physician and refugee living in London give a vivid personal portrait of life in Darfur before and during the catastrophe.
The memoir is written as a novel- Halima Bashir is a black African of the Zaghawa tribe in a family of comparative wealth. The Zaghawa are proud of their history as fierce warriors but are also hospitable- they welcome strangers and share their food – for eating alone is considered a sin.
Halima grows up doted on by her father and in a close knit family. Her feisty and independent grandmother exposes her and her brothers to hard work like fetching water and gathering firewood, yet the family can afford to buy such necessities. To her, “they would not always be lucky”. Ironically, she was preparing them for difficult times ahead!
Her childhood is a happy one; the darker side is when she undergoes circumcision at a tender age of eight. Her description of the event is so disturbingly real that the reader can’t help but feel the pain. In her young mind she can’t help but wonder what was wrong with way women were created. And as she screams, her grandmother tells her;
“Be brave girl, you are a Zaghawa! Cry and the children will laugh at you! Be brave!”
After the ritual she goes to a private school and it is there that she first witnesses class discrimination between the Arabs and blacks. Her Arab headmistress loathes her just because she expects to be treated as well as the Arab pupils, who are favored in most cases. But is this possible in Sudan? Her intellectual gifts push her through school and she later goes to University in Khartoum.
She joins medical school and anticipates a bright future after, but civil war breaks out between Sudan’s Arab dominated dictatorship and the black African communities. The Arab Muslims despise the black Africans and are out to eliminate them. Her life is torn apart as the war spreads to devastating levels. Her father had once warned her that:
“Never trust the Ahrao(Arab). They smile on one side of their faces, but behind that smile, they hide another face.”
Now the evil they were capable of doing was happening right before her eyes.
The violence the author recounts is bloodcurdling: villages are razed to the ground by helicopter gunships and Arab horsemen, women and young schoolgirls raped by the Janjaweed, the armed militias of the Sudanese government. She herself witnesses horrible suffering, loses her father and family and is gang raped by the government soldiers, when she tries to speak out through the press.
She later flees to Britain, where she finds herself in a new battle to prove that the nightmare in Sudan is real. She is denied asylum twice but she doesn’t give and speaks out through the press.
Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur is captivating and will inform or shock the reader. An unforgettable calamity, Halima barely survived but many others have lost their lived in this genocide.