Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur
Halima Bashir, Damien Lewis
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Like the single white eyelash that graces her row of dark lashes–seen by her people as a mark of good fortune–Halima Bashir’s story stands out. Tears of the Desert is the first memoir ever written by a woman caught up in the war in Darfur. It is a survivor’s tale of a conflicted country, a resilient people, and the uncompromising spirit of a young woman who refused to be silenced.
Born into the Zaghawa tribe in the Sudanese desert, Halima was doted on by her father, a cattle herder, and kept in line by her formidable grandmother. A politically astute man, Halima’s father saw to it that his daughter received a good education away from their rural surroundings. Halima excelled in her studies and exams, surpassing even the privileged Arab girls who looked down their noses at the black Africans. With her love of learning and her father’s support, Halima went on to study medicine, and at twenty-four became her village’s first formal doctor.
Yet not even the symbol of good luck that dotted her eye could protect her from the encroaching conflict that would consume her land. Janjaweed Arab militias started savagely assaulting the Zaghawa, often with the backing of the Sudanese military. Then, in early 2004, the Janjaweed attacked Bashir’s village and surrounding areas, raping forty-two schoolgirls and their teachers. Bashir, who treated the traumatized victims, some as young as eight years old, could no longer remain quiet. But breaking her silence ignited a horrifying turn of events.
In this harrowing and heartbreaking account, Halima Bashir sheds light on the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives being eradicated by what is fast becoming one of the most terrifying genocides of the twenty-first century. Raw and riveting, Tears of the Desert is more than just a memoir–it is Halima Bashir’s global call to action.
But one day Zamirah came back from the Reporting Center looking as white as a sheet. A car pulled up outside, and she began rushing in and out of the flat bundling all her worldly possessions into it. I met her at the ent trance, and suddenly she was stuffing her daughter’s toys into my arms. She looked absolutely finished, and I could see a dark panic in her normally sunny eyes. “For Mo!” she told me, breathlessly. “Take them!” “But what . . . ?” Before I could ask her any more she jumped
spirit rising within me. I recognized the Channel 4 team from the last interview. We headed for the police station, whereupon the cameraman set up his equipment on the street—the camera looking directly into the station doorway. The reporter readied herself for action. Together, we walked in with the camera rolling. I caught sight of Sharif sitting in a side room. I pointed him out to the reporter. She marched up to the desk and announced who she was. She had a microphone clipped to her collar,
desks and cleaned the blackboard. But with eight o’clock assembly fast approaching there was still no sign of Sairah. My half was pretty much finished by now, and I was just wondering whether to start on hers when Miss Ursah arrived. I stood with my broom in hand, proud of my half of the classroom. Miss Ursah swept her eyes from end to end, her face darkening as she did so. “Why is this end so dirty?” she demanded, pointing to Sairah’s part. “And where’s that other girl—Sairah?” “I don’t know,
don’t know how I escaped, but I did . . .” “Wow! You weren’t punished at all?” I glanced at the floor. “Well, I have been thrown out of the school . . .” “What? They can’t do that!” Mona cried. “You weren’t the one who started . . .” Just at that moment Miss Shadhia returned, with Sairah in tow. As Sairah made her way to her seat, I heard the other girls hissing under their breaths. She plunked herself down on the end of the row, and as she did so Mona jabbed her in the ribs. “Snitch!” Mona
to the market,” my mother announced to my father. “Get her a plate of meat. She has to eat meat, so she can regain her strength.” My father rolled his eyes at me, and hurried off to fetch his money from the hut. He went to start his Land Rover, but I told him that I’d prefer to walk. As we strolled through the village I started telling him exactly what had happened. I saw a shadow pass across his face. All of the universities were facing problems, he told me, and in some cases it was even worse.