Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir
Halima Bashire, like Daoud Hari, is one of the Zaghawa people of eastern Chad and western Sudan – including Darfur. She was the first born of one of the most well-off and enlightened men in her village in Darfur who named her after the village’s medicine woman and gave her a nickname, Rathebe, after Dolly Rathebe, a South African singer who advocated for the rights of black African peoples.
Halima lived up to both her name and her nickname.
Incredibly bright, Halima was sent as a child into a nearby city to go to school, instead of being taught at the local village school. At this school, Halima managed to make top marks while fighting against the injustices perpetrated against her and other black Africans by many of the Arab students and teachers. Her diligence with school work allowed Halima to matriculate at a university in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan where she earned her medical degree.
By the time Halima had become a doctor, the Janjaweed had begun attacking black Africans in Darfur with the support and consent of the Sudanese government in Darfur. Halima’s willingness to treat those rebelling against the government and the Janjaweed began to get her noticed. Government soliders attempted to intimidate her and would later torture her when she spoke out to international agencies about what was going on in Darfur.
Halima’s story is both riveting and revolting. The reader quickly becomes attached to her as a headstrong but loveable child, and as a strong-willed woman ready to stand up for what she believes in. In fact, the description of Halima’s childhood is perhaps one of the strongest parts of the book. She was a relatively typical girl with a relatively typical childhood. Yes, specific details of her youth – having to go long ways to gather water and carry it home, for example – will be unfamiliar to American readers, but the basic constructs of her youth are essentially universal. Contrast this to the horrors that Halima experiences as an adult and a doctor in a land being torn apart by war. “Tears of the Desert” humanizes the people of Darfur in a way that nothing else I have read about the subject has done.
Find your friends who believe that Darfur is so far away that the people there have nothing in common with them, your acquaintances who say, ‘well, isn’t everyone in Africa just trying to kill everyone else,’ and give them a copy of “Tears of the Desert.”
Keep your eyes on this blog, because I think I will be able to have a giveaway of this book later this week. In the meantime, if you are wondering how you can help the people in Darfur or where else you can get information on the crisis happening there, please check out Maw Books’ blog and her “Reading and Blogging for Darfur” campaign. The original information about her campaign is here, and her first update is here.