Why aren't the sexual crimes against women and girls in the Sudan and the Congo decried from the front pages of leading newspapers in this country and around the world? Why aren't international leaders bringing the full force of their mettle against those responsible of such atrocities? Why haven't India and China been called to the forefront for their atrocious bedfellow behavior when it comes to buying Sudanese oil and offering up weapons of war used for raining terror from the sky and the land against helpless Darfur villagers?
Why isn't the genocide in Africa and in other regions of the world at the top of White House agendas? How many women and girls must be violated before the UN demands a peacekeeping force be deployed to places in the Sudan and the Congo that need such protection the most? Why hasn't the mail of our government leaders been flooded with letters demanding support and attention be paid to this sad reality?
I don't know why, but these war crimes came to my attention, again, recently, after reading Dr. Halima Bashir's TEARS OF THE DESERT.
I was much like Dr. Bashir when she was studying for her medical degree. Her head was buried in her books; mine was buried in the sand of my writing. I rarely glanced up from the keyboard; she rarely stopped to discuss the rumors of rebel war. When the secret police arrived on her campus in Khartoum and the dean of the university announced a nephirh---a state of national emergency---Dr. Bashir still was not pulled into the "plastic jihad." She travelled back home to her village, to her family, despite the fact her cousin Sharif was fast becoming a rebel fighter with connections to the legendary black African rebel leader, Dr. John Garang.
As fate would have it, though, Halima eventually returned to the university, completed her studies, earned her medical entitlement, and found herself waiting for the Health Ministry to assign her to a teaching hospital. She waited and waited, three months, and still nothing. Finally, her father suggested she volunteer at the teaching hospital in Hashma. She did and was eventually doing what she'd dreamed of doing. She was elated.
Then a letter came from the Health Ministry. Halima would be working with a Dr. Rashid in the accident and emergency ward, an assignment that would position her, unbeknowst to her, to care for wounded Janjaweed and Darfuri rebels, men the government had set up a system to identify and remove from the hospital to be arrested. As the police plan came clear to her, Dr. Bashir knew she was in trouble.
Then one day a newspaperman visited the hospital and interviewed various staff, including Halima, who was quoted as saying, "...the government should provide the right kind of support and development for the Darfuri people...regardless of which tribe they are."
Two weeks later Halima was interrogated by the secret police and harassed for being the Zaghawa doctor woman aiding the rebels. Her interrogators demanded she sign an agreement never to speak to a newspaper or anything ever again.
The worse had just begun.
Shortly afterwards, the Health Ministry sent her to Mazkhabad, a remote village in the north of Darfur. Dr. Bashir was to head up her own clinic without benefit of the full range of her training.
It was in this village that she was reunited with a distant relative, Abakher, a member of the Coube clan with kinsmen from Halima's Hadurah village. And blessedly, she would meet Osman and Mounah, a couple whose small son's life she would save, and, in the end, Osman would be instrumental in saving hers by later helping her flee the village under cover of night and desert.
It was in Mazkhabad that Halima set up shop and began to care for the people of village, endearing herself to many. It was here, too, that she came face to face with Zaghawa rebel fighters appearing out of the bush seeking medical care and supplies, which the young doctor freely provided from her meager supplies.
Until, that is, a police commander walked into the tiny clinic and informed Dr. Bashir that they knew all about her helping the Zaghawa rebels. Unwilling to stop at knowing, they insisted she keep a list of names of the men who came seeking aid. She never maintained such a list, and two weeks later, the Arabs, the Janjaweed, "the devil horsemen," attacked the village school, raping everyone, girls and their teachers, the first victim Halima treated being eight-years-old, one side of her head having been bashed in by a blunt object. Some of the schoolgirls were taken home or to other places, for as much as Halima knew, as they all didn't make it to the clinic, for rape shamed families, who may not have wanted such knowledge on the wind, later damaging their daughters' chances of marriage.
There were approximately 40 victims, Dr. Bashir noted, but she hadn't sutures enough to stitch them all. This tragedy was doubly pitiful considering the horror of rape on a girl or woman who has been circumcised, a bloody, ragged, red mess of a wound where primitive stitching once existed.
The girls' cries of agony were forever etched in Halima Bashir's mind. "It was a sound like I had never heard before---a hollow cry of brutalized innocence, of innocence forever lost."
This inhumane weapon of war happens across the Sudan today, even now. Will the world continue turning a deaf ear, shifting our eyes away, focusing on the next television program, video game, vacation scenario, anything but sexual violence on women and girls worlds away, on a Dark Continent, unfit for vacationing?
"WHAT DO WE DO?" a woman asked in an e-mail that throbbed with pain responding to Nicholas D. Kristof's expose of Suad and Halima's heroics. "WHAT CAN WE DO HERE?"
I say, rise to action where you are.
(1) Join VDay's "Turning Pain to Power Tour" when it arrives in your city.
(2) Advocate for change on local, national and international levels.
(3) Provide financial support to activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(4) Write to government officials and Representatives.
(5) Sign-up for a Congo Teach-In in your school, college or community.
(6) Visit Vday.org/drc.
(7) Know that VDAY is a global movement to end violence against women and girls throughout the world.
(8) Add your voice to the "V-Wall for Congo."
(9) Lift a pen and write about it.
(10) Compose a song and sing about it.
(11) Inform your neighbor, tell a friend, send loving thoughts into the Universe.
(12) Do anything save remain silent.
Live a Golden Life. Act.
Peace be onto you....
Monday, February 23, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
I shall not be silenced. My voice is raised here in tribute to Dr. Halima Bashir, the Darfuri survivor, the Zaghawa sister doctor, who survived the horrors of the Darfur genocide going on at this present time in the Sudan.
The book pictured is her voice, her testimony to the world. She has broken her vow of silence. It was a vow her tormentors demanded she make at the cost of her life, when they snatched her from her training station at a hospital in Khartoum.
To be in her virtual presence online, to hear the timbre of her beautiful, gentle voice, to witness her draped in a dark cloth with only the fringes of her lashes showing and a glint of her eyes, less than what can be seen on the cover of her survival manifesto, visit www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/jul/22/halima.bashir. Upon experiencing her essence there, your heart will bow for another soul.
I will begin at my jump-off point.
It was 2004. I was working as an English teacher. Across the hall from my classroom, a beloved friend and fellow Language Arts teacher taught. Her subject was reading, and her name was Mrs. Crawley. She was knowledgeable, hilarious, and white. That semester her disinterested, predominantly black, at-risk students were reading a story about black African boys who had survived the genocide in Darfur.
Many days I saw the book on her desk, where I hovered after school, laughing and talking with her about the day's delights. Yes, I had heard some students chatter enthusiastically about it, although most detested it about as much as they detested her. Yet she made certain they knew about genocide, Darfur, and children, masses of them, 5,000 to 6,000, who were left to survive on their own, no parents, no government programs in place to shelter and foster them. The book, she told me, chronicled the narratives of "Lost Boys," and some girls, who made had made their way across war-torn Sudan and into Kenyan refugee camps, where some of the boys eventually found their way into the U.S.
I showed enough interest to fill a quarter of a thimble. Me, a bonafide reader since I could thumb, reverently, the pages of books I loved, when I was a small girl in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Perhaps, too closely related to others in America, and countless more around the world, in different havens, I was too "caught up" in my own life to stop and take note of genocide and what it might mean for other human beings in the present day. Not in Nazi Germany. Not during Anne Frank's annex. Not in a dark country, on a dark continent. To be certain you don't remain in the dark about this world tragedy, please visit www.lirs.org/News/200507Deng.htm to read Adier Deng's address to the U.S. Senate's Black Legislative caucus about his experiences as one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan.
Life rolled itself out like a magnificent carpet that year and in those that followed. I walked its red velvet majestically. Over the years, my adventure took me out of the classroom and into my comfortable home office to write and live my dreams more richly than I'd ever fathomed.
Until Spirit moved me...as I lived my Golden Life. In a light I could no longer ignore, I was a Golden Goddess riveted with purpose and intent. Even as I made plans to visit my beloved sisterfriend, Brendolyn, and her lovely family in the nation's capital, in January 2009, imagining I was travelling to revisit a bustling city I loved to witness the country's historic inauguration of our FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT, Barack Obama, I never imagined Spirit had me on course to spend a Thursday in the Holocaust Memorial on 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW in D.C.
The afternoon doused me in a heaviness, a paralysis of emotion. I wanted to scream. Pinch somebody. Ask if they could walk away from the pictorial and video devastation and horror that was Jewish genocide. But there were so many automatons that day. So many who cringed at sitting beside me, one of the few African Americans in the buildings, as we gathered to watch a film of Holocaust survivors relaying messages of hope. So many behaved as if our countrymen and women had not just stood shoulder to shoulder, 2 million strong, of all nationalities, waving American flags, to honor change and embrace the "Yes, we can" spirit that was sweeping the land.
At the museum's door, before stepping into the brisk blast of D.C. wind, I collected literature from a display. One of the sheets asked, "What Can I Do?" On the reverse, it screamed, "Genocide Emergency: Darfur, Sudan."
I studied it. Knew it meant I had to safeguard it, though for what I didn't rightly know just then.
But later, much later, after I returned home, in an instant, when my eyes read the words again, I knew: it was as if Spirit whispered, "Speak and write of this tragedy. Be not silenced. I am with you always." Listening with my heart, with every fiber of my being in that epiphanous moment, I knew why I'd travelled to D.C. I would speak and write. Things I did passionately. I understood that change had come to the golden existence of the Golden Goddess.
In earnest, I wondered what I should do from there, but that was already done also. I'd enjoyed my visit: laughing, eating, visiting, sightseeing, laying up cherished memories. With the luscious week behind me, and the Holocaust fact sheet on my office desk, I awaited Divine intervention, the Darfur misery having returned with me.
Once home, checking my e-mails (something I adore), I discovered my beautiful, poetic sisterfriend Imani, who organizes the Akoma Book Club, was leading a book discussion at Charis Books & More on the Valentine Saturday. The book was Halima Bashir's TEARS OF THE DESERT: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur. I stared at the words, knowing I was on purpose, knowing that the Divine guides this golden life, knowing that I will attend after my "A Raisin in the Sun" audition in Decatur.
All of my life I had strolled the Red Carpet to this NOW. Thus, I dared not shrink from its grave responsibility. After all, I asked for it, longing to know, deep within where I have cultivated the art of listening to my inner voice, for something that will allow me to use my talents in the serve of others.
This day, I vow to speak for women and girls who cannot speak for themselves. I vow to paint a canvas of their stories for the world's stage. I will sing a song of healing and love. I will recite poems of peace. I will do what I can to expose the atrocities of genocide, especially as it is perpetrated against women and girls across Africa and the globe.
My life is golden because I care...
So I bid you to allow Halima's beautiful voice to take you into the desert of the Sudan. Find there her proud Zaghawa people, who are known for being fierce warriors yet welcoming to visitors. Warm to the recollections of her family: Grandma Sumah's fierceness, and her baby brother Omer's same fierceness, and her brother Mo's gentleness. Cringe and cry with her at her "cutting time," the subject of a coming blog.
Halima's father, Abdul, nicknamed her "Rathebe," after a famous and spirited South African singer, Dolly Rathebe, who sang of the suffering of black Africans at the hands of people who believed they were better than them. A modern day Anne Frank, Halima lived up to this nickname. She did the same with the name Halima, the village Medicine Woman's name. Her father, possibly, preternaturally, saw into the future and prepared his daughter the best he could.
With a good luck white eyelash that portended her life's role of a black African Joan of Arc, Halima took on the racist headmistress of her Arab-supported secondary school and rose to the top of her class. She was selected to study medicine, accomplishing her father's dream, but her studies were aborted, for a while, by government propaganda designed to make warriors of young scholars instead of leaders.
I will not give away the story. You must read the remainder for yourself. Simply know, it is certainly WELL worth your time. Dr. Bashir survives gang rape, a tactic of war by the government to control and fight black African rebels. The dreaded Janjaweed, Arab "evil horseman," come in the air and on horseback, mowing down the elders, pregnant women, children, men, everybody who does not make it to the safety of the surrounding forests.
You must read this lyrical tale of survival and hope and be touched to do something, anything, save turn your face away. Today Halima lives with her husband and son in London, where they are not allowed to work and lead richly productive lives. So she speaks out about the genocide in her homeland in every way she can.
Who is responsible for this failure to act against genocide? she poses in the book's Epilogue. The international community, she proposes, for lending a deaf ear, failing to organize and deploy a peacekeeping force. The Khartoum Government, the National Congress Party, that does nothing to halt the genocide, only fan its horrific flames. And, sadly, China supports the Sudanese regime, Bashir writes, by empowering Khartoum to defy the international community. Why? Oil. China reaps oil bounty from the Sudan and is the country's "largest single investor today." Bashir notes "Much of the petro-dollars that China pays to Sudan for oil is returned to China in arms purchases."
Interesting? Yes, I should think so...
Halima has not discovered word of her family since her father died in a Janjaweed attack on their village.
Peace be unto you.