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....