Saturday, March 12, 2011

A memoir of survival in Darfur

Tell us the title: 
Tears of the Desert

Who penned this work?: 
Halima Bashir (with Damien Lewis)

How did this piece find it's way to your nightstand?: 
It was a Christmas gift from my lovely sister

Number of pages: 

Time passed from start to finish?: 
About a week

Describe the cover: 
An earthy deep red frames a pensive and reflective picture of the author.

In what section of the bookstore would a reader find this?: 

Summary of the basic plot: 
This is the memoir of a young woman and her unique childhood and life experience with the war in Sudan.

Background information on the story/author:
Halima was the daughter of a cattle herder in the Zaghawa tribe in the Sudanese desert.  Her family was relatively wealthy, and she therefore had the opportunity to receive a formal education and become a doctor.  Having to flee the country because of her involvement in the conflict, she now lives in England with her husband and son. 

What did you think of it? (your general response, what you liked or didn't like, what you learned, anything else you want to share about it):
You can't read a story like this and not be moved by it, in my opinion.  This woman was born the same year as my sister, and in her lifetime she experienced a brutal war, vicious rape, discrimination, the loss of family, isolation, and the emotional trauma of being a refugee.  I'm constantly amazed at the way people like Halima, who have experienced such intense situations at such young ages, continue to persevere, and their ability to present their stories without self-pity.  She is many things worth admiring and standing in awe of: a woman, a doctor, a mother, a survivor... 

Apart from this, there were a few things I found interesting.  First, as always surprises me, is the way that the local people from these small villages and remote areas treat each other.  Halima's father had a vehicle, and as he was driving her to town to attend school, he *of course* gave as many people as possible a ride so they would not have to walk.  This seemed to be pretty customary, to offer help like that.  On one such trip, they got a flat tire.  Halima tells how before they could even make a move, the male passengers were removing the tire and replacing it.  They wouldn't even allow Halima's father to help.  I always have to wonder: would that happen here?  I'd say no for the US as a whole, but yes for the town/state where I'm from.

Another fascinating part of Halima's story was her journey to become a physician.  In her village, people believed very strongly in traditional medicine, spiritual healing, and medicinal herbs and plants.  It was very interesting to read about her experience in blending these traditional treatments and beliefs with the traditional hard science of modern medicine.  There were things she realized weren't valid, and other beliefs she held to very strongly.  I can see how the combination of these approaches could make her a very good physician both in her home country but also abroad.  Medicine in the US is very hard, angular, and ruled by logic and science, leaving little room for the spiritual, natural, mystical.  Perhaps that is a pitfall? 

Which page was your favorite? Share why:
I didn't appear to mark the page or pages involved with this part of the story, but when Halima was in school in the city she experienced a lot of discrimination for being a black African in a school primarily filled with Arab girls.  One particular instance, she was punished unfairly for something another girl was responsible for.  Despite extreme punishment, verbal attacks, physical lashings, and much condescending talk, she stood up for herself.  I loved the visual of this young girl standing up for herself in the face of adults, with no one to back her up at the time.  That took amazing strength and resoluteness of character, and perhaps those traits helped prepare her for survival later in life.  

If the story was made into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?
I have No. Idea.  Stories like this I can't really make those calls.  The only person I see as the main characters are the people themselves.  It's hard to cast a person in the role of a real individual.

Share a quote that was worth reading twice. Explain why:
I have two of them:

 "'If it wasn't for us black Africans the Arabs couldn't feel so superior,' I fumed.  'They need us -- they need someone to keep down, to keep under them.'"

This is something Halima said, and I was struck by the truth of it.  Not just in the context of the conflict in Sudan, but world-wide.  Go to any country and you will see groups of people cast into conflict over superiority of one race or religion or appearance or background over another.  Why humans do this I'm not sure, but it happens the world over, in every different dynamic possible.  We appear to feel some need to not only define ourselves by different groups we fit into, but then to rank those.  Is it possible we're all just horribly insecure? 

[upon returning to her village after it was suddenly raided and her family members were either killed or had fled]  
"I returned to our yard as if I were in a dream.  I dug up the valuables from where I knew they were hidden and stuffed them into my pocket.  I took a black plastic carrier bag, loaded into it a handful of dried dates, a spare tope, and a thick robe.  Then I said my goodbyes to Kadiga's uncle.  I took one last look at my childhood home, turned away, and started walking.  I knew in my heart that I would never be returning to this place again."

This is all Halima took with her as she said goodbye to her childhood home for the unforeseeable future.  I felt it was such a striking moment, as she set off all alone, with no idea where she would end up or if she would ever see her family again.  It makes that bad day at work not seem like such a valid complaint.

Choose your rating:
Changed. My. Life.
I laughed, I cried, I want you to read it
A definite page-turner
  Good to check out but don't spend the cash.
Why did I waste my weekend on this?
A disgrace to paper everywhere

~ Flip to page 2, 22, or 202. Share the 7th sentence on the page. 
"There's no way we're leaving empty-handed."

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