Halima Bashir was born in the remote desert of Darfur, Sudan, and was raised in a loving family that was part of the black African Zaghawa tribe. In a rare privilege for a girl of her village, she attended junior and secondary school in a nearby town. Bashir proved herself academically gifted and went on to study medicine, becoming her tribe’s first qualified doctor, much to the pride of her father.
But war had already broken out in Darfur when Dr. Bashir began her practice, and the violence perpetrated by Janjaweed Arab militias was spreading. In January 2004, the militia attacked a remote school and gang-raped 42 schoolgirls. Dr. Bashir was the only source of help in her nearby one-room medical clinic. When she dared to speak out about this atrocity to officials from the international community, she was arrested by the secret police, interrogated, tortured and herself raped. She escaped to her home village, but the violence followed her there, and her beloved father and many of her relatives were killed in reprisal. Desperate, Dr. Bashir was forced to flee Sudan in 2005 to seek a tenuous asylum in Britain. Once there, the hardship and loss caught up with her, leading to despair that only her new husband, also in exile, and her own strength of will could cure.
Tears of the Desert is Halima’s tale, told in her own words and framed by her love for her new son. It is a wrenching portrait of a young girl’s innocence lost, of a family and a people destroyed, of the endemic discrimination against black African Sudanese by their Arab compatriots, and of the senseless violence that erupted and continues unabated today. It is Dr. Bashir’s belief that these words should be shared with readers so that the world will know about the conflict in Darfur and about the horrific violence that is occurring between fellow Muslims. This is Halima Bashir’s story, but it is also the story of a nation that is ripping itself to pieces.
Darfur. I know to you this must be a word soaked in suffering and blood. A name that conjures up terrible images of a dark horror and an evil without end. Pain and cruelty on a magnitude inconceivable in most of the civilized world. But to me, Darfur means something quite different: it was and is that irreplaceable, unfathomable joy that is home. —From Tears of the Desert