Book Review : ‘Tears of the Desert’ by Halima Bashir & Damien Lewis
Reviewed by – Kartikey Shukla
“Use a Slave to Kill a Slave” – a Sudanese Proverb
Halima Bashir’s memoir, written with assistance from Damien Lewis, a writer and reporter for BBC, touched my soul so deeply that I couldn’t sit back any longer. The book is an ethnographic documentation of the Zaghwa (Habitant of eastern Chad and western Sudan, including the Darfur region) community and the personal story of a female doctor who became victim of the Darfur genocide in the united Sudan. The story encompasses her journey from childhood to being the first doctor in her village, and then being exploited by the state representatives, tortured and raped gruesomely, sentiment expunged.
The first half of the book deals with Halima’s experience with her family, neighbours, community and school. It shows the gender relation among the Zaghwa community wherein the form of marriage can be polygamous, with the man having up to 3 wives. They do practice the tribal culture, but most of them are Muslims. It was an extremely strenuous path a Zaghwa girl to get educated as a doctor, but the extreme poor health condition of the community served as a motivating factor plus her father’s support led her to the dream against all odds. During her medical college days she faced numerous obstacles by the virtue of her being a village women and that too a black African Muslim Women.
The second half of the book talks about Halima’s life post her education as a doctor. By the time she passed her education, The Janjaweed had begun attacking blacks in Darfur Region with consent and support of the Sudanese government. She moved to a nearby place to her village to treat those people rebelling against the government. In spite of all the terror, she prepared herself to serve her people and all the patients whosoever approached her.
At last she starts getting warning from the state officials to remove her medical centre and an order to prepare a list of militants those who came to her for their treatment. One day, she is kidnapped by the army personal, who harass her, and gang rape her in the military camp. Her feelings are visible in the entire book, with each chapter weaving a new thread of emotions exhibited and experiences by a doctor who wanted to serve her people without any kind of political intension. As the blood tears of the Desert concludes, the brutality of state with external militia support, the story of survival and the courage of a women doctor which most of us can’t think stands forgotten by many.
(The Author is affiliated with Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, Johannesburg.)