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Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur    by Halima Bashir order for
Tears of the Desert
by Halima Bashir
Order:  USA  Can
One World, 2009 (2008)
Softcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Halima Bashir's Tears of the Desert is a young woman's harrowing 'Memoir of Survival in Darfur', but also an endearing account of growing up there as a member of the proud Zaghawa warrior tribe, with strong values and binding family and community ties.

Though the surroundings will seem exotic to those not from this part of Africa, the family dynamics immediately feel familiar. Halima tells of her closeness to the father who encouraged her education, of her superstitious Grandma's fierceness and strictness, and of how folk in her village shared with and helped each other.

It wasn't all rosy though. Halima successfully fought against ritual scarring but didn't manage to avoid female circumcision - her grandmother insisted on this before she was sent away to school, and the description of its effect on an eight year old girl is horrifying.

There was a darkness to school days too, with black African students treated very differently from the lighter skinned Arab elite, though some teachers tried to be fair. Halima topped her classes and was accepted in medical school at university. As she studied hard there, her country went up in flames.

After being interviewed by a journalist, Halima was interrogated by secret police and subsequently banished to a remote clinic in northern Darfur. There she secretly helped wounded Zaghawa fighters, and treated brutally raped schoolgirls. A week later, soldiers came for Halima, and she was brutalized herself.

Villagers whom she had helped aided her return to her home village but her ordeals did not end there. The village was attacked by soldiers in helicopters. Halima's father and others gave their lives to buy time for their families to escape to the forest. Halima eventually made her way to England and applied for asylum.

Unlike many, Halima did eventually seek and win the opportunity to tell her story. She tells it very well, a searing account of the effects of racist hatred on the vulnerable.

In a Conversation at the end of the book, she's asked for her message to other black people and advises, 'Survival. The survival of the spirit in he face of all odds. And that the persecution of blacks simply because of the color of their skin has not gone away ... It is alive and thriving and we need to fight it'. Hear, hear!

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