Tears of the Desert
A Memoir of Survival in Darfur
Publication Date: September 9, 2008
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Like the single white eyelash that graces her row of dark lashes–seen by her people as a mark of good fortune–Halima Bashir’s story stands out. Tears of the Desert is the first memoir ever written by a woman caught up in the war in Darfur. It is a survivor’s tale of a conflicted country, a resilient people, and the uncompromising spirit of a young woman who refused to be silenced.
Born into the Zaghawa tribe in the Sudanese desert, Halima was doted on by her father, a cattle herder, and kept in line by her formidable grandmother. A politically astute man, Halima’s father saw to it that his daughter received a good education away from their rural surroundings. Halima excelled in her studies and exams, surpassing even the privileged Arab girls who looked down their noses at the black Africans. With her love of learning and her father’s support, Halima went on to study medicine, and at twenty-four became her village’s first formal doctor.
Yet not even the symbol of good luck that dotted her eye could protect her from the encroaching conflict that would consume her land. Janjaweed Arab militias started savagely assaulting the Zaghawa, often with the backing of the Sudanese military. Then, in early 2004, the Janjaweed attacked Bashir’s village and surrounding areas, raping forty-two schoolgirls and their teachers. Bashir, who treated the traumatized victims, some as young as eight years old, could no longer remain quiet. But breaking her silence ignited a horrifying turn of events.
In this harrowing and heartbreaking account, Halima Bashir sheds light on the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives being eradicated by what is fast becoming one of the most terrifying genocides of the twenty-first century. Raw and riveting, Tears of the Desert is more than just a memoir–it is Halima Bashir’s global call to action.
Halima Bashir lives with her husband and son in England, where she continues to speak out about the violence in Sudan.
Damien Lewis has spent the last twenty years reporting from war zones in Africa, with a particular focus and expertise in Sudan. His reporting from Darfur won the BBC One World Award. He is the internationally bestselling co-author of Slave, winner of the Index on Censorship Book Award.
Advance praise for Tears of the Desert
“This memoir helps keep the Darfur tragedy open as a wound not yet healed.”
–Elie Wiesel, author of Night
“This is a brave book. And a valuable one. Halima’s story of the atrocities and immeasurable losses she has endured must be told. The world continues to turn a deaf ear to the cries from the Darfur region, and our failure to protect this tortured population is a measure of who we are as a global ‘community’. Still, Halima leaves us with hope and awe in the face of her courage.”
–Mia Farrow, actor and advocate
“Halima Bashir has bared her soul to help stop the bleeding of her people in Darfur. Attention must be paid.”
–John Prendergast, co-chair of the ENOUGH Project and co-author of Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond
“A harrowing and beautifully written tale of a rich life, untold suffering, and impossible hope told from the heart of a fellow African sister. Read this as the tragedy that has overcome our long-suffering country, Sudan.”
–Mende Nazer, author of Slave
“Halima’s story is fantastic and exhausting, perhaps all the more so because I can see and hear and feel the people and places she describes. People need to be drawn into Darfur through stories like this, to cut through the statistics and the horror and to come back to the humanity–to families, love, hope, and courage and the normality of life in such abnormal circumstances.”
–Lisa French Blaker, author of Heart of Darfur
“The genocide in Darfur has found its Anne Frank. The slaughter inflicted on the African peoples of western Sudan is one of modern Africa’s darkest episodes but one Darfuri woman, Halima Bashir, rips through diplomatic compromise and political double-speak to lay bear Darfur’s ghastly reality. A searingly frank testimonial of a war crime that deserves all our attention.'”
–Tim Butcher, author of Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart
“Bashir, a physician and refugee living in London, offers a vivid personal portrait of life in the Darfur region of Sudan before the catastrophe . . . This is a vehement cri de coeur, but in showing what she suffered, and lost, Bashir makes it resonate.”