Meet “The Translator – a Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur” (ISBN:1400067448)
A subject I blogged about several years back is “How does one encounter genocide face to face?” I reported on David, a native of Darfur, western Sudan. As a boy, young Daoud Hari (not his real name) spent his childhood learning the ways of his Zaghawa tribesmen. With his camel, he did all the things normal to life in the Sudan.
The village children herded small goats and cattle in the wadis and small mountains outside the village. At night they played outside games together–too hot during the day. Anashel was a game where you search for a bone someone has thrown into the air when everyone’s eyes are closed.
Daoud called his camel Kelgi and he loved it like he loved his family. He described his life being like growing up anywhere, “except our families had camels instead of SUVs and the children rode donkeys instead of bicycles. Otherwise, it was chores and games and worrying about growing up and being respected, as it is everywhere.”
In 2003 helicopter gunships appeared over the villages, followed by attacking horsemen that raped and murdered citizens, and sacked villages, Daoud‘s family escaped. Sent north, Daoud completed high school and eventually volunteered as a translator, guiding journalists in and out of enemy territory, rather than take up a gun and the violence of war.
Daoud was caught and imprisoned while assisting Paul, an American journalist. He thought he would most surely die, and confessed, “I did not care too much because I felt mostly dead anyway after the attack on my village and the death of many friends and family. But I felt responsible for Paul and Ali and I did not know what would happen to them.
“I had been in prisons before,” Daoud wrote. “and I felt that if I died, it would be because I was doing something to help my people, and that was ok. But even in the prisons, I made friends with the guards because I know that everyone has some good in them and sometimes you just have help them get it out. I learned that, even in such places, people are people and there are opportunities for kindness and understanding.”
Imprisonment finally ended through negotiations by American Cabinet Member, Bill Richardson (later Gov. of N.M.). Daoud, eventually came to America, where he wrote in simple, straight forward language, eloquently human, details about his childhood, his imprisonments, his work with journalists, as well as his experiences guiding, protecting, interviewing, even burying, the most vulnerable.
I found parts of Daoud’s book grueling to read--the inhumanity, suffering and vulnerability. One father Daoud interviewed was forced to watch his young daughter lifted up on the blade of a bayonet, crying “Abba! Abba! Then he lifted up his gun, with my daughter on it, with blood from her body pouring down all over him. He danced around with her in the air and shouted to his friends, ‘Look, see how fierce I am,‘ and they chanted back to him . . .
“It took a long time for her to die,“ he continued, “ her blood coming down so fresh and red on this--what was he? A man? A devil? He was painted red with my little girl’s blood and he was dancing. What was he?”
Daoud concludes, “This man had seen evil and didn’t know what to do with the sight of it. He was looking for an answer to what it was, and why his little daughter deserved this. Then, after taking some time to cry without talking, he told me he no longer knew who he was.. . .“
With Daoud’s village gone, 2.5 million people displaced from Darfur, more than 240,000 remained in refugee camps in Chad, with many areas cleared of Darfuris. This young man has seen humanity at its finest and its worst. He risked his life to do in Chad and in Darfur what he could to share his tragedy with the world.
“One day,” Daoud says, “I hope to go home to Darfur and to help my people rebuild our communities once there is peace.”
May God enable our democratic nations to work toward peace in this war-torn, grief-stricken world. After finishing my reading of Daoud’s book, I found reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Appendix 2 well worth the price of the book.
Darfur has new names in new places today and the name of Daoud becomes the name and face of multitudes of political prisoners, emigrants, and others held captive by a multitude of political and economic forces. Do we retreat to a politic of America First? Do we use our technical superiority to maintain an irrresistable Superpower to force Russia, or Iran, or North Korea to retreat until they can retrench and return?
Or will we turn to the roots of our faith and hear the words of James the brother of Jesus as he described the Royal Law: If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well, But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9 RSV)
Is there a proper translation for answering this perplexing question? Will the church be the church or are we so full of worldly spirit that we no longer function as God’s People? I still have hope but how much of an answer is James offering us?