Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Translator

Meet “The Translator“. How does one encounter genocide face to face?

Native of Darfur, western Sudan, young Daoud (David) Hari spent his childhood learning the ways of his Zaghawa tribesmen, where he and his camel did all the things normal to life in the Sudan .

The 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 that someone has thrown into the air when your eyes are closed.

Daoud had a camel called Kelgi, that he loved like family. He describes his life 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.”

When helicopter gunships appeared over the villages in 2003, followed by attacking horsemen, raping and murdering citizens, and sacking villages, Daoud‘s family escaped. Sent north, he 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.

Caught and imprisoned while assisting Paul, an American journalist, he thought he would most surely die. “I did not care too much,” he writes, “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 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 (now Gov. of N.M.)

Daoud, currently in America, writes in simple, straight forward language, eloquently human. He details his childhood, his imprisonments, his work with journalists, as well as experiences guiding, protecting, interviewing, even burying, the most vulnerable.

Parts of the book were grueling to read--the inhumanity, suffering and vulnerability. One father he interviewed had 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 the 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 are in refugee camps in Chad, many areas have been 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,” he says, “I hope to go home to Darfur and to help my people rebuild our communities once there is peace.”

May we all work toward peace in our war-torn, grief-stricken world. I did finish reading the book and found the reading quite worthwhile. Reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Appendix 2 is worth the price of the book. I do recommend it.


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