Saturday, September 10, 2005

UNICEF has released a new report that looks at the psychological trauma the people of Darfur have suffered. I haven't been able to read it yet, but I can wholeheartedly confirm that Darfur's problems go far beyond merely curbing persistent insecurity or even addressing decades of grievances over social and political marginalisation.

A few weeks ago, while visiting a small village in West Darfur I had to fight to keep my composure when I realised that even just talking about the horrors of the Darfur conflict could still reduce one of our local staff members (a proud, confident and usually jovial community leader) to tears.

To see an African man cry in public is a rare phenomenon to start off with. To see him cry for the sake of a virtual stranger was even more shocking.

We were visiting a village that had recently seen a substantial number of families come back from their temporary camp, most of them ordered to return by a corrupt tribal leader (who had obviously engineered this arrangement with militia and/or government officials keen to prove that Darfur is finally getting safe). Besides having to pay the Janjaweed militia between $10-20 per month in 'protection fees', these families continue to live in absolute terror of being attacked, harrassed, killed or tortured.

While no one would speak openly about their fears in a group discussion, visits to individual households quickly revealed the sinister practices still going in areas beyond the watchful gaze of the international community. A young woman living with her sister (both of their husbands had been killed) asked that a relative take away her children so she could answer our questions more openly.

When the children had left, she quickly, and with surprisingly little emotion, recounted her tale in rapid Arabic. While I was not able to follow a large part of the conversation, I caught the gist of it when she turned silent and my colleague's body slowly started shaking, silent tears running down his cheeks.

After weeping quietly for several minutes, he composed himself and turned to me to translate. "The militia arrived here and took her and her sister with them to another house in the village. There were several of the men living there, and the sisters had to do everything that was asked of them - mostly, they were raped. They were basically kept prisoners, for several weeks. When their father, who only lived a few houses away and had heard enough of their screams, summoned the courage to appeal for their release the men brought him to the house and beheaded him in front of the two girls. A few days later they let them go. They are both pregnant by the men who raped them."

"She says there is nothing left for her now. She wants to die."

My Sudanese colleague still talks about that woman, racks his brain about what we can do for people like her. To hear a Sudanese person saying that they want to die goes completely against any cultural norm he knows. While I worry for him and the strain that this sort of work is putting on his mental health, I shudder to think where one would even begin to address the trauma that is festering away inside the victims and their families. I don't know how a society can ever truly recover from a Darfur.

And while I can't seem to download the full UNICEF report on my desperately slow internet connection out here in the midst of this big mess, I imagine it's got similar things to say.

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At , Blogger Owen said...

On our behalf you and your colleagues are bearing the brunt of hearing about things which however awful need to be made known. Thank you.

At , Blogger tears said...

I cry for these women in my sleep, these villagers should never return to such horror. We should airlift all the victims to the US and grant them aslym.!


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