Sunday, November 26, 2006

Heroism in Darfur

Nicholas Kristoff recounts several moving stories of heroism in Darfur:
When the janjaweed militia attacked Fareeda, a village here in southeastern Chad near Darfur, an elderly man named Simih Yahya didn’t run because that would have meant leaving his frail wife behind. So the janjaweed grabbed Mr. Simih and, shouting insults against blacks, threw him to the ground and piled grass on his back.

Then they started a bonfire on top of him.

But his wife, Halima, normally fragile and submissive, furiously tried to tug the laughing militia members from her husband. She pleaded with them to spare his life. Finally, she threw herself on top of the fire, burning herself but eventually extinguishing it with her own body.

The janjaweed may have been shamed by her courage, for Mr. Simih recalls them then walking away and saying, “Oh, he will die anyway.” He told me the story as he was treated at a hospital where doctors peeled burned flesh from his back.

Kristoff doesn't state whether Halima lived or not, although since he doesn't mention her survival, I imagine that she sacrificed her life for her husband's. He tells another story of self-sacrifice, this time a sister leaving herself as a decoy for Janjaweed rapists so that her younger sister can flee:

One of the most inspiring people here is Suad Ahmed, a 25-year-old mother of two from Darfur. She lives here in the Goz Amir refugee camp, and last month she was collecting firewood with her beloved little sister, Halima, when a band of janjaweed ambushed them.

The janjaweed regularly attack women and girls — part of a Sudanese policy of rape to terrorize and drive away black African tribes — and Ms. Suad knew how brutal the attacks are. A 12-year-old neighbor girl had been kidnapped by the janjaweed and gang-raped for a week; the girl’s legs were pulled so far apart that she is now crippled.

But Ms. Suad’s thoughts were only for her sister, who is just 10. “You are a virgin, and you must escape,” she told her. “Run! I’ll let myself be captured, but you must run and escape.”

The local culture is such that if the little girl were raped, she might never be able to marry. So Ms. Suad made herself a decoy and allowed herself to be caught, while her sister escaped back to the camp.

Ms. Suad plays down her heroism, saying that even if she had tried to escape, she might have been caught anyway, for she was five months pregnant. Or, she says, maybe she and her sister both would have been captured.

In any case, however, the janjaweed beat Ms. Suad, and seven of them gang-raped her despite her pregnancy. “You black people have no land,” she recalls them telling her. “This land is not for you.”

People from the camp found Ms. Suad in the hills that evening, too injured to walk, and carried her back. Ms. Suad said she didn’t seek medical treatment, because she wanted to keep the rape as much of a secret as possible and didn’t even tell her husband, although he eventually found out along with a few others. He accepted that it was not her fault....

The gang rape and beating were excruciating, she says, but her sacrifice was worth it. “When my sister saw me brought back and saw what had happened to me, she understood,” Ms. Suad says. “She is very grateful to me.”


As Kristoff says earlier in the column: "Side by side with the most nauseating evil, you stumble across the most exhilarating humanity."

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