January 03, 2009

A Letter to Halima Bashir

Here's a book recommendation: Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir.

It's a true story of her survival growing up in Darfur, Sudan. It's a place in the world that has become synonymous with violence and genocide, but Halima breathes life into it by sharing stories of her playful childhood and loving family life. She becomes a doctor and helps her people which gets her into trouble. Eventually, she does escape to London where she lives now.

Her story is incredible. And so I wrote her a letter, sent it off to the head of media at Aegis Trust, who she mentions in her book and asked him to forward it to her. He did. He read it as well and sent it to the CEO of the company who asked if it was okay to forward it to everyone there as a sort of motivational end of year email showing the chain of people their work has touched.

It's nothing special, but this is my letter:

Dear Halima,

For the past week, the part of my day I looked forward to most was my morning and after-work commute during which I could absorb your story in Tears of the Desert. It was one of the most heart-breaking and vivid stories of life and survival I have ever read and the first book to make me cry on public transport.

I’m the sub editor for an online magazine called Seven (www.sevenglobal.org) and had edited a story about a woman who travelled to The Hague with 47 survivors from Darfur. The author's story touched me and, in it, she wrote that someone had recommended your book to her. The next morning before work, I went to Waterstones and bought it. When I turned the last page, I felt I had to write to you. You are such a strong, inspirational woman and your ability and courage to speak out about such horrendous events is extremely admirable.

Having grown up in the comfort of an American suburb and lived in London for the last two years, it has been nearly impossible for me to fathom such inhumanity to this degree. I have read many articles about innocent people dying in Darfur and the torture and desperation that has been forced into their lives, but being so far detached from the situation makes it difficult to fully understand and easy to push behind you.

Your book is important because it will give people the crucial ability to see the situation on a different level. When westerners see facts and figures quoting hundreds of thousands of lost lives and millions displaced, those numbers are cold and empty. Reading a true, personal account of someone who was actually involved - someone who had a warm and loving family life and childhood that we can relate to – will make a difference in understanding and empathy.

One aspect I loved about your story was the glimpse into the true culture – learning about the food, how people live and work together, the traditions and beliefs, the environment and the languages. Most stories about Darfur focus on the violence. Your story also brings us the love and humanity of the people, the strong family bonds, hospitality of neighbours and the innocence of childhood.

I admire your dedication to your education and the way you were able to help people even if, at times, it was slipping them a bit of aspirin to make them feel “treated”. How you found the strength to face the girls who had been raped, I will never know. It absolutely broke my heart just to read about it. But thank God for your knowledge so that you could help. My boyfriend is a doctor in London and he has a dream of being able to go abroad to places where people have so little in the way of medical supplies and make a tangible difference. I’m going to buy him a copy of your book because I know it will inspire him even more so to follow it.

Thank you for sharing your story. I want to send my deepest condolences for the loss of your friends and neighbours, your strong grandma and, of course, your beloved father. Best wishes to you in your search for the rest of your family. It makes me thankful for my own family because, even though they are 3,000 miles from here, I know they are alive and safe. I can not imagine the pain of not knowing and all that you have gone through. You are in my thoughts.

All the best,

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