Sudan: Just another Darfurian's story?

A Darfurian refugee in eastern Chad, Jan 2008. Image by Heba Aly. Chad, 2008.

When I decided to come to Sudan, I specifically chose not to focus on Darfur in my reporting because I felt it was already widely covered in the media (unlike other areas of Sudan). Everyone already knows about this, I told myself, let's look at something else. Even as a journalist, sometimes I focus too much on the logical reasoning (ie. "Is this really news? Haven't we already heard this before?") and forget that most basic instinct of wanting to hear and understand another human being's experience and suffering.

So the other day, I took the opportunity to just hear someone's story. I sat down with a Darfurian for a cup of tea and the story of his life. It was a powerful reminder that no matter how much you've heard about a conflict, or how much you think you already know, a personal story can always move you and remind you just how lucky you are.

So here is his story:

(I won't use his real name because it could put him at risk with the government. He met me at someone else's home because his is under surveillance by national security).

Abubakr was born in 1983 to parents of the Fur tribe, and grew up in West Darfur. He had a regular life, went to school, played with friends, like all other kids. Around 2000, he remembers problems beginning between the farmers and pastoralists in his village. A fight here, a problem there, but nothing that couldn't be settled by village elders.

Two years later, that changed. One day some 70 or 80 men on horseback came storming through the village with kalashnikovs, shooting everywhere. He took cover in his house, where he watched the men burn people's homes to the ground. Half an hour later, when sounds had died down, he emerged to see what was left of his village. He went to his family's farms and found his father laying there dead.

The next year, he and his family (mother and two sisters) packed up and moved to the next big town, Um Suroog. By 2004, he says, all the surrounding villages were abandoned as everyone fled to areas with more security. But even there, they were attacked again.

This time, their attackers went into the schools and shot every single teacher dead - Abubakr gathers they did not want his tribe to have any prospets for the future. Somehow, he survived again.

His mother did not want him to waste away in Darfur any longer. She sent him off to Khartoum to get an education and find some work. He studies economics and political science at the university on and off - studying one year, and working the next - and regularly sends money home to his family.

About a month and a half after Darfurian rebels attacked a city across the nile from the capital, national security showed up at his door and took him and eight other Darfurians away. At the time he did not know what they would do with him - kill him or throw him in the Nile? Instead, they tied his hands behind his back with rope and took him to jail, where there were 80 or 90 other Darfurians, he says. It was part of a general round-up of Darfurians aimed at finding people associated with the rebels.

For three consecutive days, he was beaten, as police asked him what tribe he belonged to and where he came from. Eventually, he was released, but police still visit him regularly and his home is under constant surveillance. He fears that any day, they may take him away again.

Abubakr, like many others, seemed strong and resilient. He spoke to me - despite the risks - because he wanted the world to know what has happened - and continues to happen - in Darfur. He is studying poli sci because he wants to return to his village and represent his people.

But in his moments of weakness - when his voice cracked or his words drifted off as he lost himself in the bad memories, when he stopped to take deep breaths between words as the emotion took him over - I was reminded of just how much this conflict has broken people. And I was reminded that there is no such thing as "just another Darfurian's story".