Literary Activism

Harriet Levin Millan

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


A Darfurian refugee raises awareness and expectations for the people left behind
By Garelnabi Abusikin with Deborah Yarchun, Drexel University Students

Deborah Yarchun, a Drexel University screenwriting and playwriting student, sat down with Darfurian survivor Garelnabi Abusikin and interpreter Dr. Abdel Gabar Adam. These are the words Abusikin asked her to share.


I have a basement in my home. It is filled with people’s shirts and shoes, 22 large sacks of clothes, 400 pounds of jeans, 12,000 pairs of flip-flops and about 40 Eagles hats. If you give me a shirt, I have a big basement. Everything that goes there is used. There is never enough. There are 420,000 refugees. Everything I get — I will take back.

I come from Darfur.

I was born in 1982 and when I was 5 years old, I listened to my mom and dad say, “Today, the Sudan government killed people.” My father was a chief of the Zaghawa tribe and a leader in Karnoi. Growing up as the son of a chief, on a daily basis we heard of people being killed. I’m 12 and the Janjaweed comes I hide inside with my family and when we emerge two days later, I find my uncle slaughtered, his throat slit ear to ear.

In 1999, I helped bury the bodies of 92 men killed while digging clean wells to provide water for the people. I’m 18 and bombs fall on our village, destroying Karnoi. I see the People’s Defense Force, the Janjaweed and the Sudanese army kill my uncles, my cousins, my brothers-in-law and about 100 of my friends. I run with my mother and sisters with no plans and no directions. Those who go north go straight into desert. The ones who go south run into more Janjaweed. We were lucky to go west and cross into El Fasher.

I have some photographs to show you. See this? This is my childhood friend, Shariff. In 2003 after escaping Karnoi, Shariff and I went to Al Neelain University in Khartoum. When we arrived, it was as if we are crazy and nothing happened. New skyscrapers are being developed and the people are happy. We heard nothing on the radio or in the newspapers about the murders. Nobody was speaking about it, because most did not know. The people in the U.S. know more about the genocide than the people in Khartoum. After witnessing the systematic murder of our people, Shariff spoke up. He led demonstrations in front of government buildings. “Stop poisoning the wells. Stop genocide in Darfur,” [he said]. At 10 a.m., I was having breakfast with him when an officer came in and shot him dead at close range in front of the students. I fled to Egypt and applied for refugee status with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.

In the U.S., I spoke about Darfur. I testified for the Judgment on Genocide mock court held at the United Nations Church Centre in New York in November 2006. When the government in Sudan found out, they arrested my mother and sister. They beat my mother and shaved my sister’s head bald. They told my mother to tell me to be silent. My mother told me, “Don’t worry about us. We are like dead bodies who will never feel the skinning.” She told me to keep talking. To never stop talking. The more people talk about it, the fewer people die.

See this? This is my mother. This is my family. My little sisters. My baby brother. My aunt. They are now in a refugee camp in eastern Chad. My father is not there, because he stayed in Karnoi and was killed in another Janjaweed attack in 2005.

From Sept. 23 to Oct. 23, 2007, I went with the Darfur Human Rights Organization with the help of Amnesty International to the refugee camps. I saw my mother. I had not seen her in five years. She had changed so much, I could not recognize her.

In the refugee camps, the security consists of men, mothers and sisters and children with guns. The people are bone-thin. There is a riverbed, but it is dry. A few green containers with water dredged from the ground sustain the village. The people are not even waiting, they are enduring. Our roofless huts are of mud and sticks and sheets and the children huddle for shade against the sides. Each day is about existing.

There are many children, mostly orphans. My mother takes care of 17 of them. Sixty-five percent in each camp are children who never saw a father, but many times saw their mothers and sisters being raped. They are lucky to be alive, because when the villages were bombed, they ran and ran across the border to stay alive. They have no schools. They hardly have shelter or food to eat. Many will become soldiers and will be killed. They are hopeless, helpless. They have no future that they can see.

That is why I am going back.

In March, I will go back to the camps through the Darfur Human Rights Organization with president and co-founder Dr. Abdel Gabar Adam and other volunteers. We will bring clothes, food and medical supplies. We hope to continue our mission every three months with the goal of reaching the people four times a year. We are still looking for donations and money to purchase a water pump, which is needed desperately. One machine can supply clean water for 4,000 people daily.

When I return to the U.S., I will continue to drive a taxi, gather clothes and learn English so that I speak about my story.

I will not stop speaking until what is happening in Darfur stops. We need you to listen.

To contribute relief donations to the Darfur refugee camps in eastern Chad, or have a representative from Darfur Human Rights Organization make a public presentation, call 267-784-7073.

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