Tears of the Desert is the autobiography of Halima Bashir (co-authored with English journalist Damien Lewis). The autobiography tells of the life of Bashir in a village in the Darfur region of Sudan before catastrophe strikes.
Bashir grew up in a rural Zaghawa village in the Darfur region. Her father was wealthy enough to send her to a city school where she excelled as a student. Bashir went on to study medicine and became a doctor. Working in the emergency ward at the hospital in Hashma, Bashir treated patients from both sides of the war. During her time in Hashma, Bashir gained a reputation as a doctor who black victims of the conflict could rely on for treatment. She was soon transferred by the government to Mazkhabad, a remote village in Northern Darfur. Here, she treated forty-two young school girls and their teachers who were brutally gang-raped in a government supported attack on the village. For speaking about this attack to United Nations investigators, Bashir herself was brutally tortured and raped. Bashir returned to her home village only to watch it be destroyed by government helicopters and militia. Shortly after, Bashir fled the country with the understanding that the government was still hunting for her.
When Bashir attends secondary school in the city, she comes up against traditional enmities between the black Africans of Darfur and the minority Arab elite and their group's subsequent discrimination against the black Africans ever since. She accounts for the lack of support from teachers in physical fights stemming from schoolgirl prejudices that leads to expulsion – all of it an early lesson in helplessness.
Her ordeal is described as, "Bravery in a brutal land." It was Halima's introduction to the racist Arab militias' policy of rape as a weapon of terror. It is one woman's true story of surviving the horrors of Darfur.
The detail in which Bashir's story is told brings the message of horror to Western audiences. Co-author Damien Lewis stated that one of his goals was to, "make … you or I or anybody else in the West feel that that could be them … how would they feel if that happened to them brings it home to on the personal human family level. What would you feel if it was your children or your father, or your grandparents, or your village? … So it doesn't feel like thousands of miles away in a different culture in a place we don't understand."
Early responses to the book indicate that Lewis was successful in achieving this goal.
- "Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur". Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/Tears-Desert-Memoir-Survival-Darfur/dp/0345506251. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
- Bashir, H. Lewis, D. (2008). Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
- http://living.scotsman.com/books/Book-review-Tears-of-the.4364736.jp[dead link] 7th September 2008
- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-1048210/Bravery-brutal-land-TEARS-OF-THE-DESERT-Halima-Bashir.html August 2008
- http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0809/05/i_c.01.html September 2008