This is a personal response from Kathleen Scott, SGN team member since 2007, to Jeffrey’s Gettleman’s A Taste of Hope Sends Refugees Back to Darfur.
After following the situation in Darfur for many years, I found this article a rollercoaster of joy that crash-landed for me at a horrible realization. The article and statements like this seemed strangely nebulous and contradictory:
“But people who have been victimized and traumatized are sensing a change in the air and acting on it, risking their lives and the lives of their children to leave the relative safety of the camps to venture back to where loved ones were killed.”
I had to reframe my thinking before I saw a bigger picture. Like many in the international community I have been stunned to emotional numbness by the depth and breadth of the tragedy in Darfur. Unable to absorb the numbers and horror of the kind of violence, I have thirsted for any sign of peace or progress. I have what KTJ calls “Sudan Fatigue” but after meditating on the content of this article, a sickening analogy came to me about what I would endorse if I said this kind of homecoming was something to celebrate.
Imagine Darfur as a teenage girl who left home because she had rebelled against a neglectful and abusive father. When she asked to go to school or to the doctor, he beat her, killed her siblings, and had his friends gang-rape her. He trashed her room and shot at her. She fled and lived on the streets where she was further abused for nine years; systematically raped again and lived without adequate food, clothing, or shelter -let alone medical care and schooling. With no support for recovery from the original trauma, she is weary from being homeless, from the empty promises of neighbors to hold her father accountable. She decides nothing is going to change and besides she hears her father no longer rages in front of her bedroom; maybe if she is no longer rebellious about his neglect, he won’t hurt her anymore.
Starving, traumatized and exhausted, she returns to her family home, her children in tow – one whose father was killed by her father – and one fathered by rape. They hunker in her room; at least it is a familiar place. But down the hall they can hear her father assaulting her sister, Nuba, who had the audacity to ask for emancipation. Her father has not changed, he has not even admitted anything is wrong; Darfur can only hope her father will forget her like the international community did.
The “sense of change” is the problem. It is the emotional lie of the only thing the traumatized have to cling to- denial; and what those who have witnessed her trauma cling to- that the problem, and their guilt over not stopping the abuse, will “just go away”.
The father in the analogy, Omar al-Bashir- president of Sudan, has been issued an arrest warrant; but no one is willing to perform the arrest. The world is outraged at his behavior but not yet to the point of doing anything concrete. Darfur still weeps and waits for change that she is powerless to implement by herself. Her children will grow up and it is hard to believe they will not rage against the father and start the cycle over again.