Human Rights

Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival

Three filmmakers chronicle their journey to document the tragedy in Darfur where 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million forced from their homes.
Editor's Note: Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival is a book that accompanies a major documentary film now showing across the world. It tells the story of the genocide in Darfur, through the eyes of the Darfurians. It also shows, "the real lives of these people, and that they had had a thriving life, society, and culture that preceded their appearance on the world stage as victims and refuges," the introduction reads. Darfur Diaries is written by Jen Marlow with Aisha Bain and Adam Shapiro (Nation Books, 2006). The following excerpt is from Chapter 7, "The Antonov Plane and the Wedding."

"The owner of this house was killed here and so were his wife and kids," Abdullah told us in Arabic. He bent down, slid his stick under a piece of shrapnel and lifted it up high for us to see and for the camera to record.

"This was part of the bomb that hit this home. It exploded on everything all around." The piece of shrapnel dropped to the sand, clanging against another bomb fragment. They were all around.

Abdullah strode out of the burnt house, barely giving us time to refocus the camera on him and follow. He pointed out the carcass of a donkey we passed, telling us that it died from eating the plants that had been covered with a powder from the exploded bombs.

Last time we had been in Muzbat, we had only encountered rebels from the SLA. Now, there were a handful of old men, women, and children walking around. One little boy, wearing a brown galabiya, kicked a tattered soccer ball made of rags to us. We passed it back and forth with him, careful not to accidentally kick it into the small bomb-crater directly next to us.

Musa answered our questions about the civilians. "They are from Muzbat, but they no longer live in the village itself. Their homes are destroyed and they are too afraid to return. They are living in the wadi and under trees, in caves. But the well is the only water source for dozens of kilometers, so they must come to take water."

That explained why we hadn't seen them on our last visit. We had arrived right before sunset and the villagers had already returned from the well to their trees or caves.

"What exactly are they afraid of?" we asked. Muzbat was firmly behind rebel lines; it was not likely that the janjaweed or Sudanese army could come storming through. The damage here had already been done.

"The airplanes. They could still bomb us from above," Abdullah's companion answered.

"When did an airplane last bomb here?"

Musa, Abdullah, and his friend gave conflicting answers; one month, two months, four months. In any case, it hadn't happened recently. So, why were people still living so far from their village and only water source? Wouldn't it be much easier and more practical for them to return, rebuild and resume their lives?

He led us to the wracked and twisted frame of a bed that Sheikh Zachariah Madebo had been sleeping in when he was killed by a bomb. The tapping of Abdullah's stick on the burnt metal initially drowned out a low humming noise in the distance. As the humming grew louder and more insistent, Abdullah abruptly stopped speaking. His hand fell to his side. We looked around in confusion.

"Now I am hearing the sounds of an Antonov plane," Abdullah told us, a trace of fear in his voice. "You hear?" He turned on his heels and motioned for us to follow him quickly.

It took a half-minute of squinting into the sun to spot the Antonov, now flying almost directly overhead. "Sit down!" we heard Abdullah shout to villagers as we scanned the sky. "Not over there! Here!" We tracked the plane moving above the village until Abdullah called out urgently, "Aisha! Sit!"

We looked back down. The village appeared to be entirely deserted; everyone seemed to have disappeared into thin air. My eyes adjusted to the scene much as they do when moving from light into darkness. I spotted five children crouched under a tree, an older sister trying to shield her younger brother with her hands. Another tree a few meters away revealed the same. A mother flattened herself against the scarce shadow of a mud-brick wall, restraining her little ones.

We stood in the broad daylight. The drone of the Antonov was the only sound that could be heard. Adam shifted from filming the plane to the people holding each other tightly, trying to find protection under leaves or any other bit of available cover. One of the villagers motioned to us.

"Come, get out of the sun, quickly!" Musa urged us. "You are a target if you continue to stand there."

Adam, Aisha, and I moved under the nearest tree, where the huddled children and their parents made room for us. Children continued to mutely hold onto their mothers and each other, long after the plane was out of sight and its droning barely audible. Just five minutes earlier, I had asked myself why people still felt too insecure to return to the village. The question felt ridiculously naïve now.
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