Thirty Minutes in the Life of a Darfurian Girl: Khadija
When she entered the office, my heart beat fastened. I strongly wanted to runaway, to forget all about this interview, to just take the next flight back home. I was told about her story, and so many others, but when I met her, it was so difficult to emotionally deal with the case. I had been told she is fifteen years old however, her appearance indicated she was a little younger. She smiled at me in what seemed to be a cold, painful smile of someone hiding deep sorrow beneath. Accompanying her was a woman in her forties who turned out to be her aunt. She was wearing a colorful tobe, however looking at her cracked feet; you wouldn’t miss the looming poverty. She is a street vender in the nearby market works and from 6am to 6pm every day. Khadija is evidently a bright child, from the way she looked at me, scanned the whole room in few seconds and the way she interacted during the pre-interview chat. Her aunt confirms this and adds that she has always topped her class and although her exams took place few weeks after the rape incident, she still performs well.
She however speaks in low rattled, heartbreaking voice and avoids eye contact, disguising her anxiousness, fear or hatred. Now let me tell you what happened few weeks before Khadija’s exams…. Khadija grew-up in a small house with her mother and grandmother. Her father abandoned them longtime ago, before she could even register his picture in her memory or even recognize his voice. Due to the bombings in her village ten years ago, her mother was left deaf and unable to walk. Her grandmother is the only breadwinner at home; she sells food and tea in the city’s big market. My little friend pass-by her grandmother’s workplace on her way from school every day to help her with serving customers. She leaves the market few minutes after sunset, not to sleep or play with friends, but to take care of her mother, clean up the house, and then she “might” get some time to do her homework. That was Khadija’s routine before that day … It was Eid-Aladha and Khadija had worn the lovely dress her grandmother had bought her the previous year. She keeps it for special occasions like for Eid or a wedding in the neighborhood. On that fateful day, she was full of life and her pockets full of candies as she walked through the city’s roads, exchanging greetings and best wishes with everyone. The city is forlorn. Yes it is. The number of army cars exceeds the number of taxies seen around. It’s the same city where Khadija’s mother lost both her hearing and walking ability, the same city where many have lost their lives and live with lifetime trauma. Despite the extremely hot weather, Khadija continued her Eid’s greetings. She wanted to share a joyful moment with people and forget about her/their sorrow. At sunset, Khadija decided to return home and spend some time with her mother. On her way, she met X whom she knew very well. He is a “government militia soldier” and a customer of her grandmother. Although he didn’t have the same features as Khadija’s people (the inherited racism and war in her region didn’t allow this to happen) he tended to be nice to her which was unusual for people like him. He often visited her grandmother’s stall at the time when Khadija would be helping her grandmother and she would serve him.
On that day, they exchanged Eid’s greetings and he asked Khadija why she had not passed by his family’s place to greet them. Khadija told him she didn’t know they stayed otherwise she would have visited them to which he said they were a couple of streets away and offered to take her there since he was on his way home. Khadija didn’t hesitate and together they went. Few minutes later, they were there. They entered the house through a small door and she waited in the parasol while he brought her water and some candies. She smiled though she was little bit anxious since there were no signs of anyone at the house besides the two of them. She decided to play smart and not show him her tension or growing fear. Maybe his relatives had gone to greet the neighbors or their extended family, is what came to her mind but she decided she would excuse herself and leave quietly, and promise to come back the next day to greet them. Suddenly, she realised how naïve she had been. X never had family in her city. He had moved here because of the war, this damned war! What if this war never started? Her mother wouldn’t have lost her legs or hearing ability, her father wouldn’t have abandoned them, her grandmother would have been farming in the village instead of selling tea in the market, and she, wouldn’t have been through the next thirty minutes. Khadija knew what her destiny was going to be the minute X locked the door and got closer to her. Her heart beat fastened when he became too touchy, and for a moment she seemed to have lost her voice but later screamed out shouting for help. Khadija screamed a lot, calling out all the people she knew but there was no response. Maybe they didn’t care. “When he ‘finished’ he opened the door and let me go. I ran very fast, I couldn’t see, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get home, reach out to my mother’s arms and cry” While Khadija told her story, I couldn’t help hide my tears. I wanted to runaway, to a world where these atrocities would never happen. I quickly recollected myself, looked at her, smiled and realized that it was only her kindness and welcoming culture that made her stay in the room, however she couldn’t continue telling the story. She just wanted to stay away and cry.
She later told us that she was “Ok” but was only struggling with the memory of the whole incident which she wanted to forget. Her aunt continued the story. When Khadija arrived home, her grandmother could hardly recognise her. Her beautiful Eid dress was tattered, her eyes were red, and her face and breast were bloody injured. She was immediately taken to hospital where a medical report was issued confirming that she has been raped. The next morning a case was filed at the police station and Khadija had to recount the whole story giving full description of the house as well. Her aunt was the only family member who could attend the court sessions and Khadija would cry the whole night after each session. Despite promptly reporting the case, providing evidence of the rape, recounting details of what happened, her age, the trouble of meeting X every session and all the time her family spent, one thing was forgotten.
She is from Darfur! A region the government is denying has a recorded history of rape cases for more than decade, a problematic region that many human rights groups lost access to the victims. Khadija and her family ‘forgot’ that army/militia officers have a ‘de facto impunity’. Khadija lost her rape case, yet the judge was ‘embarrassed’ to let X walk free without any punishment. Thus, he was convicted of committing ‘sexual harassment’ and two years in prison. Court also considered Khadija’s financial, economical damages without thinking about her psychological state. She was compensated with 200 Sudanese Pounds (less than 30 US Dollars)! (Names changed for Khadija’s own safety) By Walaa Salah