Copyright (c) Victor Darnell Hadnot
It was one of the worst nights I’ll ever remember. My camera crew and I were hold up in one of the supposed save camps. But the truth of the matter was that nothing was ever really safe. Not here not in Africa. Not in Darfur. I’d never seen anything like it. The misery and the death. The almost total disregard for human life and human decency. My goodness it was like nothing I ever experienced or have since and believe me, I’ve been sent on some dangerous assignments, even to the Middle East to cover President Obama’s historic mediation of the peace accord with Israel and the Palestinians. No one ever thought that someone so young and supposedly inexperienced could come up with such success in that region but he did. But that is for another time and another place. This story is about a young woman I met while covering the horror which is Darfur. Her name was Alulu and she was like no other woman I’d ever met. No. I don’t suppose in the years since that I ever met anyone like her or ever will.
It was a long night back in those days. They all were long. The pain and the misery as I watched helplessly as men were brutally murdered and women and children captured, the women that were old enough were summarily raped, beaten and raped again and again. The raiders would come into the camps and using weapons provided by weapons dealers, shoot and hack up the defenseless people. At first we all started off as just reporters, getting a story. But that was too easy. That was what a reporter did when covering civilized events. It’s just a story then but what I had been assigned to wasn’t just a story, it was a travesty of humanity. We all started off making reports and showing those who dared to let their eyes view it, the real horror of a madman’s obsession. The total and unabashed attempt at removing a race of people from off the face of the Earth.
Oh. I wasn’t so naive as to believe that things like this hadn’t happened in the past. There were countless stories of one group with superior weapons and numbers killing off another group. And for what? Their land? Because whatever the political rationale, it always came down to someone wanting someone else’s land. Oh the leaders would demonize the poor slobs that were being slaughtered, as being somehow less human, not like us, not having our values, they look different, smell funny, their names are strange. Whatever . . .
Ethnic cleansing is ethnic cleansing.
It was during this one particular night. I had been reporting on the lack of food and the onset of yet another outbreak of sickness and disease. The raiders had just started another attack and would soon be here. My crew had finished up and we all were ordered to get the hell out of there. Most of them did. Funny how civilized countries could manage to get a news crew in to film the carnage and depravity, but when it came to doing something about it, nothing seemed to be able to be done. We make sport of other people’s suffering, I once heard. I was young and just getting started back then, I didn’t want to hear speeches like that, back in college. All I wanted was to graduate and get a good job and make a name for myself. What? There was nothing wrong with ambitions like that, right?
No. There is nothing wrong until you actually start to see the suffering, the results of the hunger. The famine firsthand. The soul wrenching smell of death. Then you start to realize what those words spoken many years before really meant.
We make sport of other people’s suffering.
The ancient Romans had their Coliseum and modern civilizations have television and the and the internet.
I had finished up and was with all good mind ready to get the hell out. As was told me by the brass via communications thousands of miles away. But as I was leaving I came upon a young woman and her young daughter. The sun was setting and I knew night would be upon the camp once again and once again, they’d be subject to the living nightmare that they had come to expect every night. I was taken by what she was doing. There she was this thin frail young woman, she couldn’t have been much more than eighteen, with her young daughter. She had tears in her eyes as she worked frantically. Meticulously placing one earthen brick upon another.
I couldn’t figure out what she was doing. So I told the driver to stop, I told him I spotted a story. But it was getting dark and no one in their right mind wanted to be around when the raiders came.
But the driver did stop, leaving the motor running. I went over to her, camera man behind me and I asked her, "What are you doing?"
She didn’t answer at first, she just kept on working, her young daughter placed next to her, eating something rotten I supposed. Maybe there was a communication’s problem, she didn’t speak English, I motioned for the translator, but he wasn’t getting out the vehicle, it was getting dark, we were losing light.
"Don’t you know it is getting dark?" I asked.
Finally in a weak yet defiant voice she answered me, "What would you have me to do? I can’t just leave like you reporters can do. I have no place to run and hide. My husband was murdered a week ago. It is just me and my daughter. It prayed to God asking for help, hoping for some kind of answer. The only thing that has come to mind is that if I can build a wall, maybe the raiders won’t see me and my daughter, when they come. Maybe we can find a way to be safe."
It was so profound I stood there speechless. I went back to the vehicle and asked everyone if we could take the two of them with us. We all knew what was going to befall her and her daughter. They’d be raped repeatedly and eventually hacked to death. Everyone in the vehicle expressed concern but not a one of them would agree to letting the young woman in with us. My soul for some reason that I have never been able to figure out, even to this day, suddenly began to boil. They all begged me to get in the vehicle, my camera guy was now in, I wrenched the camera from him and flipped them all off.
With that, they all drove off. The dust kicked up in my face and when it cleared I was standing there, camera in hand, Alulu and her daughter watching. I went to them.
"They will come back for you?" She said, now going back to working on that earthen wall.
I looked off and the smoke of the dust was evident that none of them were coming back.
"Sure doesn’t look like it."
"Why did you do this? You know the raiders will kill you. They don’t care if you are a reporter. They murder for sport as much as for orders. We are an infestation to them. They want our land so that they can make the country into what they want it to be."
My mind flashed back a few hundred years ago, what must the American Indian have thought at the sight of the White man, systematically exterminating them for their land? And here were are now, I was witness to another attempt at genocide.
Moral authority wasn’t the ability to make others do what you want them to do, it was living in such a way that others want to do what you do. They want to be like you because they admire who and what you are.
She looked up from her work and there was desperation in her eyes. "Are you going to just stand there hoping that your friends who have just abandoned you come back or are you going to help me build this wall?"
I looked down and her little daughter offered up some of her rancid food, out of love, because she obviously was hungry. My heart suddenly shook. Here was a child that was beyond needy, offering me some of her food, which was obviously worth more than gold to her. I quickly set the camera on a stone, switching it on and began the task at hand, to help Alulu build her wall of hope. It seemed to defy all reason and in fact was beyond anything my mind could wrap itself around, how that young woman had placed her hope of surviving the night by building a mud wall. Surely she knew that when the night fell that the raiders would come into the camp and wreak havoc on everyone and thing in the camp. This wasn’t a place to seek refuge. It was a coral. A place where the existent government herded up the outcast and systematically night after night, exterminated the one’s not wanted. These poor people were no threat to the government. They were helpless and sick and weakened by the fact that no outside help was coming. They had given up all hope of being saved. Imagine. They were born into poverty. Sickness. Disease. No one cared. No rich country reached out their hand with meaningful help. I’m not talking about the symbolic protest. Or the meaningless attempts to appease the leaders that were gladly propagating these offenses. At what point do civilized nations stop being spectators and become active participants of the global community and accept their roles as leaders, intervening on the behalf of the weak and sick and poor?
We worked until the night was upon us. And as sure as the sun would rise the next day, the killing and the rape and the slaughter began. I hadn’t understood Alulu’s plan when I first came upon her. But as the horror expanded around us, I watched her place her child into the makeshift sanctuary that she had built out of mud and clay. I could hear the horses and the cries of the people as they were being killed and raped and otherwise violated. My camera was going and I was afraid that the raiders might come across it and discover me.
Now in the throws of fear and dismay, I was thinking about myself. It was at that moment that a hand touched mine. "Leave it." A small voice said, there is enough room for you in here. It was Alulu and she was reaching out from her mud sanctuary. I glanced at the camera, wanting to get it, but knowing the hoofs of the horsemen were upon us. I quickly made my way into the tiny entrance and the three of us sat motionlessly.
We could hear the horses and the sounds of torment. Screams crying out in the night. Women being raped and sobbing. Little children crying for their fallen parents. Children being killed. Young girls being taken and raped repeatedly. I think at one point, my outrage and fury got the better of me. Because before I knew it I had managed to leave Alulu’s sanctuary and was making my way toward a raider who was raping a young girl of ten or so. I couldn’t really tell because it was dark and the light from the moon while bright, too bright for the images I was now witness to, also cast shadows. There were shadows of death and disbelief. My God! I had been brought up on the Eastside but nothing could have ever prepared me for this! No matter how bad-ass you might think you might be, to watch the horror and people being sliced into pieces is beyond profound. There is a point in which one loses all sense of being and time and place. It becomes a nightmare in which one wants to awake from the trauma only to find that nightmares are no so foreboding.
Off to my right I spotted a man. He had taken the young girl and was forcing himself upon her. I first couldn’t move. I mean nothing could stop me from leaving Alulu’s sanctuary and then once out in the open, I was so terrified I couldn’t move my legs. You have to understand, that while I was probably like everyone else that comes from a civilized society, I wasn’t a hero, I didn’t go out of my way to protect and to serve. I was just an average guy trying to make a living, make a name for myself. I was a reporter. I was sent to chronicle the news not to become victim to the event.
But before I could think another thought, I heard a voice say: "Get the hell off her you, bastard!" It was shocking, because it was my voice. What had I done?
Not only had I left the relative safety of Alulu’s wall, but I had managed to call unwanted attention to the fact that more victims existed, ready for this monster and his buddies to come over and blaspheme, with their depravity. If ever there was Godlessness, I was witness to it now. He looked over at me and I could see that he did not consider me a threat, because he just went back to doing the foul actions that forced me to call out in the first place. My fist clinched as I heard the blood in my body pumping. I suddenly developed tunnel vision. I could only see the object of my contempt. Then in my hands I felt the weight of something heavy. And now I was running and as I ran I let out a scream. It was like a scream from the depths of my soul. The raider had stopped because of my voice as it rose toward him. He scarcely removed himself before he felt the cold bash to his brains of the object that was in my hands. After that I managed to pick up the weapon he had been resting nearby and with it I began to meet out a kind of justice that I had only thought reserved for those in purgatory! There was blood everywhere and I was in a state of mind like that of someone having an out-of-boy experience. I could see it was me but it wasn’t me, at the same time.
Then someone grabbed my arm. I swung around thinking it was one of his buddies. I was ready to give them some of the same. But it wasn’t. Alulu’s reflexes were far better than I would have ever imagined. As I swung, she managed to duck and disarm me at the same time. Her personal hardship from her youth served her well now. If she hadn’t been so alert I would have killed her by accident. We stood there for a long moment in the night. Death shadows danced across the surfaces of the camp. The smell of death was all about us. This was what Alulu had to endure every single night. Her and her little daughter. Every night. Another Hell! Every night. The chance that this would be her last night. And what of her daughter? Witness to such scenes of violence and despair. If this is what had happened to me and in such a short period of time. How is it that there was any humanity in her heart? How is it that this woman hadn’t lost her mind?
Now the sounds of the night were made clear and my vision slowly began to return to me. I watched her mouth move. It was a curious thing. I could hear cries for help and screams of unthinkable pain as human beings were being hacked into pieces alive. But I couldn’t hear the voice of the young woman standing in front of me.
Finally the sound reached me, "Are you all right? Are you injured?"
"What? No. No I’m all right." I managed to look over at the poor girl that the raider had been raping. She was dead. He must have strangled her while he was raping her. I glanced over at his hacked up body. It made me throw up. I couldn’t believe that I had managed to take another person’s life, let along like that.
"We must return. It is not safe out here," came Alulu’s calming voice and we did. We
managed to stay inside Alulu’s wall for the rest of the night. Inside the mud sanctuary time seemed to blur. After awhile there was no telling one event from another. The whole night was one big blur of suffering and pain. None of us were going to be able to rest. Sleep was for those who knew that tomorrow would come, neither of us was afforded that luxury.
But the morning did come.
I managed to crawl out of the sanctuary. It was day now, and I could see plainly what the darkness had managed to obscure. Blood was everywhere. I walked around the area. If I had known that only twenty feet or so from me, another raider was there, I might not have acted so recklessly. But he had been stabbed in the back while approaching me, from the looks of it. I could now survey the area that we had been in. We had been in the thick of it. I looked up from the dead man and my eyes fell on Alulu and her daughter. The look in her eyes told me volumes.
"Are you two okay?" I finally managed to get out.
"He was going to kill you. I had no choice." Alulu wasn’t a killer, she was just a young woman trying to survive the nightmarish hell that she was forced to live in.
"You had my back . . . " I walked over to where the camera now sat. It was covered with blood. Was that what was in my hand last night? I must have grabbed the camera and struck the raider with it. I examined it. For all the violence it had managed to endure, the thing still seemed to work. At closer examination, I realized it had recorded the events of the night.
We both managed to gather up what little things were ours and we all started out. We must have walked for several hours and then I spotted the dust of a vehicle. As it came closer, I realized it was my news crew. They had come out to get me at the crack of dawn.
The camera man jumped out the vehicle. "I can’t believe it. You’re still alive. We all heard that the attack last night was severely brutal!" He went for the camera and began to examine it and the footage. "Wow! You managed to shoot this last night!" The rest looked on and were excited. There was talk of streaming it as soon as we got back.
I looked around and Alulu and her daughter had already started to walk on. My heart sank because I knew what she had just lived through and I knew what she was looking forward to. The hunger and the damnation of another night. I ran to her.
"Where are you going?"
She looked at me, her eyes were so sad, "I don’t know."
I looked at her daughter then back at her, "You are going with me." I took her by the arm.
Alulu shook her head. "No. It is good of you to say it but we both know that I can’t go with you. My fate is here and yours is a continent away."
"You can’t be serious! After what we have just been through together. Maybe two days ago I could have just gotten in that vehicle and drove on off. But not today. Not after last night!"
She said, "The others are calling you. Go to them. But remember me. Tell the world about what happened last night. You lived through it and I have to believe that God let you do this for a reason. So that you can give voice to those that have no voice. Perhaps you will be able to open their eyes, if not but for a moment."
She walked off and I went back to my friends. My friends. The same one’s who had left me for dead the night before. The ones that were now on their phones talking to the "right people" about the footage, I’d managed to get the night before. We drove away. Dust kicking up in the air behind us. Behind us was the misery and the horror what was at that very moment subsiding. Leaving me like some bad dream. Only I knew it wasn’t a dream. It was real and it really happened and there really was a young woman with her young daughter. Alulu’s world wasn’t going to be so filled with the things that I was now headed toward. There was no way out for her and her child. There was no way out for any of them. All those people that were forced night after night to suffer the horrors.
"So. Tonight I come to you. The world. And I offer up the evidence and the truth of what is really going on in Darfur. I don’t pretend to know the political outcome of the situation. Would, if I could wave a magic wand and make the whole situation go away? But even if I could, it wouldn’t do justice to the countless victims of such tragedies and tragedies throughout the world. With all sorts of other political events going on throughout the world, it is easy and perhaps convenient to lose track of poor nations and their poor people and their poor problems. But look at it from this point of view, someone once told me back when I was in college: A nation is only as strong as its weakest citizen. If we are truly approaching a global world and not just a global economy then perhaps that is what is wrong with our financial institutions. We have managed to accept the vast resources of wealth while rejecting the humanity of the world’s people. If what goes around comes around, then perhaps those voices that might be ever so wiser than our own, might hold the hope of the future. For it is in our ability to help others and to see the great injustices of our time and then to act that galvanizes a nation to do well and a world to seek a better way."
The cameras switched away and the moment was now left to the viewers to ponder. I was met with smiling faces and extended hands, promises, that I had a real future in broadcasting and the specter of promotion.
My producer came into my room and said, "That was a good piece. It went over well and the ratings seem to suggest that the audience like pieces like that. You managed to touch a nerve with some of the viewers. Well done. Take a few days off and I’ll find a good assignment for you to tackle next." She left with a smile and a thumb up.
I found my things and put on my coat. It was a cool night here, back in the States. I thought on what my producer had just said, basically, and I was on my way toward making a real name for myself. If I kept it up who knows, maybe some cushy position reporting the news, while some other poor slob had to go out and brave the new world.
It was a long walk out of the building. The usual hellos and goodnights. It was all part of the way business was done, funny how things work out. I’d risked my life but got a good story. People would listen to it for all of a few minutes, the time it took to present the presentation and then move onto their own little lives and their own little problems, all so real and all so important, and with all good reason.
A cab was waiting for me when I got out of the building. The door opened and a hand extended out to beckon me. "We saw you on television . . ." Her voice was sweet and reassuring.
It had taken quit some doing as one might imagine. But with the help of a few friends in the State Department and a lot of frequent praying, I managed to get Alulu and her daughter out of that awful situation. What looked like sure death, but the Lord was able to deliver them. Six months after that Alulu and I were married and I started the process of adopting her daughter. We often allowed ourselves to talk about that fateful moment when we first met. And together we started a movement to help others from that area. It has been an uphill battle and it seems like the media has a short attention span when it comes to the plight so honorably sought at Alulu’s wall.