Thirty minutes from Khadija's life... Thirty minutes from a Darfurian girl's life
(I’ve changed the names for “Khadija’s” own safety)
When she entered the office we were waiting her in, my heart beats raised, I strongly wanted to runaway, to forget all about this interview, to just take the plane and go back “home”, I was told about her story, and so many others, but when I faced her, it was so difficult to emotionally deal with the case.
We were told she is fifteen years old, though her appearance indicates a little bit younger; she was in her school’s uniform, smiled at our faces, a cold smile… painful one… a smile of someone hiding deep sorrow.
Accompanying her, a woman in her forties, introduced herself as her aunt (later we knew that she is a third degree relative), wearing a colorful tobe, but when you look at her cracked feet, you can’t miss her poverty and her drastic work environment, how not and she is a street vender in the nearby market works from 6am to 6pm every day.
Khadija is a bright child, that’s obvious from the way she looks at you, how she scanned the whole room in few seconds and the way she interacted with the pre-interview chat, she speaks in low, though rattled, heartbreaking voice; she avoids eye contact; disguising her anxious, her fear or even her hatred.
Her aunt says: she is clever girl, always the first of her class, although the exams took place few weeks after that incident, she still remains on her class’s top ten,
Now let me tell you what happened few weeks before Khadija’s exams….
As we aforementioned, Khadija is a bright child, you would admire her cleverness more when you know about what she went through since her early childhood, she grew-up in a small house with her mother and grandmother, her father abandoned them longtime ago, he left before she managed to save a picture of him in her memory, before she could recognize his voice, he left with all his belongings, without leaving a shirt or shoe she can keep from him. Because of the bombardment 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.
Our little friend goes everyday to school, then pass-by her grandmother’s workplace 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, to 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; Khadija wore her lovely dress… the one her grandmother bought last year… she keeps it for special occasions, for Eid or a wedding in the neighborhood.
On that day she was full of life and her pockets with candies, walking through the city’s roads, exchange greetings and best wishes with everyone.
The city is forlorn, yes it is, how not, and its packed with armored, the number of army’s cars exceeds the number of taxies; how not, and it’s the same city where Khadija’s mother lost both hearing and walking ability, the same city where the sisters, neighbors, mothers and grandmothers paid a burdensome from their own bodies and lifetime trauma.
Let us forget about the city now, and let me tell you more about that day…
Despite the extremely hot weather, Khadija continued her Eid’s greetings, she wanted to share a joyful moment with people… she just wanted to forget about her/their sorrow.
Its sunset time now, and she wants to return back home to spend some time with her mother. On her way back she met (x); they know each other very well, he is a “government militia’s soldier”, a customer of her grandmother, although he doesn’t have the same feature of Khadija’s “people”, he tend to be nice with her,it’s unusual for people like (x) to nice with people like Khadija ( the inherited racism doesn’t allow, the war in her region doesn’t allow), he often comes to her grandmother’s workplace at the time she is helping her, she handed him tea and water several times and he kindly thanked her as many times as she served him.
On that day, they exchanged Eid’s greetings, and then had this conversation:
(x): why didn’t you passed by my “family’s house” to greet them?
Khadija: I don’t know where they live; otherwise I would have visited them.
(x): it just couple of streets away from here, I’m already on my way home, so why not you go with me, greet them, take the Eid’s candy and then go?!
Khadija: sure, why not?!
They walked for minutes before they arrived to his “family’s” house…
They entered the house through small door, she waited in the parasol while he brought her water and some candies, she smiled, though she was little bit anxious, she couldn’t hear any signs of anyone at the house but both of them… she decided to play smart, to not show him her tension, her fear, but.. why the fear for?! Maybe his relatives went to greet the neighbors or their extended family… well, it doesn’t matter, she would excuse herself and leave quietly, she would promise him to come back tomorrow to greet them, she would keep up her smile until she reaches home, she might indeed comeback tomorrow to greet his family, as the holyday still on.
By then… she discovered how naïve she is, just by then she discovered what beneath his invitation, she then realized that (x) has never had family in her city, that he came here just for war, this damned war! What if this war never started?! her mother wouldn’t have lost her legs, she could have be able to hear now, 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..
well, wishes wouldn’t safe Khadija, she knew her destiny the minute he locked the door, the minute he gets very close to her, the minute her heart beats very fast, when he became too touchy, when her voice disappeared and the minute she was again able to get her voice back and screamed, to ask for help, to call for her mother…
Khadija screamed a lot, she called all the people she knows and those she doesn’t know, no one would respond, no one would hear, maybe they did but never cared… who knows?!
Khadija says: when he “finished” he opened the door and let me go, I ran, very fast, I couldn’t see, but I wouldn’t care, I just wanted to go home, I just wanted to reach my mother’s arms and cry forever…
She was telling me this details while I was so busy hiding my tears, I again wanted to runaway, this time to the middle of nowhere, to a world that these atrocities would never happen, I woke-up myself from this naïve daydreams, I was telling myself, just stay and learn from this little brave heart, at this moment I smiled the very same smile she had when we firstly met… I looked at her face and realized that nothing would let her continue stay in the room but her kindness, her welcoming culture, however she couldn’t continue the story, she just wanted to stay away and cry, she told us later that she is “Ok”, her only struggle is her memory… she just wants to forget… she just can’t forget!
Her aunt continued the story: when she arrived home, her grandmother hardly recognized her, the beautiful Eid dress splintered, her eyes were too red, and her face and breast were bloody injured, the blood of resisting the horror!
Her grandmother immediately called me, we took her to the hospital, where they issued the medical report stating that she was raped, we did “all the medical process”; the next morning we went to police station and filed the case, they asked her about the house description, and she gave them full details, Khadija has very strong memory..
I was the only family member who was able to attend the court sessions, the aunt said, her mother is with disability and her grandmother is old, additionally we were in need for her to continue working while the sessions goes. It broke my heart when she had to meet with him every single session, the aunt continued, she would cry the whole night after every session, Khadija don’t like anyone to see her crying, so she would go to the backyard and stays for hours until midnight.
Do you want to know what happened with the court? Ok, let me tell you:
Despite Khadija’s fast reporting to the case, the fact that she has a medical report evidencing her rape, and that she described every single detail of (x)’s house to the police and the court, despite her age as child, despite of all the time she and her family paid to follow the court case, that she had to meet (x) every session, despite all that… Khadija forgot “very important fact”..
She forgot that she is from Darfur!
That she is from a region the government is denying recorded rape history for more than decade, she is from a problematic region that many human rights groups lost access to the victims, where the government deeply believe that hiding rape records (especially when an army personnel or government’s militia’s is involved in the case) is a “state interest”; Khadijia and her family “forgot” that army\militia officers have a “de facto impunity”, and that the hospitals in Darfur do not make DNA tests to the evidence collected from the victim’s body, the government has no interest in doing so.
Khadijia lost her rape case, yet the judge was “embarrassed” to let (x) walk free without any punishment, thus he was convicted by committing “sexual harassment”, the court didn’t name things by its names, it feared to do so, thus, he will spend two years in prison!
But don’t worry, the court considered Khadija’s financial, economical and before all psychological situation; the court compensated Khadija by 200 Sudanese Pounds (less than 30 US Dollars)!