Oral History — May 16, 2017, 5:12 pm

Don’t Speak

A Sudanese refugee on life in Darfur 

From a conversation with Abu Alsam Alcadro* that took place in his temporary home in East Amman. Alcadro is a 46-year-old journalist from Kutum, in Sudan’s North Darfur region. After nomadic militias known as the Janjaweed attacked his hometown in 2003, Alcadro fled, first to al-Fashir, the state capital, and later to Jordan, where he and his family registered as refugees. In November, after they had been waiting for two years, U.N.H.C.R. referred them for resettlement in the United States. Their interviews with the International Organization for Migration have been postponed following President Trump’s executive orders, which bar entry for citizens of six predominantly Muslim nations, including Sudan, and cut in half the total number of refugees admitted into the country.

*His name has been changed to protect his identity.

When I was born, my father was a farmer. He farmed vegetables and had some animals: sheep, goats, camels. Growing up, we feared wolves. Wolves attack people. We didn’t know that people attacked other people. We didn’t know war, or killing, or death. Our world in Kutum was plants, water, animals, stones, valleys, fruits, vegetables. We lived in peace.

I studied media and communications at the Omdurman Islamic University, near Khartoum. It was 1999, and the Bashir regime was already in power. I was the president of the Darfur Students Association, and I felt there were problems with discrimination against Darfur students. If your skin was black, a little black, there was racism. We held a seminar about the Black Book—a book about injustice in Darfur by Khalil Ibrahim, the founder of the Justice and Equality Movement, an opposition group—and we were threatened for it. The book was forbidden, but we decided to discuss it publicly and openly anyway. And then the security forces in the university beat us and we stopped.

After I graduated, I went back to Darfur, but there wasn’t any work. I started volunteering with schools, but the next year the Janjaweed came to my hometown with weapons and camels. They beat people, including our neighbor. Our house in the town had a small store. The Janjaweed hit it with bazookas and looted it, leaving nothing. I ran away with my family to the wilderness. We climbed the palm trees and hid there.

We decided to run away to al-Fashir. We rode donkeys over mountains and valleys, 80 kilometers in a day and a half. We hid in the bush overnight and slept inside a well. Almost 20,000 of us fled to al-Fashir. Whenever the Janjaweed attacked a village, the government would help them with an air strike. The whole country was filled with war and killing and looting. We were exhausted, hungry, and thirsty.

Once, the Janjaweed caught me on the road and hung me upside down from a tree by my ankle. Because I’m Zaghawi. They beat me and asked me questions. I lost consciousness; I don’t know how long I was hanging, but I was with them for three days. They asked me: Where are you from? Are you Zaghawa? Are you Fur? and so on. In the end, they saw I had nothing. I got away.

After this incident I was always dizzy. But when my health got better, I took a test to be a journalist. I became a correspondent for various Sudanese newspapers, covering the things happening in Darfur. I’d use the telephone to tell them what happened, or I’d write emails at a public internet café in the market. They didn’t publish all the news. They’d publish parts of it. But not the realities—those they’d cut.

I became the external relations officer for the Darfur Journalists Association (D.J.A.), which was started in 2006. Around that time, there was a radio station from Holland called Radio Dabanga, an independent news station for Darfuris. I didn’t have relations with them, but the government thought I was telling this radio station about the bad news from Darfur, which would have been forbidden. In 2007, they arrested me and detained me for a week. The prison was very dark, very small, and narrow. There was no electricity. And I was by myself. Eventually they let me out—I was just dealing with journalists within Darfur. It would have been a big problem for the government if you had contact with foreigners and talked about problems in Darfur. They would kill you for that.

I stayed in the Kassab camp, mainly helping various NGOs with aid distribution, but I continued to freelance by calling up Sudanese newspapers and giving them information about the humanitarian situation. One day at the end of 2011, an Italian came with an NGO. She had money to bring water and services to the civilians, and she wanted to photograph the camps and talk to journalists. I got a call from an office director in Khartoum to take her around and help her with the photography. I didn’t expect this to be a problem, because she had come through the government and the Sudanese security forces were following and tracking us to make sure nothing happened. But when she went to the airport, they confiscated everything, her film and so on. She left, but I was still there. I worked for many agencies and newspapers, so I became afraid for myself.

They took me to prison again for about a month. I said, Bring me to court, because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. But while I was in prison, they told me, Don’t write again, don’t photograph, don’t speak—there was no freedom to express, to speak, anything. I saw injustice in my country. I saw the killing of my family in front of me. My cousin was raped. My aunt was killed. My uncle was killed. I felt the danger. I was afraid.

Now we just want a country that has security. We want life without racism. We want to have a life where we feel like humans.

 

Share
Single Page

More from Alice Su:

Oral History November 14, 2017, 4:03 pm

Leaving Home

“I knew that if I had a relationship or became really close to a girl, my family would lock me up.”

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2019

Downstream

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Stonewall at Fifty

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Maid’s Story

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Is Poverty Necessary?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post

Left to the tender mercies of the state, a group of veterans and their families continue to reside in a shut-down town

Article
Stonewall at Fifty·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Early in the morning on June 28, 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street, the city’s most popular gay bar. The police had raided Stonewall frequently since its opening two years before, but the local precinct usually tipped off the management and arrived in the early evening. This time they came unannounced, during peak hours. They swept through the bar, checking I.D.s and arresting anyone wearing attire that was not “appropriate to one’s gender,” carrying out the law of the time. Eyewitness accounts differ on what turned the unruly scene explosive. Whatever the inciting event, patrons and a growing crowd on the street began throwing coins, bottles, and bricks at the police, who were forced to retreat into the bar and call in the riot squad.

Article
Downstream·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The squat warehouse at Miami’s 5th Street Terminal was nearly obscured by merchandise: used car engines; tangles of coat hangers; bicycles bound together with cellophane; stacks of wheelbarrows; cases of Powerade and bottled water; a bag of sprouting onions atop a secondhand Whirlpool refrigerator; and, above all, mattresses—shrink-wrapped and bare, spotless and streaked with dust, heaped in every corner of the lot—twins, queens, kings. All this and more was bound for Port-de-Paix, a remote city in northwestern Haiti.

When I first arrived at the warehouse on a sunny morning last May, a dozen pickup trucks and U-Hauls were waiting outside, piled high with used furniture. Nearby, rows of vehicles awaiting export were crammed together along a dirt strip separating the street from the shipyard, where a stately blue cargo vessel was being loaded with goods.

Article
Is Poverty Necessary?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1989 I published a book about a plutonium-producing nuclear complex in En­gland, on the coast of the Irish Sea. The plant is called Sellafield now. In 1957, when it was the site of the most serious nuclear accident then known to have occurred, the plant was called Windscale. While working on the book, I learned from reports in the British press that in the course of normal functioning it released significant quantities of waste—plutonium and other transuranic elements—into the environment and the adjacent sea. There were reports of high cancer rates. The plant had always been wholly owned by the British government. I believe at some point the government bought it from itself. Privatization was very well thought of at the time, and no buyer could be found for this vast monument to dinosaur modernism.

Back then, I shared the American assumption that such things were dealt with responsibly, or at least rationally, at least in the West outside the United States. Windscale/Sellafield is by no means the anomaly I thought it was then. But the fact that a government entrusted with the well-being of a crowded island would visit this endless, silent disaster on its own people was striking to me, and I spent almost a decade trying to understand it. I learned immediately that the motives were economic. What of all this noxious efflux they did not spill they sold into a global market.

Article
What it Means to Be Alive·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My father decided that he would end his life by throwing himself from the top of the parking garage at the Nashville airport, which he later told me had seemed like the best combination of convenience—that is, he could get there easily and unnoticed—and sufficiency—that is, he was pretty sure it was tall enough to do the job. I never asked him which other venues he considered and rejected before settling on this plan. He probably did not actually use the word “best.” It was Mother’s Day, 2013.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

The United States is nearly drought-free for the first time in decades and is experiencing unprecedented levels of flooding.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today