Tears of the Desert – Ethnic Boundaries

What I looked for:
• How different ethnic groups interact (are there conflicts, unifications, resolutions, etc.?) on both a small and large scale
• How they define/describe/characterize themselves (generally, socially, and geographically)
• If they go to different schools/places/etc.


Chapter 1

  • Pg 4: Halima starts off by briefly introducing/defining her people, the Zaghawa (who live in a village in Darfur), as “fierce” and “warlike” and says that they prefer dying over experiencing shame
  • Pg 10: three clans/divisions of Zaghawa: Towhir, Coube, Bidayat

Chapter 2

  • Pg 19: The Fur tribe’s (a “black African people”) land borders the Zaghawa tribe’s land

Chapter 3

  • Pg 27: Zaghawa = Sudan-Chad border (Darfur), which used to be the “ancient African Kingdom of Kanam”; each clan has different dialect
  • Pg 27-28: Zaghawa battled British soldiers in the past; conflict resolved by peace accord and Zaghawa got their land back
  • Pg 28: Zaghawa philosophy = to be welcoming and hospitable to strangers regardless of tribe or race…if they came in peace
  • Pg 30-31: Mohammed (Halima’s brother) gets his toy stolen and is beat up by boys from the Fur tribe; Grandma beat those boys in revenge

Chapter 4

  • Pg 49: introduced to the Aharo (“the Arab enemy”) who live east and south of the Zaghawa; some tribes are the Rizeiqat, Hamar, and Ta-aisha
  • Pg 50: Halima’s dad hired a Birgid (another “black African tribe”) boy to watch the cows; Aharo steals their goats as the Birgid boy was herding them back home
  • Pg 51: Aharo travel and steal livestock all the time; “We Zaghawa, together with the other black African tribes, had to resist them . . . otherwise they would push and push and push until we had lost our villages, our fields, and our very identity”; dad tells Halima to never trust an Aharo

Chapter 5

  • Pg 52-53: positive interaction with a Chinese doctor across town after an old man pulls on Halima’s white eyelash
  • Pg 54: briefly mentions that Halima will be going to school in Hashama, the town closest to their village, and we find out on pg 60 that this is an expensive school


Chapter 6

  • Pg 69: at school, there are both Arabic and “black African” students and teachers; ALL classes are in Arabic
  • Pg 70-71: headmistress hits Halima and Mona in the head with a stick for speaking Zaghawa; Arab girls laugh at H. and M. in class when they try to communicate in broken Arabic
  • Pg 72: Halima and Mona buy falafel from a lady from the Felatta tribe while on brunch break
  • Pg 73: they see two white people (khawajat) from Germany at the marketplace and gawk at them; other kids tease them but the relationship between them and the villagers is a good one because the white people build schools and dig wells for the Zaghawa nearby
  • Pg 75: the headmistress (an Aharo) hits Halima on the side of her head for standing out of line; Halima reflects on the fact that she probably wouldn’t have been hit if she weren’t a “little black girl”
  • Pg 75-77: Miss Ursah, an Arab teacher, tells Halima to do Sairah’s (an Arab student’s) cleaning task, but Halima refuses because she did her part. Miss Ursah attacks Halima in rage, but Halima still refuses to be bullied by someone who thinks that being an Arab means being the “natural born master” of the black Africans
  • Pg 80: “The Arabs won’t make anything easy for us in this country…”

Chapter 7

  • Pg 84-85: Halima’s dad talks about the British again and how the British gave power to the Arabs when they left
  • Pg 87-88: we find out that during the Reagan era, American aid workers came with food because there was a lack of it in the area (which is a positive experience between the Zaghawa and a different group of people)
  • Pg 88-89: Arabs minority in Hashma town, which is mostly Zaghawa, but majority at school; Arabs came to Hashma from all over the country of Sudan and live in the fancy part of town in big houses
  • Pg 89-90: Halima and Mona play with other Zaghawas and with friends from the Fur tribe; Sairah (Arab girl) has been constantly antagonizing Halima and pushed a chair into her knees, which caused Halima to do the same and challenge her to a fight; “. . . this was bigger than just a clash of personalities between her and me. She was an Arab daughter of an Arab teacher married to an Arab government official”
  • Pg 90-93: Halima and Sairah fight, Halima wins, but Sairah tattles to her mom (a teacher at the school) who reports it to the headmistress

Chapter 8

  • Pg 98-99: the group of girls decide to stand up for themselves as a unit, and they throw rocks at one mean Arab girl
  • Pg 99-100: we find out that the Arab houses have electricity, water, better infrastructure, while the black people have nothing close to that, and most of the Arabs in the town have black servants; Halima throws a rock at one of the fancy house just because; most black Africans go to one-room schoolhouses with no uniforms and class schedules dependent upon the weather, and Halima actually feels like she’s better than them

Chapter 9

  • Pg 106: Arab girls and black African girls still tease each other, but not violently anymore

Chapter 10

  • Pg 123: the National Islamic Front overtakes the government and plans to “defeat the black African ‘unbelievers’ in the south of the country”; “jihad”, want to turn Sudan into a “pure Islamic state”
  • Pg 124-125: an Arab and black African get into a fight in the marketplace – the black man beats the Arab after the Arab calls him a “black dog” and “black slave”, and then Arab policemen take the African away without asking for any explanation; “A ruthless Arab elite was ruling the country, and they didn’t even try to disguise their racist policies.”; bloody fighting in south Sudan shown on TV
  • Pg 126: father gets angry at grandma for watching the fighting and explains to her that it isn’t a jihad – it is propaganda and there are Muslims killing Muslims, women, and children, and the “infidels” are black Africans like themselves

Chapter 11

  • No discussion of ethnic boundaries


Chapter 12

  • Pg 139: Halima meets Dr. Omer, the Head of Faculty at her med school in Khartoum, and he is Arab-African and very nice
  • Pg 140: Halima meets Rania, who is also a med student, Arab-African (the Mahass tribe), and nice
  • Pg 141: “No one looked down on anyone due to their skin color, their tribe, or their status in society.”; “Arab-African rivalry seemed a thing of the past”
  • Pg 141-144: differences between “village” girls and “Arab city girls”: city girls had pictures of their families, were a bit more spoiled, tried to get the village girls to carry heavy bath water for them, had more privileged childhoods, and were more promiscuous
  • Pg 144: Halima meets a “funny, crazy Arab girl named Dahlia”, and it seems like they interact well, despite minor/innocent/playful teasing
  • Pg 145: there are Islamic schools that students can go to
  • Pg 145-146: Dahlia tells Halima and Rania that she hasn’t been circumcised and kind of teaches the girls what they have missed / the problems they might come across during sex/pregnancy/childbirth
  • Pg 149: National Islamic Front closes all schools and makes it mandatory for men to fight the “infidels” for Sudan and for Islam

Chapter 13

  • Pg 151-152: Sharif (Halima’s cousin) is a marked man; he met Dr. John Garang (the black African leader of the southern rebels and opposes the National Islamic Front) and wants to start a rebellion against the NIF
  • Pg 155: briefly mentioned that some Arab students are mad at the black students and those from the south for “bringing death into their lives”; they have a German (khawaja) chemistry professor
  • Pg 158-159: all of the cadavers in the dissection lab are black Africans that the “Capital Cadaver Collect” “finds”

Chapter 14

  • Pg 161: Darfur black African rebels attacked an airport and “won”
  • Pg 162-163: Halima defies Dahlia’s views against the African rebels – “You have trodden us down for too long . . . You treat people worse than animals, and eventually they will turn and bite you.”; Dahlia and the other Arab girls now distance themselves away from Halima; army burning African villages; black African and Arab students do not trust each other anymore and friendships have been ruined
  • Pg 163-165: Halima’s Arab tutor tells her not to worry about her oral exam because she had attended every lecture and was very smart, but then he lied to the examiner and told him that Halima skipped often, which affected her grade unfairly; “With Darfuris rebelling across the country, how could they let me, a Darfuri, come in at or near the top of my year?”
  • Pg 167: dad talks to Halima about the war and how Arab forces have been killing innocent women and children after they couldn’t get to the African rebels directly

Chapter 15

  • Pg 173-174: Arab soldiers attacked a nearby African village, settled there for a little while with their families, ate all the food and killed livestock, killed anyone who tried to come back, and then burned the village and left
  • Pg 177: Halima goes to work in the hospital in Hashma and meets Dr. Rashid, an Arab, and they interact well because he treats everyone regardless of where they’re from
  • Pg 178: the Janjaweed, the “devil horsemen”/ “Arab tribesmen” fighting for the government, don’t need to fill out forms in the hospital, while everyone else does (which they do to try and catch any rebels)

Chapter 16

  • Pg 179: Halima treats both Arab and African people in the hospital
  • Pg 179-180: the Arab Janjaweed keep attacking villages, and many of the African people come for help from Halima
  • Pg 180-181: Kayan, a black African from the Massalit tribe, is a nurse who helps both Arabs and Africans
  • Pg 183-189: The Arab police take Halima to a random house and yell at her for speaking out to a reporter. They ask if she is part of a political/rebel group, make her sign a sheet promising she won’t talk to reporters again, and let her go. She goes back to the hospital and continues to treat everyone, Arab and African.

Chapter 17

  • Pg 190-200: (the whole chapter) doesn’t really involved interactions between Arabs and Africans, but it does involve positive interactions between Halima and other black Africans that she meets when the Health Ministry relocates her to a Zaghawa village in north Darfur called Mazkhabad

Chapter 18

  • Pg 206-207: Arab cops come into the clinic and threateningly demand a list of the Zaghawa people she’s treated
  • Pg 209-210: Arab Janjaweed rape Zaghawa schoolgirls and teachers

Chapter 19

  • Pg 217-218: Sumiah (teacher) is retelling what happened to the girls and says that the Janjaweed said “You are black slaves! You are worse than dogs! Either we kill you or we give you Arab children . . . Sudan is for the Arabs. It is not for black dogs and slaves.”
  • Pg 220: UN workers investigate the attack and listen to the story

Chapter 20

  • Pg 222-228: Halima taken to a military camp by 3 Arab soldiers – they beat her for talking to the UN and tie her up; 3 different men come in the night and rape her; 2 of the original men do the same

Chapter 21

  • No discussion of ethnic boundaries

Chapter 22

  • Pg 238-241: the Arab Janjaweed attack Halima’s hometown; “Kill the black slaves! Kill the black donkeys! Etc etc.”

Chapter 23

  • Pg 252: Janjaweed attack again
  • Pg 254: “If someone had an Arab skin, they were my enemy; if they had black skin, they were my friend.”


Chapter 24

  • No discussion of ethnic boundaries

Chapter 25

  • Pg 271: Halima arrives in England and encounters many different nice people, both white and black
  • Pg 273-276: rude white interrogator, nice interpreters (Arabic, Lebanese, and Sudanese)
  • Pg 276-279: Halima befriends Sarah, an Eritrean refugee, who helps her get a solicitor to apply for asylum

Chapter 26

  • Pg 280-281: Halima has a white caseworker from the “Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture” who is very nice and caring
  • Pg 283: Shepherd’s Bush market = where Sudanese people hang out

Chapter 27

  • Pg 288-289: British gvt. denies Halima’s case for asylum, so she applies for an appeal
  • Pg 291-295: appeal denied, so she speaks out publicly about her struggles
  • Pg 295: Iraqi neighbors belittle Halima and Sharif, while Albanian woman is kind and goes to a playgroup with Halima, Halima’s son and her daughter

Chapter 28

  • Pg 298-302: the Home Office keeps wanting to deport the Darfuris, but they lose the case…for now
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