A Darfuri Genocide Victim's Educational Pursuits

Guy, born Abdelhamid Yousif Ismail Adem in Western Sudan now resides in the United States, majoring in Political Science in college, but to arrive at this point in his life, he endured more brutal conditions as a survivor of the Darfuri Genocide than the average college student.  What motivates Guy? He says, education.

As an amateur writer and literary analyst, when I read a novel or short story and I happen across an incident in which the main protagonist decides to change his/her name, I highlight that segment and perhaps note on the margins the words “symbolic,” “important,” and “leading a new life”.  And yet, that sort of literary importance recently jumped out of those sleeve bound pages of my books and into the very much realistic (horribly so) story of a man named Guy, born Abdelhamid Yousif Ismail Adem.

The name change accompanied the larger change – a change in religion from Islam to Christianity after identifying a disconnect between the words in the Koran and the brutality he witnessed during the genocide in Darfur. I was given the opportunity to interview our protagonist or hero (as I dub him).  The face of a smiling young man, wearing a white-collar shirt and glasses greeted me and as I met him, the popular and often correct saying most of us heard in grade school, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” aptly came to mind.  While stories tend to be exaggerated and embellished to prove a point, not at any point was this account of survival amplified to deliver a point – no – the story does not require any words more forceful than itself – rather, the plain ones that Guy spoke to me with organized themselves into a story that is self-evident.

Darfur is a region located in Sudan in Africa
Darfur is a region located in Sudan in Africa

Born Abdelhamid Yousif Ismail Adem in Western Sudan, Darfur, he led a relatively peaceful childhood.  His parents were farmers and had four children, of which Guy was the second eldest.  The community with about 2,000 inhabitants was agriculturally centered as well.  Like any other child, Guy was responsible for assisting his parents on the fields after school; however, due to financial reasons, his schooling was terminated abruptly and the money that would be channeled toward his education was used to provide for basic necessities.  But even despite his disappointment in not being granted a full education, life continued – up until it was threatened one day, most horrifically, by the Janjaweed or “devils on horsebacks”.

200 members of this group invaded Guy’s village, shooting, killing, destroying everything and everyone in their sight with the exception of the cattle, which they took with them.  And in a swift takeover, the village in which Guy lived his life, stored his memories, planted his roots was reduced to a pile of terrain.

Guy fled during the ordeal and was consequently separated from his family – who he still has no knowledge of to this day.  After fleeing, he happened upon some workers of the United Nations (UN) who hid him in their car while they returned for a perusal of his village.  After witnessing the aftermath of the rampage and discovering that it was as Guy described – tragic, they returned and reported to Guy that his family was nowhere to be found.

Following this event, Guy found refuge with the members of the UN in Khartoum and worked as a security guard.  One member of the UN also financially supported Guy to attend school.  After some time, Guy was able to pass the examination into Juba University and decided to attend school there.  Though, in the States, we would assume universities and public schools are sanctuaries for safety, in Sudan, the universities are anything but for Darfur students.  The government, led by the National Congress Party (NCP) planned for students from Darfur to be arrested and tortured.  Because Guy was noted for being from Darfur, the officials of the party followed him continuously because of his affiliation with the UN.  He was tortured for information – with the security from the NCP forcing him to confess his role in the UN; however Guy never broke under pressure.

Following this incident, Guy was taken up again multiple times, but during the final arrest, one member of the NCP security read a newspaper column written by Guy’s UN caretaker who had publicized his situation.  The security guard promised to release Guy, citing that there was a person who wished him to have a good education, but on the condition that he leave Sudan. Following this ordeal, Guy embarked on a trip to Israel after hearing that refugees were accepted there.  He endured a grueling trip to Egypt and later to Israel.  Though the border of Israel, the hope of education and a new life was in front of his eyes, this same hope was suddenly splattered with blood once again when thirteen of the twenty three people from Darfur and Eritrea who were part of the group in which Guy arrived with were inflicted with fatal gunshot wounds fired by the Egyptian border patrol in which Guy claimed “shot at people randomly”.

At the very border, which had seemed like an oasis amidst a desert, people were robbed of their lives and removed from the world without ever tasting the flavor of their futures. Though the prospects of a new life in Israel enticed Guy, the opportunities and freedoms were more constrained than he could imagine.International Student Voice Guy

As a refugee, his rights were limited or rather absent, as he had no right to study or to work. In his mind, the common history of genocide between the Israelites and Darfurians would have ideally fostered a connection between the two groups of people, but to his disappointment, no sympathy was given and he was shut up in a detention camp much like an intruder and needed to renew his visa every three months to legally stay in the country.  Essentially, he had walked from one cage into another.

But he did however, find one glimmer of hope in Israel – his brother.  He had received a phone call from an acquaintance who once lived in the same village as he, and in that phone call he delivered the news that his brother also resided in Israel.  Guy was shortly reunited with his brother who had been shot in the leg on the Israeli border, though both were still oblivious to the whereabouts of their parents.

This account is told entirely from the standpoint of a survivor of such atrocities, but as we as outsiders see it, the struggle in Darfur is described on the news as one entangled in political jargon and rivalries, but from the perspective of Guy and perhaps other victims of the genocide, this motivation behind this ransacking is to obtain the land itself which is fertile and rich with resources.  The people of Darfur are also targets because of their cultural differences and different skin color – the ultimate manifestation of the racist and stereotypical sentiments we commonly see in our societies except taken to the harshest extremes.

Yet, I was reminded while speaking with Guy that though these murders are continually occurring even at this very moment, many are oblivious to it.  Why so?  A few years ago, this mass slaughter caught the attention of the news world, of every household, with people rallying for assistance for the refugees of Darfur, yet today this matter has fallen into the crevices of our minds that are burdened by other political conflicts, financial difficulties, and other daily stresses.  And as that memory and knowledge of the suffering of Darfur lays in that crevice, it gathers dust, and fails to be notice – so much so we forget that it even exists anymore.  And yet, as Guy sits in front of me behind a computer screen, he reminds me that just because we chose to forget does not mean that the murders have ceased and to do so would make us ignorant of the suffering overseas.

As of today, Guy resides in The United States on a Visa, studying as a political science major.  The depth of his story and his struggles eludes me as I sit, cautiously taking detailed notes on his experiences so that I may attempt to condense and transcribe his very life into a realistic account. Yet even this attempt is somewhat futile in that it is impossible to translate the sentiment and emotion in which he felt while he endured through countless trials onto paper.

The first question I had for him was “What motivates you? What inspired you and fueled this journey that the majority of us would not even envision or even imagine having to struggle through?”

His answer? Education.

Can there be a better word to capture this motivation?  I certainly don’t think so.

While many of us are dreading the next ten page paper to write, the next Organic Chemistry exam to study for when all we really yearn for is sleep or a night out, here is a man, who scaled the earth, literally, and even at gun-point found an energy source in the though of education to persist.  Perhaps, even more formidable is his ability to smile, to progress forward with such strength and vigor in order to one day provide assistance to disadvantaged persons despite not being offered the same help during his journey.  And there I sat, all the while transcribing and realizing that he is the embodiment of a story, the same ones we happen upon that enlighten us with that moral in the conclusion and that, is self evident.  In his biographical statement, Guy used the word “guy” multiple times to describe the men he happened upon, good or bad during his journey.  Yet despite the banality of that label, in the renaming of himself, he decided to lead a new life with that name.  And if we have learned anything so far, he is anything but banal and common, but from the literary standpoint, his name rings quite beautifully.  He is a guy, a human being, just as all of us are.  And among humanity, we all have dreams and motivations and he is merely a “guy” living in the reality of the world, fulfilling his dream to grasp the power and freedom granted by education.

If you would like to help Guy in his journey, please visit http://fundly.com/help-a-darfuri-refugee-study-in-the-us

international student voice Mei Xin LuoThis article was written by Mei Xin Luo, ISV Blogger/Writer intern

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