The Translator
Daoud Hari
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Buy *The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur* by Daoud Hari online

The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
Daoud Hari
Random House
224 pages
January 2009
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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I kept thinking, as I read Daoud Hari’s engrossing and heart-wrenching account of his service as a translator to news reporters investigating the ongoing genocide and human rights violations in Darfur, of John Lennon’s line in his song Merry Xmas (War Is Over): “War is over, if you want it.” If only wanting something like a war being over could really bring about the end of one, that would be a fantastic thing. Unfortunately, merely wanting a war and genocide to be over is not enough. The outrage and actions of people around the world about the reality of war, rapes, tortures of innocent civilians, starvation, and death that countries like Darfur face are necessary to help bring and end to the violence. The more we are reminded of the ongoing atrocities in Darfur (and elsewhere), hopefully the more we will get motivated to use all the resources we can muster to stop the pain and death going on now, and to prevent it from ever happening again.

The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur chronicles Daoud Hari’s experiences as a translator in Darfur. He always looked up to his two brothers, Ahmed and Juma; they helped keep the family together. Also wanting to contribute and to get out word about the genocide going on in his country, Daoud used his high school knowledge of languages and put out word that he’d like to be hired as a translator for news agencies. Besides being able to speak his native language, Zaghawa, Daoud (or David, as it translates into, and which his friends sometimes call him) could speak Arabic and English. His knowledge of languages and bold brashness got him and various reporters and filmmakers into and out of a lot of trouble sometimes.

The memoir is framed by Hari’s job translating for British news filmmaker Philip Cox, one of the most pivotal times in Hari’s eventful life. Cox knew Daoud as “Suleyman Abakar Moussa of Chad.” Hari went under that name “to avoid being deported from Chad to a certain death in the Sudan” where he was wanted,” and to avoid being otherwise forced to stay in a Chad refugee camp, “where I could be of little service.”

Hari knew the names of many of the military commanders from rebel groups and from the Chad National Army; he says that his “great collection of phone numbers was the reason many reporters trusted me to take them into Darfur.” Approximately half of Darfur is in Chad and half in Sudan, and both countries continuously accuse each other of illegally crossing the borders to wage war and of spying. Daoud himself is often accused of spying and forced to endure painful torture, despite doing nothing more than his job of translating.

The first chapter involves Daoud’s and Philip’s capture by Sudanese rebel troops. Hari describes the scene when their Land Cruiser got blocked by six others:

Dusty men with Kalashnikov rifles piled out. On the order of their commander, they pointed their guns at us. When so many guns are pulled ready at the same time, the crunching sound is memorable. We moved slowly out of our vehicle with our hands raised.
Though Philip told the commander that Daoud is from Chad and that his name is Suleyman, the commander knew exactly who Hari was, calling him by his real name:
“Daoud Ibarahaem Hari, we know all about you. You are a spy. I know you are Zaghawa like us, not Arab, but unfortunately we have some orders, and we have to kill you now.”
Cox used his satellite phone to call the top rebel commander whose forces had detained them. Fortunately, the man answered Cox’s call, remembered him, and they escaped being killed that day, though they were told “to leave the country immediately.” As a postscript, Daoud tells Cox that what he did was “amazing.” How amazing it really was, Daoud learns when Philip responds:
“Amazing, yes. Actually, I’ve been trying to get through to him for weeks,” he said.

“Lucky thing, really.”
That’s only a taste of a book filled with interesting and often terrifying accounts of Hari’s life and family, and how the horrible war and genocide has changed Darfur forever. His dreams are haunted by the dead bodies he’s seen, by the tortures he has witnessed and has experienced. One example in particular that stayed with him in his thoughts and dreams was when a man at a refugee camp, whose wife said he was addled, described how he was beaten almost to death. The man’s daughter came running out of hiding, calling out in Arabic “Abba! Abba!” which translates as “Daddy! Daddy!” The man tells of how one of the Janjaweed, the men who ride on horseback and burn down many villages, and rape and murder innocent people, killed his daughter:
“The Janjaweed man who had tied me to the tree saw my daughter running to me. He lowered his rifle and he let her run into his bayonet. He gave it a big push. The blade went all the way through her stomach. She still cried out to me, ‘Abba! Abba!’”
Books such as The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur act to keep the Darfur genocide at the top of the public consciousness. It’s too easy, with so many things going on in the world and our own lives, to think of atrocities, wars, tortures, rapes, and genocide in other countries like Darfur as “old news,” despite the fact that these horrific situations are still very much ongoing. As a memoir, Daoud Hari’s story is riveting, a jolt of ice-water to the consciousness. No one should have to live under the conditions that the people of Darfur suffer on a daily basis. The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur is an eye-opening read I highly recommend.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Douglas R. Cobb, 2009

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