Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 11, 2010

The Translator (2008), by Daoud Hari

It’s not as if I didn’t have enough books to read, but I hadn’t been to the library for six weeks and I missed the atmosphere.  So this morning’s walk was down to Kingston Library where I found this book, The Translator, a Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur, by Daoud Hari.  I picked up seven other books (as you do) but this is the one I started reading over a cup of tea in a nearby cafe.

It’s true to say that it wasn’t easy to quell tears, and I had a lump in my throat as I read about the genocide in Darfur at first hand.  Hari’s village was attacked, and he lost his father, his brothers and others that even now he must not name to protect them.  When he decided to fight this evil as a translator using his skill with English, to help bring the world’s attention to what was going on, it meant being at risk of being killed as a spy.  It also meant bearing witness to atrocities we call unspeakable, and yet they had to be spoken in order for the UN to determine from witnesses whether what was happening was genocide or not.  There are images and events that he writes about that haunt him on a daily basis, and he writes without irony also about the impact on journalists and aid workers, and how sometimes they had to be taken away for medical treatment for their trauma.

There is frustration and anguish about good-hearted but inappropriate help from the UN and NGOs when the world finally came to help.  For although they provided food for the refugees (though not enough) they did not provide fuel to cook the food with, and women and girls were routinely raped when they left the safety of the camps to gather wood for their fires.  This book was first published in 2008; I do not like to think that this is still happening when surely it is one misery that is preventable.

Hari says:

 You cannot be a human being and remain unmoved, yet if it is your job to get these stories out to the world, you keep going. So we did that. (p16)

One way or another, we would get the story for Philip, [a BBC journalist] and Philip would get it out to the world.  You have to be stronger than your fears if you want to get anything done in this life. (p25)

The politics of this conflict are complex, but Hari’s message is simple:

The only way that the world can say no to genocide is to make sure that the people of Darfur are returned to their homes and given protection.  If the world allows the people of Darfur to be removed forever from their land and their way of life, then genocide will happen elsewhere because it will be seen as something that works.  It must not be allowed to work.  The people of Darfur need to go home now.  (p11)

This man’s enormous courage and determination in the face of is inspirational.  What can any of us do to help?  Well, before you spend anything on Christmas stuff…

  • Donate to Oxfam or Médecins Sans Frontières, or any other of the agencies that are working to help the refugees.  This blog gets about 200 hits a day.  If every one of those readers donates $10 AUD, that’s $2000 AUD.  If 10% of those readers sign up to donate $10 AUD per month that’s $2400 AUD per year, ongoing.  $10 in Australia is the price of 3 coffees in a cafe, and considerably less than the cost of a book.
  • Join or contribute to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or International PEN – because it is organisations like this that got Hari out of prison in Egypt, and their vigilance is a bulwark against governments concealing breaches of human rights.
  • Contact your local politicians and let them know that this is something that you care about.  You will probably get a mealy-mouthed reply from the Department of Foreign Affairs, but that doesn’t mean they’re ignoring you.  Not if enough of us do it, that is.  In Foreign Affairs, politicians respond to issues when they think lots of voters are troubled about it.  (Think Kosovo, think East Timor, it was the outrage of ordinary people who forced governments to act). Politicians know that when we invest the time in writing a letter and posting it, that we care about it more than someone who says, ‘oh yes, that’s terrible’ in response to a poll but doesn’t do anything further.

When you do something, no matter how small you aren’t a complacent Westerner turning a blind eye.


  1. As YOU do, perhaps. I don’t! In fact, I tend to stay well away from libraries – way too tempting. But, great post Lisa. Books like this remind us how little, really, things have changed for many people.


  2. Thanks, Sue:)


  3. So easy to forget this kind of horrendous stuff still happens / is happening in the world.

    I like your practical solutions… I must renew my AI membership, I let it lapse far too long ago.


  4. Thanks for the gentle nudge Lisa. I signed up to become a field partner for MSF (what they call regular monthly donors). I’ve always given them ad hoc donations, and meant to get around to doing it regularly, and now I’ve done it. So thanks. So many good charities doing good work. I gave them $100/month, so you’re well on the way to your total. And I’m impressed that you’ve already read and blogged a book you picked up from the library this morning.


    • Good on you, Louise! Don’t forget to tell people at work: Peter Singer (in The Life You Can Save) says that when we tell people about this kind of contribution it normalises it, and makes others quietly think that they should do it too.


  5. Louise, Hannah has been a monthly donor for some years – small amount (like around $10 per month) as she’s a student. Not sure if she kept it up the last year when she gave up her job but I was impressed.

    And Lisa, I think you’re right. Len and I have been donating to Musica Viva for a few years anonymously so our name doesn’t appear in the program. I suddenly realised a couple of months ago that perhaps we should so that people who know us might see it and think “well if they do it perhaps we can too”. Someone who’d gone to a talk about philanthropy had told a group I was involved in that a couple of years ago but I hadn’t properly twigged.

    We donate regularly to Care and Unicef. I think they work with refugees don’t they?

    Aren’t you just sick to death of the STOP THE BOATS rhetoric. Makes me so mad…


    • Wow, $10 a month is a lot out of a student budget, we often don’t give credit to young people for caring, but that’s a grand effort. Yes, Care and Unicef, I’m not sure about World Vision. (I got a bit peeved with them when they built a very flash HQ here in Melbourne…I don’t expect them to work in a tent but it was *very* big).
      Re the Boats: I am, I am, I am. But (and I never ever thought I would say this) I am so sick of politics at the moment anyway. It is all guttersnipe stuff. Point-scoring, spin, criticism for the sake of it, bitterness, envy, smugness and spite. Watching the news is like having a nasty bunch of neighbours in your face all the time.


  6. Absolutely. Is it really worse (it seems so) or are we just getting old and grumpy. I watch and read very little news these days – listen to radio national and pick up some news from 7.45 to 8.30am (I know I know it’s Fran but still I get some news!), watch Q&A and the rest is very sporadic bits and pieces here and there. It’s just not very edifying or encouraging….


  7. I really hope for the sake of our country and the good it can do, that what we’re seeing is more about the trivialisation of the media than it is about the real business of government that goes on behind closed doors.


  8. Lisa, I note you went to Kingston library…what state do you live in?
    ps. I agree that politics has completely lost its lustre and vibrancy here in Australia. I am sooo over it all.


    • I’m in Melbourne, Karen – where are you?


  9. Stanthorpe in Queensland. I am originally from Tasmania and there is a Kingston there. I didn’t realise there was one in Melbourne.


    • Oh that would have been a coincidence! But there isn’t actually a place called Kingston, it’s just the name of our muincipality, dreamed up by some unimaginative bureaucrat about 15 years ago when they amalgamated 6 or 7 councils into one.


  10. Ah, I see.
    Down south…wetlands, beaches. I googled it. Nice area.


  11. Yes, I had coffee with a friend at a beachside cafe just yesterday. It’s nice to be so close to the sea.


  12. […] “This man’s enormous courage and determination in the face of is inspirational. What can any of us do to help? Well, before you spend anything on Christmas stuff…” ANZ LitLovers LitBlog […]


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