Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Aisha's Red Hand

This is an article first published for Agenda magazine Finland and Ovi magazine.

How does it feel when you look into a sixteen-year-old girl's eyes and you feel that, even though she is just sixteen, you are looking into the eyes of the oldest woman on earth? How does it feel to look into a sixteen-year-old girl’s eyes to feel that all you can see is the sadness and sorrow of the world? I do have the answer, yet it is just so difficult to put into words.

For most of us in the west, problems in Sudan only started a few years ago when celebrities like Bono and George Clooney publicized them, but the reality for the Sudanese people is that the nightmare started three decades ago. It is now an extremely violent war that began between sides and gradually became a war between tribes with ancient vendettas rising from the darkest side of the people. In the beginning it was grown men who fought but year after year fewer and fewer of them came to join the armies. Thousands of them dead, more crippled, yet all of them destroyed.

In the beginning the average age of the warriors was late-twenties - warriors because after one point there were no armies, only warlords who were followed by groups armed ready for hell. After a decade of continued war the average age dropped to the early-twenties and in the early-90s all sides began recruiting children aged ten to twelve-years-old. Aisha - I’m going to use this name as alias for the sixteen-year-old girl I met - was twelve when she was recruited.

Under these circumstances recruiting doesn’t mean there was an office ready to welcome volunteers, a heavily-armed group entered her village collected all the kids over ten-years-old killing anybody who would dare show or hint at any kind of resistance, put them in the back of tracks and then leave for their camps. These groups, after a point, included boys and girls, since in death there is always equality. The groups were from all sides, including the government’s army groups.

The kids would be taken to small camps where, with a little help from drugs and fear, they would learn how to use weapons and how to kill. Killing for them meant survival, since if they didn’t kill then they weren't good enough for the warlord or the army and therefore killed. Very few of them survived more than the first few months and during this time they forgot what is to be a kid, what it is to be somebody’s son or daughter and what it is peace. War and fear become their only life.

Aisha was raped on the very first day of her recruitment by nearly all the grown-ups in the camp and she was not the only one who went through this torture; she remembers that on the very same day another four girls had been …recruited with her. The rape was part of her ritual to rivet! Drugs and alcohol were the main part of it. The fear, within hours, had become a way of life and the only way to keep sane was to forget the past and kill. The more she killed, the more she was accepted into the group. She was even promoted to lieutenant.

After two years she had no idea how she came out of it. One day she saw a long line of refugees walking at the side of the street, she threw away the gun and the sack with the bullets and, without looking around her, expecting a bullet in the head, she pulled a blanket she was carrying over her head and joined the women that were walking at the side of the road. In the beginning it was the refugee camps and then gradually she found her way to Europe.

These few sentences cannot describe what she went through all this time and this is only a brief report suitable for the space of a magazine, but for one minute permit your imagination to walk the same path this girl was upon. For one minute try to imagine the pain, the desperation, the horror and the fear this girl felt when she was only thirteen-years-old, the same age girls all around us are playing with make-up.

Red Hand Day does not only exist to remind us that there have been child soldiers, but to shake us and make us understand that at this very minute, as you read this article, another girl named Aisha somewhere in Sudan, Niger, Kenya or another place in Africa, is blinded by pain, fear and drugs, carries a gun and is ready to kill or be killed for …nothing! It is our obligation to stop it now by pressing governments and organizations, by demonstrating and talking about it because everybody should be part of the solution until it is finally all over and the Aishas of this world can sleep for one night without nightmares!

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