The web of lies that various parts of the United Nations has woven about Darfur is vast. Orwellian doublespeak deliberately disguises reality and distorts words. U.N. reports on the region, for instance, typically and euphemistically use “air strikes” for indiscriminate bombing of civilians, “sporadic clashes” for continuous war, and “sexual and gender-based violence” for systematic rape. As for their references to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s “regular forces,” I often wondered how there could be anything “regular” about the hordes of fighters who operate lawlessly and jointly with the Janjaweed death squads. They make no distinction between civilians and combatants, bomb children and terrorize adults, rape women, and loot and burn everything they find to the ground.
In 2016, three young Sudanese immigrants were shot inside the old three-story Victorian where many immigrants lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1957, a Southern man shot his wife and himself in that same house. Sixty years after her grandparents’ death, the couple’s granddaughter, Tanisha C. Ford, returns to her old family home for Elle to examine the parallel ambitions and roadblocks America presents for both of these communities. For the young Sudanese men, the house was the place they started their new lives in America, away from the routine bombings and incessant violence back home. For Ford’s family, it was the place they and many people of color lived after leaving the Jim Crow South for industrial jobs further north. For both groups, it became a symbol of all the roadblocks to freedom and respect that people of color still face.
Every time I saw another mention of the murders, my heart mourned for the families of Taha, Adam, and Muhannad. I thought of their devastating loss, and of the trauma I can still see in my father and his siblings. Growing up, I didn’t hear many stories about my grandparents; living with that type of tragedy numbs you, atrophying your emotions, and it was too painful for my family to talk about. My father was only 4 when he lost his parents. He can’t recall his mother’s face.
But despite our family’s attempts to keep our history at bay, those memories percolated just under the surface. And after details of the three murders filtered out, my dad and his siblings started to discuss the night my grandparents died. The motives weren’t directly connected: One was a grisly murder of three African immigrants, and the other a grim story of domestic violence. Still, my family noticed parallels. My grandparents’ generation fled the dusty plantations of Jim Crow Alabama for industrial jobs up north. Taha’s family survived daily bombings in Darfur, sometimes sleeping in ditches, to escape the genocide; they’d sold everything they had to come to the United States. For both families, Fort Wayne was supposed to be a place of refuge and new possibilities. Neither family knew that the price of freedom would be death.
A profile of Ron Capps, an Army combat veteran and former Foreign Service officer who served in Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Kosovo during his career. After returning home, Capps was suicidal and haunted by PTSD; writing brought him relief and helped him make sense of his experiences.
Veteran status cuts both ways. Because I’m an army veteran, other vets often tell me things they wouldn’t tell those who haven’t served. It is a privilege to be given this confidence, and yet I’m filled with an overwhelming obligation to get their stories right. Although I’m a longtime reporter, writing about veterans has been the hardest subject for me to cover, because their stories are so nuanced, and reporters, most of whom have never served in the military and have no connection with the armed services, frequently get their stories wrong and paint them as one-dimensional lunatics. I wanted to get Capps’s story right and not come off as a voyeur. There was some precedent for my concern: a month before our interview, Capps had spoken about his struggle with PTSD at the National Endowment for the Arts, which sponsors his NICoE seminar, and after his talk he told me he was destroyed for the rest of the day.
Back in his native Sudan for the first time in years, the author observes the capital’s newfound oil wealth and argues that focusing narrowly on Darfur while ignoring the secessionist South could spell big trouble for all of Sudan.