My family and I came to Sudan in 2006 from the UK. My parents left in 1992 to pursue their medical careers in the UK. They were not fleeing war at the time but thought a better life for them lay ahead in the UK.
However, after 14 years, they decided Sudan was a healthier environment to raise us so we could learn more about our language, religion and culture. This is a pattern we see with most Sudanese families. Staying too far from your home and language becomes unbearable at a point.
My parents and siblings were all British citizens before coming to Sudan, and they still are. We have been settling in Sudan ever since, although my two elder sisters went back to the UK to work as soon as they finished medical school in Sudan.
This was my plan as well, however, I wasn't willing to come to the UK this soon.
A Dreadful Sunday
On 15 April, my sister and I woke up to the sound of explosions. We tried to go back to sleep, never assuming this could be the start of a war. With military aeroplanes hovering above our house and the sound of bombs in the distance, sleep suddenly became the last thing on our minds.
From the news, we understood that the long awaiting conflict between the two main factions of Sudan's military regime was finally unfolding.
Our electricity was cut on the same day, it was claimed that the power station supplying our area was bombed. International and national calls from friends and family poured in as the conflict escalated throughout the day. Concerns about our safety and advice to stay indoors crowded all our telephone calls.
On Sunday, stories of homes collapsing from bombs had grown by the minute, so we decided to stay downstairs was safer for the family. The following day, a bullet hit one of our glass windows downstairs. This was only the third day of the conflict, and bullets were already extremely close by.
We remained indoors under Khartoum's 45 degree weather, away from windows and without fans for the next five days, as we fasted the remaining days left of Ramadan.
With no working sockets, our phones were put on power-saving mode, and our internet was seldom opened to save as much battery as possible. Traumatic nearby sounds of explosions and bullets continued throughout the supposedly agreed “ceasefires''.
Murderous airstrikes would heighten dramatically at dawn and almost tone down throughout the day before sporadic street battles took place at odd hours. One could never know when it was safe to leave the house for supplies or whether those who left would ever return.
It was a matter of taking a leap of faith and trusting that whatever happened was for the best.
The Evacuation Journey Begins
We were called by the UK's FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office) on 25 April, Tuesday (the 11th day of the conflict) at noon to head immediately to the coordinates of Wadi Sayedna sent by email.
This happened only a few hours after hearing our university professor had died in cold blood. He was stabbed in the neck by looters in his neighborhood. It dawned on us that the violent effects of war were moving throughout the streets of Khartoum, it was high time to flee.
Realising the unforeseen evacuation was final, priority luggage was quickly packed into 9kg carry-ons; we were advised that was all each person was allowed to take to the airfield. After our passports and documents were securely packed, one outfit and a few other necessities were added. Some family photos I couldn’t resist leaving behind were scattered between my documents.
Struggle To Find a Transport For the Airport
With the excessive demand and poor supply of petrol, finding transport to take us to the airfield was an ultimate struggle. Despite countless phone calls till 5 pm, no driver was willing to take us.
We learned a few hours later that the batch of Sudanese who had arrived at the airfield at 6 pm were told to stay overnight at the airfield, as planes had stopped evacuating for the day.
Gates will open again tomorrow at 9 am. Fortunately, my friend had found a bus that agreed to take my family and hers at a reasonable price the following morning. The price was reasonable compared to the millions of pounds drivers were demanding from their passengers at the time.
Risking the long and dangerous journey to escape the looming threat of war, we had little to no sleep. Anxiety about the uncertainty that lay ahead was palpable throughout the night. Clutching our backpacks, we locked our home and hit the road on a sour Wednesday morning.
The normally crowded and noisy streets of Khartoum lay empty as we left for the airfield, with only the sounds of birds and occasional rickshaws filling in the gap left by those who had fled the capital and those staying indoors. The journey, which involved an hour and a half of driving, passed bus stops packed with people waiting in exhaustion on early morning transport queues, lined up to head out of the city to relatively calmer provinces. Sudanese armed forces that occupied the road at multiple tense frontlines, scanned our bus at each stop.
Long Queues And Longer Waiting Times
After arriving at the airfield, we went on a good 7–10-minute walk from the main entrance to what seemed to be an outdoor border control area. We had a long wait outside in a queue on the tarmac among not less than a hundred people. After a few minutes of standing in the direct sun, many decided to lie on the floor or sit under the trees.
Limited chairs were voluntarily given up to the elderly and those with disabilities. Warm water was provided, however, it was extremely difficult to access functioning bathrooms in the area we were in. For some, waiting felt like torture, escalated by the scratchy heat of Sudan. In my case, jumping into old friends and their families made waiting under the heat a little more bearable.
We stood for over an hour before the officers showed up to take only half of those in the queue while the rest of us kept waiting. It was a little over an hour before we were taken to wait yet again outside in a makeshift waiting room. An hour later, we were finally taken inside, it was time to process our passports.
After an additional two hours of waiting, each of our individual passports was checked, and the weight of our bags was carefully assessed. Carry-ons labelled as ‘too large’ for the aeroplane were ordered to be emptied into black plastic bags.
I was ordered to take only one of my two medium-sized backpacks. I ended up stuffing the contents of the smaller one inside the other. After a quick body and bag search, we were taken to a huge indoor garage, where we were told to wait on the floor till the flight was ready.
Finally, 9-hour Wait Comes to an End
Over fifty people had already been waiting there for hours when we arrived, the number had swollen to around 100 when the plane was ready to board at 6 pm.
It had been a 9-hour long wait in the airfield, we were the second batch of British/Irish passport holders leaving Khartoum from the airfield that day.
We boarded an RAF aircraft that was wide enough to fit us all. Our towering piles of luggage were strapped at the end of the plane, and a total of around only 30 chairs were available as priority seats. The rest tried to sit comfortably on the floor of the aircraft till it arrived in Cyprus four hours later. We were hosted by the evacuation committee and were offered accommodation to stay the night in Cyprus. The following afternoon, my family and I boarded the third and final commercial plane carrying evacuees to the UK that day.
Back in The UK, I Hope to Return to Sudan Soon
The UK doesn't feel much like home, my real home is Sudan, and it always will be. We are trying to settle in, as it looks like we'll be staying here for good. Being with family and having faith that even what seems like the worst happens for the better good, makes things easier to adapt to.
I believe one of the many things Sudan taught us was patience. In Sudan, we learnt how to be in good spirits despite the world falling apart around us. From the basic necessities that were often in shortage, such as water, electricity, and transport, we learnt to cultivate resilience. Moreover, our faith has always made us grateful for what seems like the worst of times.
I am grateful for the last couple of days I spent in Sudan, it was the first time in a long while that my family had come together, we were closer than we had ever been.
The conflict has always been brewing beneath Sudan's surface, and looking back, crisis after crisis, it was signs of leaving. I will never know why my parents decided we stay despite our political groups' hypocrisy and poor judgement. I guess staying was all they had ever known in a long time. It is understandable.
However, like other Sudanese, my parents had built their legacy in Sudan. They are still processing what is and has happened. Our future here is uncertain, but we will push through. We hope we return to our land when the time comes.