Fear, guilt and hope in Sudan

An army and a militia are destroying our country, but we cannot give up; we, the Sudanese people, will persevere.

A person stands holding their hands over their heads as they look towards damaged buildings following clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in South Khartoum, Sudan.
Damaged buildings are seen following clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in South Khartoum, Sudan on April 25, 2023 [Reuters]

As Muslims all around the world celebrated Eid with their families, I had a hard time getting into a festive mood. I was thousands of kilometres away from where I should have been: in our family home in Omdurman, the Sudanese capital Khartoum’s twin city.

Instead of celebrating Eid with my family, I – like millions of other Sudanese people inside and outside Sudan – spent the last few days of the holy month hunched over my phone, watching on social media my people being killed and my home city being destroyed by an army and a militia.

Instead of going to visit relatives, eating out with friends, taking my children to our extended family, enjoying the overcrowded streets, the smell of delicious food and the joyful sounds of Sudanese music blasting from every passing tik-tok, I was watching these places full of childhood memories turn into a war zone in real time.

I would jump from one video to another of Sudanese soldiers shouting Allahu Akbar, celebrating the capture of other Sudanese soldiers wearing a slightly different camouflage uniform, all boasting the Sudanese flag on their chests.

When I was not on social media, I would switch between news channels trying to see if they would say anything new. I would see the same videos replayed, but with the added commentary of foreign military analysts who said nothing of substance.

Other talking heads would affirm the need for negotiations and peace but would fail to mention who or what could make the two warring sides sit down and talk. Meanwhile, spokespeople for the army and the militia would trade blame for yet another broken truce.

No one could say when this nightmare would be over. The only thing that was clear was that the Sudanese people who had been protesting for four years now, demanding a democratic civilian government, have been right all along and everyone forcing them to compromise with the army and the militia has been wrong. Now these same brave people are held hostage by the army and the militia and their vicious war.

And this was not the first Eid in recent years that the Sudanese people spent mourning the dead instead of celebrating with the living. In 2019, the army and the militia targeted a sit-in in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum, killing more than 120 people, raping dozens and injuring hundreds.

Justice is yet to be served for the crimes committed that Eid. And perhaps to avoid facing accountability for this and other crimes, the leadership of the army and the militia decided to derail the democratic transition in Sudan and capture power. Only they were so greedy that they could not agree on how to share it.

As the fighting intensified, my family – spread across Khartoum and Omdurman – decided to come together to our family house. Amid the horror and chaos, we received some good news – they had all made it safely home, while dodging rocket fire.

They found our 100-year-old house scarred by the fighting. My cousin sent a video to the family WhatsApp group showing the outside walls riddled with bullet holes and an unexploded rocket that had landed in the backyard next to our lemon tree.

It was hard to believe that this was the same house where I had spent all Eids together with my big family; this was the same tree that we would climb as children and pick lemons to make juice for our guests; this was that same backyard that most of our neighbours used as a venue for their weddings and funerals.

In that backyard – our elders had told us – a great-grandmother had buried her gold in 1897, when she and her family fled their hometown of El Matama to Omdurman. They escaped a massacre by the Mahdist forces, which ruled over Sudan at that time and which had attacked the town, targeting a dissenting local emir and his supporters. Still feeling insecure, my great-grandmother decided to hide her valuables, just in case she had to flee again.

Ironically, more than 100 years later, my family decided to go back to El Matama, as Omdurman – once a haven – has turned into a war zone.

We all participated in the preparations for the trip. All of us got on WhatsApp groups and social media, gathering information about the safety of the roads, the location of checkpoints run by the army and the militia, the best times to move to avoid shelling or crossfire, the numbers of microbus drivers and their ever-growing rates, etc.

As we discussed the best way to do the evacuation, I suggested to my aunts that they bury their gold in the backyard, just like our great-grandmother. No one replied.

Although many of our acquaintances made it out of Khartoum and Omdurman, my family is still stuck there. Until now, they haven’t been able to find a vehicle big enough to take all of them and a route safe enough to get them to El Matama, which is about a four-hour drive north of Omdurman. The internet blackouts have not helped.

As the days passed, I felt double guilt. On the one hand, I felt bad that I could not bring myself to celebrate with my children, who love Eid and its traditions. On the other, I felt guilty for sitting in the safety of my home in Norway, while my friends and family were trapped in their homes, offices and even schools in Sudan, praying that they survive this devastating war.

Yet, I have also felt pride in how my people have mobilised yet again in the face of a calamity. As the Sudanese state crumbled and international aid organisations suspended operations, the Sudanese resistance committees took over their vital functions. They maintained the provision of medical assistance, kept some hospitals and clinics open, scrambled to supply staff and medication, coordinated food deliveries and evacuations, did the impossible to find fuel for much-needed transport vehicles and spread information about safe routes out of combat hot spots.

Before the conflict broke out, these loosely organised grassroots committees kept the pro-democracy movement in Sudan going. Despite the coup, despite the repression and the threats, they held weekly protests demanding civilian rule.

In this dark moment of fear and despair, these people give me hope that Sudan can and will have a better, brighter future. They give me hope that soon, my family and I will celebrate Eid in our home in Omdurman, in the safety and security of a prosperous new Sudan, led by a democratically elected civilian government.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.