Elaf: “We didn’t see this coming, we lost everything.”

Until the fighting erupted in Khartoum in April 2023, Elaf Ahmed worked as a personal assistant to the Ambassador of Switzerland to Sudan and Eritrea. But when the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which began in Khartoum, spread to Darfur, North Kordofan and later to the Gezira state and with-it large-scale destruction, Elaf and her family fled to Kenya. She now makes Sudanese snacks from her kitchen, struggling to make ends meet.

“On the day the conflict began in Khartoum, 15 April 2023, I was at home. It was a weekend, and I had an appointment with a doctor downtown. When I left the apartment, I heard the shooting. I stopped everything, and I contacted my colleagues in other embassies and international organizations. They told me it’s an unsafe situation, it’s better to stay at home.

I was living in Arkawit, near the airport.

The situation in that area was very bad. We lost electricity, water, and I remember we brought all the mattresses into the sitting room, to avoid broken glass hitting my children. It was really dangerous.

We stayed there for about five days, living like that. We were fasting as it was Ramadan. We finally decided to leave. Every day, the situation was getting worse. My daughter was crying all the time. She would cry silently, maybe out of fear and trauma. She would cry at the sound of airplanes and at the sound of shooting.

She was four years old and the little one was six months old. We collected small things, including their medicines, as they have asthma.

I collected a few clothes for me and my husband. For the kids, I collected many pieces for them because I could not guarantee where I would wash them. We went to my husband’s home in Jazira state. We stayed there from April to July. We left my parents and brothers behind in Khartoum, in an area called Al Taif. It was in a bad situation because the area was under the control of the RSF.

Fleeing the country

In July, we decided to leave Sudan because the situation was getting worse. We planned to go to Egypt but the little one doesn’t have a passport, so, I added her to my passport. Two days after, the government of Egypt stopped accepting anyone without a passport, so we had to cancel. We started our search again, and we found Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya were options.

We decided to come to Kenya. We thought as we both had academic backgrounds and diplomatic professional experience, it would open good opportunities to find work, because we had lost everything!

When we arrived at Nairobi’s airport, they would not let us in as the little one did not have a passport. More than 12 hours later we were allowed in, after sleeping on an airport bench. We were finally in Nairobi. My husband’s friend had arrived in the city a month before us and found us accommodation.

My daughter has started school here in Nairobi. At first, she struggled with the new environment but now she loves it here and can even speak Swahili!

However, life is not easy. I wish I could back home, I miss my family, everything was stable. I had a good job and salary, but then we lost everything, including our apartment, furniture, our properties and our cars.

We didn’t see this coming. The war just started, and everyone was left in shock. I miss everything about home. I am now jobless; I have nothing to do.

Starting afresh, serving a taste of home

Since I’ve been in Nairobi, I have started a brand called Orjuwan, from my kitchen, cooking Sudanese pastries. I started with two items, Falafel dough and Basbousa and I have since added Kofta and pastry with cheese and beef to the menu.

I got this idea because when we arrived, we missed Falafel and our Sudanese food. I got the idea as I thought many Sudanese must be fleeing to Nairobi and we must all miss the same things.  

I announced my idea through Sudanese WhatsApp groups. So far, business is doing well, but it depends on the financial situation of the Sudanese here.

Hanging on to hope

We are still hopeful for job opportunities. Every night my husband and I stay up to look for jobs on our laptops but there’s nothing. We don’t know how to find work, how can we start the work permit procedures, and from where can we pay for the work permit fees? As we are out of money.

How can we find jobs? Even if we wanted to leave Kenya, we can’t as we don’t have the money to travel, my little daughter doesn’t have a passport and my older daughter’s passport has expired.

Everyone is facing obstacles. Some have lost family members, but I am thankful we are fine.

I just want to provide a safe home for my daughters. As for Sudan, I just want peace.

What would I want to see for Sudan? Peace.

I hope action can be taken against the warring factions. This conflict won’t be solved easily, and it’s the civilians that are losing out. I hope we can have peace as soon as possible.

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