The tragic news came in a phone call Wednesday night.
Adam Mohammed, who
moved back to South Sudan last month, leaving behind the popular Tel Aviv humous
restaurant he opened with two fellow Darfurian refugees, was killed a day
earlier in a car accident on the way to Juba.
The accident came less than
a month after Adam left Israel, his home for four years, to start over in South
Sudan. Though he is originally from Darfur, he said he hoped that he could move
to Juba and practice law again so he could bring his parents to live with him in
the South Sudanese capital. He said his parents live in a Darfurian refugee camp
in Chad, and that they need someone to take care of them in their final
Adam was one of a growing number of Sudanese, most of them from
South Sudan, who have decided to return home after South Sudan gained its
independence this July. His four-year sojourn in Israel ended in November, when
he flew to Juba by way of Cairo.
He was enrolled in Ulpan Gordon in north
Tel Aviv where he studied until he left Israel, which gave him shelter after his
home village was burned to the ground by gunmen sent by Khartoum.
he expressed a veteran immigrant’s fascination and love of his newfound home, he
also admitted to a strong desire to make it back to Africa.
everything is much better, the life is better, everything, but Africa is ours,”
he said in November, a week before leaving Israel.
“You can live in some
other country, wherever, but you must return to your country, and I want to live
my life there,” Adam said, though he added “Darfur is my first home, but Israel
is my second.”
In a sense his words were reminiscent of Israeli expats in
America or elsewhere, who admit the quality of life is better in their newfound
home, but can never shake the desire to get back to their country, their family
and the familiar surroundings they grew up in.
In spite of the ongoing
fighting in Sudan, he expressed a cautious, if possibly stubborn optimism about
his future in the country he fled.
“We always hear about war there, all
the time, it’s always going on. If you wait until there’s no war there then you
never go back. Israel has helped us very much but I think I will go to Africa
and will set up some thing and see what there will be in Sudan.”
outside “Humous Gan Eden,” the restaurant he opened with his friends Hassan
Abdel Malik Mohammed and Muhi Mohammed in early 2009, Mohammed said he would be
leaving the food service behind.
“I’ll go back into my work, which is to
be lawyer. But I’ll see what there is; find a better business than a
This week, from the South Sudan city of Aweil, only two days
before his life was cut short, Adam expressed sadness over leaving Israel, mixed
with a cautious optimism for the future of his native Darfur.
hard to be with people four years and then to leave them. So I’m not happy
because I left Israel and there is no peace in Darfur yet, but it is good to be
back,” he said, as the phone cut in and out.
While tens of thousands of
African refugees and migrants have made Israel their home in recent years, the
story of Humous Gan Eden (“Paradise Humous”) painted a picture of an immigrant
success story, albeit one whose future could be in doubt.
made the restaurant into something of a local success story (it is currently
among six nominees in Time Out magazine’s best hummus restaurant poll – no small
feat in a city which takes chickpeas seriously) the three friends began to go
their separate ways earlier in the year, and now Hassan is left behind to run
the burgeoning humous enterprise on his own.
Muhi was the first to leave
the business, and now works at a hotel restaurant on the Tel Aviv beachfront
Muhi set off several months ago due to “personal problems,”
namely a divorce from his wife. The two had been reunited in Israel four years
ago after Muhi’s wife fled Darfur six months after Muhi with their newborn
According to Hassan, Muhi’s wife refused his pleas to return to
Darfur by way of the newly independent South Sudan, and their marriage became
He added that Muhi could never quite accept the gender roles in
Israel, where a wife could simply nix her husband’s plans at will.
said this week that he canceled his partnership in the restaurant four or five
months ago and things have been “really, really, very hard,” with him and his
Muhi said he is now trying to gain custody of his two young
children, and, if he succeeds, he will make his way back to Sudan as
He said he sees his children twice a week and spends the rest of
his time working, adding “I don’t have a choice, I have to work. It’s not so
comfortable but its OK.”
Though he appeared rattled by the news of Adam’s
death, Hassan, whose parents were killed in the fighting in Darfur, vowed that
he will keep the restaurant open. Hassan took the day off on Thursday in order
to speak with friends and family of Adam’s back in Juba, who he said are trying
to get to the site of the car crash to figure out what happened.
said the stretch of road between Aweil and Juba where Adam died is unpaved and
especially dangerous, and that one false move can spell a man’s death. He added
that he had heard rumors the driver had been drinking when the accident
happened, and that the car Adam was traveling in hit an SUV head on before
flipping several times.
Over the next few days Hassan said he will begin
planning a memorial service for Adam, who he said was very well known in the
small Darfurian community in Israel as well as back in Sudan. Hassan said they
will probably close the restaurant next Friday and hold a prayer service and
luncheon in Adam’s honor, but that they probably won’t be able to hold the
traditional several-day Islamic mourning period.
“We have to work, we
can’t just close the restaurant,” he said, shrugging his shoulders in a typical
Israeli “what can you do” sort of gesture.
Hassan said friends of Adam’s
in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across Israel are still unaware or unable to grasp
his death, and that many are crestfallen that they never got a chance to say
goodbye before he left for Africa.
They are left with memories and
perhaps the sentiments he expressed before leaving Israel, a sort of melancholy
over leaving the friends he’d made, mixed with hope for a future
“I’ve thought about returning to Israel someday. Maybe when I
get married someday, I’ll do it in Israel,” he joked, on the line long distance
from a far-off corner of South Sudan two days before his return to Africa ended