Darfurian refugee dies tragically after return to S.Sudan

“Darfur is my first home, but Israel is my second," humous restaurateur said shortly before embarking back home.

Adam Mohammed (R) _311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Adam Mohammed (R) _311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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 years.
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.
While 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.
“Here 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.”
Sitting 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 restaurant.”
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.
“It’s very 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.
Though they 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 promenade.
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 infant.
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 strained.
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.
Muhi 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 ex-wife.
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 well.
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.
Hassan 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 reunion.
“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 in tragedy.