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Cedar Rapids man home from Sudan after harrowing journey
Mohamed Ahmed was stranded in Sudan for weeks after war broke out last month
CEDAR RAPIDS — Mohamed Ahmed was welcomed home Tuesday evening by his wife and a dozen family and friends in a delayed homecoming after being stranded in Sudan when war broke out last month.
Mohamed’s wife, Jacy Bunnell Ahmed of Cedar Rapids, jumped into her husband’s arms at The Eastern Iowa Airport. Mohamed hugged his three daughters — Scarlett Bunnell, 13, Sacha Bunnell, 10 and Layla Ahmed, 6.
Mohamed, 38, was in Sudan for his father’s funeral. He was to fly home April 19, but fighting between military factions damaged and closed the Khartoum airport before he could leave.
Jacy said she hasn’t “come across the right word” for how it felt to have had her husband stranded in another country at war. After hugging her husband for the first time in weeks, Jacy said she felt “relieved” and “elated.”
“It was surreal,” Jacy said. “I was just hoping I would wake up. I was just terrified and became hyper-focused on getting the word out.”
A battle for control of Sudan erupted on April 15, after months of escalating tensions between the military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and a rival paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
Civilians have been packing buses and trucks for Sudan’s northern border with Egypt. Many others headed to Port Sudan, on the country’s Red Sea coast.
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When they arrived in Port Sudan after a 20-hour journey, they found thousands, including many women and children, camping outside the port area. Many had been in the open air for more than a week, with no food or basic services in the sweltering heat. Others crowded into mosques or hotels inside the city.
Mohamed spent almost a week on a bus at the Egyptian border. The daylong bus trip to the Egyptian border, which typically costs $250, now costs $3,000, as the demand to get out of the war-torn country has skyrocketed.
Jacy said her husband told her how hard it was to see the kids “very scared and needing food and water” when there was none, she said. One woman even died on the bus trip to Egypt, as people fled the northeast African country.
Mohamed said two people died every day at the border during his five days there from medical conditions, injuries and dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Ahmed was granted a visitor’s visa into Egypt. There, he was able to get to Cairo before flying from Amman, Jordan, to Chicago, and then from Chicago to Cedar Rapids on American Airlines Flight 3808, which arrived at The Eastern Iowa Airport at 8:26 p.m. Tuesday.
The trip was Mohamed’s first return to Sudan after moving to the U.S. 13 years ago to attend Kirkwood Community College. Mohamed became a U.S. citizen in 2016, but his family — his mother, brother, two sisters, and three nieces and nephews who are under 10-years-old — are still in Sudan. They live across the River Nile from Khartoum, where they can hear and see the military clashes.
Now with Mohamed home, Jacy said it’s “inevitable” that his family will have to flee Sudan and they are trying to find ways to help them. Jacy said they can’t send money right now since the banking system and internet services are down.
“There is nowhere for them to go at this point,” Mohamed said.
Through GoFundMe, an online fundraising platform, $16,000 has been raised for the family, $8,000 of which was matched by Scheels, a sporting goods store in Coralville that the Ahmeds clean through their business, MJ Commercial Cleaning LLC. This surpasses their goal of raising $7,000.
The donation from Scheels “meant the world,” Jacy said. “I felt dizzy when I saw it. It felt like we won the lottery.” Any money the family doesn’t need will be donated to help other people in Sudan, she said.
Jacy said the uncertainty of Mohamed’s situation over the last few weeks has been especially hard for Sacha. Scarlett has been Jacy’s “rock.” “I know she’ll always remember what we went through,” Jacy said.
Scarlett said she thought it would be “months” before she saw her stepfather again. “It was an unanswered question,” she said at the airport while waiting for Mohamed’s plane to land. “The only thing we could do was get him on the bus” to Egypt.
At least 447 civilians have been killed and more than 2,255 wounded since the fighting began, according to figures provided Tuesday by the Doctors’ Syndicate, which tracks civilian casualties. The Sudanese Health Ministry said it counted at least 550 people killed, including civilians and combatants, with more than 4,900 wounded as of Monday.
Among those killed is Dr. Bushra Sulieman, a doctor who lived in Sudan and traveled to work at Mercy Iowa City several times a year. Sulieman was reportedly stabbed to death outside his home in Khartoum while escorting his father to a dialysis appointment.
The fighting has displaced at least 334,000 people inside Sudan, and sent tens of thousands more to neighboring countries — Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia, according to U.N. agencies. Aid workers are increasingly concerned about lack of basic services in these areas.
The U.N. high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi warned that the number of people fleeing to neighboring countries could surpass 800,000.
At the airport, Lisa and Mike Buckman, family friends, also welcomed Mohamed home. They drove from their home in Minnesota.
“They’re family,” Lisa said. “We wanted to welcome him home and give him a hug. It was a horrific ordeal.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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