Hiba Mohamed and I used to sit in the shade of a tree next to Omdurman Ahlia University library in the stressful run-up to graduating. We’d discuss our dreams, our despair, and how we could improve life for ourselves and our families.
Hiba was a young student when she first contemplated leaving Sudan, although it would mean leaving her parents and her family, the emotional bedrock of her life. She spent six turbulent years dreaming of moving away, despite the distance it would install between her and those she loved.
But her urge to leave grew steadily: Hiba, who worked as a journalist, felt alienated by the provocation and harassment by police and security officers, who targeted women in general and female reporters in particular.
Journalists faced growing scrutiny due to the notorious Public Order Act, a controversial law which viewed every one as a potential criminal. Women felt the brunt of the controls, for example due to Article 151 on scandalous attire, which enforced a strict dress code.
Home is people we love.
During one clampdown, Hiba was imprisoned and flogged for not adhering to the rules. She also faced harassment in her workplace, and after four years Hiba quit working as a journalist. Her patience snapped and she confided in her mother about her plans to leave. Despite her mothers’ efforts to dissuade her, Hiba’s mind was made up.
After a long wait, she was invited to Britain and her short visit convinced her that she wanted to leave for good. “I am so close of achieving my dream,” she told me afterwards, when we met in a Khartoum restaurant.
I felt joy for my best friend but my tears flowed fast. Finally, she was on the brink of fulfilling her aspirations, but I knew that I would miss her deeply.
And Hiba also felt torn, knowing she would journey to a country where she would live like a foreigner. “My real home is my mother because a home is not a country,” she told me quietly, also fighting back tears. “Home is people we love.”