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Mama Marta: A life well lived in Khartoum

Mohamed Hilali
Marta came from Ethiopia and lived in Sudan for more than thirty years. Though she died, her warm smile never fades away.
11.06.2014  |  Khartoum
 مارتا لاغسا جيما، 20  فبراير 2007.
مارتا لاغسا جيما، 20 فبراير 2007.

Marta Lagsa Jima was born in Addis Ababa in 1967. Her father was in the Ethiopian army and she lived a happy life. Her happiness was short-lived as the situation in her country took a bloody turn forcing her to flee to Sudan in 1985.

After arriving to Sudan, Marta learnt to cook at the Hilton Hotel in Khartoum, and according to her husband Talaho Namamo, Marta worked in several establishments, mostly foreign, before she began working with Goethe-Institute in 2003.

Talaho said he met Marta in 1995 (although they both arrived to Sudan in 1985) and they got married the same year. Marta gave birth to their only child, Betty, in 1998.

Talaho Namamo
© Betty Talahon
Marta spent more than 30 years among the Sudanese people and these years were marked by exceptional amity and affection.

Marta ran the Goethe-Institute cafeteria for more than eight years during which she cultivated special relationship with writers, intellectuals, journalists, political activists and artists in addition to a large number of students and youth groups.

Goethe-Institute cafeteria was a safe haven for these people and they saw Marta as an inspiration and a close friend thanks to her outstanding personality and her distinctive style in running the cafeteria, which was actually the heart of this unique cultural and social experience.

The Head of Library and Information Section at the Goethe-Institute in Khartoum Sahar Salah said: Marta was a beacon of hope for all of us. She regarded us as her own children and used to inquire about everything in our life to make sure that we are alright.”

Marta was a beacon of hope for all of us.”
Sahar Salah
Marta loved her job and loved everything she was doing in her life to the extent that during her last days, she used to come to the cafeteria immediately after taking her dose [of cancer medicine] despite her excruciating pain,” Salah added.

Marta used to give aid in kind and in cash to the nursing home in Khartoum on a monthly basis. She used to send the aid in secret and never told anyone,” she stressed.

Marta’s friend, artist Isam Abdelhafiz, described Marta saying: Her relationship with the Sudanese people made up for the homeland she has lost and she managed to turn her exile into a positive energy that enriched the life of all those around her.”

Her relationship with the Sudanese people made up for the homeland she has lost.”
Isam Abdelhafiz
Marta was not just someone serving coffee or food to customers, but she was a special person capable of establishing intimate relationship with people of all ages. She became the mother and the sister of many because she had the gift of accepting everyone regardless of their differences and she did that so politely and so compassionately,” Abdelhafiz added.

Marta spontaneously created a social activity, parallel to the academic and cultural activity, provided by Goethe-Institute,” he concluded.

Young journalist Nidal Ajeeb, who was a regular customer in the cafeteria, said many people associated Goethe-Institute with Marta and they used to come especially for her.

After Marta’s death, I visited Goethe-Institute and when I got there, I felt that something is missing and I realised that she is really gone,” she added and praised Marta’s determination.

We were all amazed by the courage she showed while battling her terminal disease, by her faith in life and by the love inside her which embraced all people,” Nidal said.

Away from the centre of Khartoum where Marta worked, we went to Al Sahafa Neighbourhood where she lived with her family. Jamal Abdelsalam, resident of the same neighbourhood, said he had a special relationship with Marta.

After all the years she spent in Sudan, Marta never intended to return to Ethiopia. She dedicated her life to her daughter who was born and raised in Sudan (the country in which all her friends live) and this may explain why Marta had not returned after all,” Jamal said.

After all the years she spent in Sudan, Marta never intended to return to Ethiopia.”
Jamal Abdelsalam
However, Jamal added, Marta’s illness sometimes made her long for home and she used to say she had wished to pay one visit to her homeland to see how things are and return to Sudan.
Perhaps it was a coincidence that the 21st of last March, which marked Mother’s Day, also marked the end of Marta’s life. Marta was for her family a warmhearted and caring mother because she offered unconditional support and love to them.

As she used to calmly walk and talk to everyone at Goethe-Institute, Marta left this earth so calmly after 47 years most of which she spent in Sudan away from the homeland and family she was forced to leave.

Thanks to her unique personality, Marta managed to make new friends, family and children with her pure love and limitless generosity.

In the hearts of the people who knew her, the memory of Marta is enshrined forever.