A British teacher who was forced to flee Sudan amid the outbreak of fighting has told her shock and fear as she made her way to Egypt.
Zoe Salim, a former head of languages in a London school, was visiting Khartoum with her husband and two children for Ramadan.
She has visited Sudan regularly over the past eight years, and was in the country during the coup in 2019, but nothing could have prepared her for the rapid escalation of violence.
“When we came there was tension. They were slowly increasing security checkpoints on the street, especially at night. Normally they never stop and check women driving, but they were even checking female drivers,” Salim said. “There was nothing to say that this was going to happen. The night before, I was with my sister-in-law and our friends, playing this game called sequence that we play a lot during Ramadan. When we got home at three o’clock in the morning, it was normal.”
The next day she heard bangs and was confused as to what it was. “Then I heard explosions. I woke my husband and we went to turn on the news and then we saw what was happening,” she said.
Though she was staying in an area that was near the violence, her home wasn’t raided. “What was difficult was I kept trying to call the embassy, but the line was dead. So my mum was calling the Foreign Office in England and she was getting information from them, but I wasn’t getting any information from the embassy.
“Then it got to a point where water was also cut, and we were running low on what we had stored.”
She added: “I’m trying to call the embassy to try and find out what’s happening and nothing. You could not get through to them. The line was dead.”
Salim knew there were some evacuations, but she didn’t know if they would include her in-laws. “I’m a British passport holder. My kids are British passport holders. My husband is a permanent resident. He’s not a British passport holder. We wouldn’t have left without our in-laws. We didn’t know what to do.”
Salim managed to secure a bus with friends and use the petrol they had between them.
“We left at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday. To get out of Khartoum, it usually takes 40 minutes – it took us two and a half hours. We had three army check-ups. By 7am, I’ve had three sets of guns pointed at me,” she said.
She describes waiting at the border between Sudan and Egypt as the worst part of the journey. They got to Argeen at 8.20pm, but didn’t get through to the visa section until 4am.
“There were two days where each kid just had a packet of crisps for food and we were running low on water. Argeen didn’t treat people like humans. It was really hot and really challenging to see them in that condition. They were covered in flies and dirty,” Salim said.
“But the fact that they can still laugh and play and enjoy themselves together in those conditions was really beautiful. They were just finding bottle tops and building things with them. It was really sweet.”
Salim and her family are currently safe in Egypt, though she is still waiting to hear from other loved ones. It will take a while for normality to set in again.
She said: “We still think that we hear gunshots. Any rumble and I’m like, why are there fighter jets. My heart skips a beat and I’m like, is there an explosion? I just I can’t help it. It’s the same for my sister-in-law. We literally just experienced a week of this. People who go through longer stints of war, I don’t even understand how they move forward.”