When Ismail thinks of his home in the Darfur region of Sudan, he thinks of food. He remembers the mangos, oranges, lemons and papayas he could pluck from the trees just outside his home, along with the potatoes, peppers, corn and tomatoes that he grew on his small farm. It’s not really the sweetness of the fruit and freshness of those vegetables that Ismail misses most; it’s the meals themselves and what they represented: time with family.
Like hundreds of thousands of Darfur natives, Ismail fled the violence that has engulfed his homeland for most of this century. After being granted refugee status, he came to the United States two years ago and settled in Rochester, N.Y., where he’s now working and attending school to improve his English and hasten his assimilation to American culture. For the past eight years, Ismail’s wife has been only a voice on the phone to him, but he still holds out hope that they can be reunited, either in their home country or in America. His son, Saddam, was able to make the journey to the United States a little over a year ago, but his two daughters remain in Africa.
At home, the family ate most of their meals together. Ismail and his wife could look into each other’s eyes and talk while the children played nearby. Ismail is grateful for the safety he has found in America, but his heart remains with this family. Saddam is now a young man, but even though the two share an apartment, they’re kept so busy with work and school that they can’t find time to share their meals.
“The only time I see him now is when he’s asleep,” Saddam says of this father.