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Crosscurrents is our award-winning radio news magazine, broadcasting Mondays through Thursdays at 11 a.m. on 91.7 FM. We make joyful, informative stories that engage people across the economic, social, and cultural divides in our community. Listen to full episodes at kalw.org/crosscurrents

Bay Area Sudanese protest unrest back home

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Hana Baba
Sudanese Americans protest at City Hall

On October 30, Sudanese diaspora communities in cities around the world held support rallies in solidarity with the protests happening in Sudan after the military seized power from a transitional government in a coup on October 25th, arresting civilian leaders, under the premise of what they called "correcting its path".

The result? Mass protests for two weeks now in multiple cities, an internet shut down and protesters shot dead by security forces.

Bay Area Sudanese rallied at San Francisco City Hall- they’d done this before- 2 years ago when the country overthrew another military regime.

The mental toll of unrest back home can be hard on a diaspora watching, and reliving trauma from far away.

On the day of the rally, hundreds of Sudanese are on the steps of SF City Hall, with drums and tambourines, engaged in revolutionary chants against the military.

‘We see all these videos,and still obligated to somehow go to work, still somehow go to school while you seeing your family members and friends getting killed for no reason!”
Shahinaz Khidr

It feels like deja vous. These same people were on these same steps in 2019. Again, the diaspora is glued to their mobile screens, desperate for news. But this time, it’s during a pandemic. People are still grieving, trying to find a new normal. And there’s anger and disbelief that this is happening all over again.

27- year old Shahinaz Khidr is wrapped in a Sudanese flag, wearing a shirt that says ‘Sudan Uprising’. She says the stream of videos coming out of Sudan is relentless. Disturbing images and bloody videos fill Facebook timelines and WhatsApp chats. Protesters being chased, beaten, shot.

Hana Baba
Shahinaz Khidr - Sudanese Americans protest at City Hall

“I keep crying for hours, I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” she says.

‘You’re seeing all these videos, you’re far away, but you’re still obligated to still somehow go to work, still somehow go to school, you’re asked to live your normal life when you see your family members, your friends, even people you don’t know - killed for no reason. ”

Shahinaz says, for her, yes, this is a repeat of the trauma of 2019, but she’s hoping it can also be a repeat of the victory that came after. And she says, self care is important right now. She advises, “Take a break, eat and drink, making sure I’m well enough so I can keep doing what I’m doing- keep chanting for them, be their voices.”

A lot of the time, survivor’s guilt prevents people from practicing that self care. Studies show survivor’s guilt affects migrants and refugees’ mental health, and productivity.

Sara Elhag of Tracy

15-year old Sarah Elhag came with her family from Tracy. She says what’s been hard for her is living in two worlds- constant worry at home, and then having to have a regular school day with kids who have no idea what she and her family are going through. She says, “ I feel like I’m watching these people getting murdered and killed, and I’m watching people who don’t even know about it, and all that feels very heartbreaking.”

Shah Noor Hussein is at the protest, snapping photos. She’s a 29 year old artist and scholar from Oakland and says “For a few days, it didn’t quite dawn on me. It didn’t quite settle in my bones. And it wasn’t until day 2 or 3 when I just started to think, wow, so the last 2 years of progress and effort and labor- feels like it’s being backrolled, really quickly.”

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Shah Noor Hussein of Oakland

She says, coming to rallies like this is therapeutic the people, the energy, the sounds... She describes, ““inter-generational Sudanese protest- Arabic chants, Sudanese chants, English chants, people singing songs, there was the national anthem, instruments, there was consistent honking of horns..”

Another way Sudanese millennials and Gen Z’s are coping this time around is on new social audio platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, to gather, listen, and virtually hold each other.

Sara Elhassan is a freelance writer and prominent social media personality. She posts about Sudan at all times of day and night to her tens of thousands of followers. She says she’s living on ‘Sudan time’.

“We feel a duty to go above and beyond because we weren’t there in 2019, and because we’re here in relative comfort and not in the danger that the Sudanese people on the ground are facing,” she says, “so we feel like we have to go extra hard, to make up for that.”

Sara recently co-hosted a Twitter space where she invited people to just come and take a break from the timeline, and just be in their feelings.

She says, “A lot of the comments from people even after the spaces ended were like, I felt comforted. One girl said I feel like you’re all my cousins. I feel like I’m talking to my cousins right now.”

In the Twitter space, people vent, some yell, others cry. Sara says she felt relief. “I was surprised that I did, because it was such a heavy space. And everybody was sharing very dark feelings. But I came out of that feeling lighter.”

One person in another space she was in said something that resonated deeply.

“He said yes, the Sudanese people are resilient, “ she says. “But I’m tired of hearing about their resilience, and I wanna hear about their fragility, I wanna hear about their vulnerability- because we’re people.”

Sara says that’s important- to counter the damaging narrative that Africans are used to death and disaster.

“Hearing that was really affirming to me, cuz I am tired of acting like I’m brave and okay. I’m not okay. We’re not okay! This is not okay. This situation is abnormal. And though it’s been a recurring thing in our history, that doesn’t make it normal.”

She says it’s always special when someone inside Sudan hops into the Twitter space.

“They always end whatever they’re saying with ‘we’re okay, we’re fine’,” she says. “And don’t worry because our spirits are high. Don’t worry because we’re determined.’ That gives me hope. Because if they feel that, I have no reason not to.”

Back to IRL- at the protest, things are winding down. Shah Noor Hussein is packing up her camera.. She looks around and says, even these final moments of a rally are meaningful and fill her.

“It’s the kids running around playing and no one’s watching,” she smiles, “the aunties telling you to clean up all the leftover food, it’s the vibes of - we all got together, even under such dire circumstances, even while we can’t reach our families, and decided to make each other be our family today to do this protest.”

Click the play button above to listen to this story.

KALW News Crosscurrents
Hana Baba is host of Crosscurrents, KALW's weeknight newsmagazine that broadcasts on KALW Public Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.