A Sudanese Refugee Brings a Taste of Home to the U.S.

Kaltum Mohamed and her husband, Ahmed Suliman, with their children, from left, Masagid, Manara, Abdelrahman, Maazah and Mohamed at their home in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Kaltum Mohamed took one last look at the inside of her home in the Darfur region of Sudan and closed the front door. She took the hands of her children, then 5 and 3, and walked away.

She moved slowly, burdened with the few practical possessions she could bring and the small cache of money and valuables hidden inside her clothing.

It was 2003, the beginning of fighting between rebel groups and government forces that would eventually displace millions and create what the United Nations called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“I was panicking from the troubles and the fighting,” Ms. Mohamed, 44, said in an interview in Salt Lake City last month, partly in English and partly in Sudanese Arabic through an interpreter. “I left everything behind in Darfur, everything I owned, taking just what I could carry.”

Through a friend already on the way to Libya, she had sent a note to her husband, Ahmed Suliman, saying that she was coming to him. Mr. Suliman had a good income and security in Libya, where he had been for four years. He owned a farm and a small grocery store, and he also arranged transportation carrying people back and forth from Sudan to Benghazi, Libya.

Ms. Mohamed and her children boarded a transport truck, which took two weeks to reach Libya. During the trip, they would sometimes get out and walk, joining a stream of refugees who had also left their homes.

As she walked with the children, Ms. Mohamed tried to think about being safe with her husband and not dwell on the fact that nearly all her worldly goods were gone forever.

Ms. Mohamed recalled walking in an ever-changing line of friends and strangers. When she would stop to rest, the line would move on. Sometimes she would recognize those she had seen before. Others she lost track of.

Some were hopeful, glad to have escaped with their lives. Others walked slowly, heads bowed in despair at all they had lost.

The line seemed endless.

Ms. Mohamed met her husband in Kufra, Libya. With the family reunited and heading to Benghazi together, they felt relief, as if the travails of seeking refuge were over.

They spent nearly a decade in comfort and relative safety, having three more children. But after the Arab Spring protests began in 2011, violence flared, and the family decided to flee. They decided to go to the Saloum refugee and resettlement camp in Egypt, more than 800 miles away.

The journey, in their own car, was easier this time. But on the way, the car hit an obstacle and rolled several times. Ms. Mohamed, not belted in, was roughly thrown around, hitting her head several times; she would have headaches and nausea for weeks afterward. Hours after the accident, another family offered to drive them to their destination in Egypt.

In the camp, she and her husband filled out resettlement documents, which were given to the International Rescue Committee, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. While at the camp, Ms. Mohamed earned money by cooking her native Sudanese food and learned to prepare food for large groups.

“I love to cook,” she said. “I have been cooking since I was 7 years old. That is why they call me ‘mother of all.’”

In 2013, the family learned they would be resettled in Salt Lake City. When they arrived that April, “I felt safe for the first time in years,” Ms. Mohamed said.

After settling in the family’s new home, Ms. Mohamed expressed interest in starting a food business and in September 2014 was enrolled in the Spice Kitchen Incubator, an International Rescue Committee program that helps resettled refugees develop food businesses.

Ms. Mohamed began her catering business, specializing in Sudanese cuisine, in February 2015. She and her husband also matched their savings through an International Rescue Committee program, and reinvested it in the business. Ms. Mohamed dreamed of eventually expanding the business and owning a food truck.

Natalie El-Deiry, the deputy director of the agency in Salt Lake City, said, “One of the remarkable things about Kaltum and her family is that they utilized every single program we have at the I.R.C. to move their family forward, to become independent and self-sufficient.”

Two years after starting the business, the couple were able to meet their goal. Their bright green truck, like the business, is named Mother of All. Mr. Suliman, 57, drives the truck and helps with the catering. They want to continue to save and buy a bigger truck.

“I want all Americans to taste my food,” Ms. Mohamed said.

The family is approaching five years of living in the United States, which means they will soon be able to apply for citizenship. “We will be lucky to have them as citizens in this great country,” Ms. El-Deiry said.

Looking around her four-bedroom apartment during the interview, Ms. Mohamed said, “We are lucky to be here.”

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