Habiba Hamed, my Sudanese sister

How do you introduce yourself to a stranger? This thought ran through my mind the first day of fall semester as I randomly took a seat next to Habiba Hamed.

Donning a fashionably tied hijab and terrifically coordinated outfit, she flashed me a smile then invested her attention in the professor.

First encounters can be tricky. Clearly she was Muslim, but I could assume nothing more. After class, I swallowed my doubts and met her with “salaam al-aykum” (a common greeting amongst Muslims).

Despite a world of differences between us, our friendship blossomed organically and quickly. I want to share with you Habiba Hamed’s story.

From Sudan, Habiba escaped to the United States with her family three years ago. Her emotional and powerful story was described to me from a dichotomous perspective — one that recognized the tragic social ills that plague Sudanese society and government, and the other which gave me a glimpse into fond memories of strong family ties, a passionate people and a beautiful landscape.

Habiba’s favorite memories revolve around family.

With a delightful smile, she shared with me stories of how every time her grandfather would come home with a bag of fish from the morning’s catch, he would announce himself to the family saying, “Santa is here!”

She loved sharing early morning meals laid out on the floor with her entire family, all made from the dear hands of her grandmother. Stories of childhood were shared with the children from the beloved lips of her grandfather. Family, according to Habiba, meant life.

Although she holds tightly onto a fistful of sweet memories, Habiba cannot dismiss the depraved reality she and the rest of Sudan have experienced.

Upon driving through the streets of Khartoum one morning, Habiba recalls seeing a small body slumped on the side of the road.

After further inspection, she discovered the body had been gnashed and dismembered from the common parade of street dogs.

She could guess that the baby had been abandoned out of desperation, as this is a common result of extreme poverty among Sudanese women.

Many of these women who “drop off” their children at the dump, Habiba told me, had been raped and now face the reality of being physically and financially unable to take care of both herself and the baby. Ultimately, she must abandon her baby in order to live.

Although orphanages exist within Khartoum, the number of homeless children overwhelms the carrying capacity of such social programs. Thus, it becomes a matter of time for these abandoned babies to become dog feed.

This is just one of a number of chilling stories Habiba holds within her mental retainer. She blames the government and specifically Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, for the blood, hunger, poverty and violence raging throughout Sudan.

Sudan’s breathtaking geography and vibrant culture contrasts its violent history of corruption, military coups, genocide, poverty and economic instability. Even though the people of Sudan have witnessed decades of civil war which resulted in genocide at the hand of their president, they are still described to me as “beautiful people with beautiful spirits.” I witness this beautiful spirit in Habiba. After spending so much time with her, I do not see a victim. I see an empowered human being. The future she speaks of isn’t tainted by past tragedy. It’s rich in promise.

Her dream, Habiba told me, has always been to attend a university. Her flight from Sudan allowed her to realize that dream. Even more outstanding, she is the first member in her family to receive a formal education.

Habiba plans to use her education from Colorado State University as a weapon to enable and protect her from the perils that plague much of Sudan. She has and will continue to participate in revolutions against the heinous Sudanese government in hopes that her country will see peace and prosperity.

She refuses to let her life and the lives of her Sudanese brothers and sisters be left to dogs.

I am proud to have Habiba Hamed as my Sudanese sister, and I want to call on the CSU community to recognize that we are blessed to have such terrific and inspiring international students among us.