On the evening of April 11, 2019, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. I was scheduled to do a series of TV interviews the next morning, to discuss the fall of the Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. I had spent eight years reporting in Sudan as a freelance journalist, mostly writing for the Times. At 3 a.m., my brother called and asked me to meet him immediately. Our father, who had been hospitalized for four months, had passed away. I cancelled all commitments.
An immigrant from Sudan, my father grew up in the nineteen-sixties, an era when many bright young Sudanese students won scholarships to pursue higher education in the U.S. A graduate of the University of Khartoum, in Sudan, he had studied to become a wildlife expert. But decades of mismanagement, war, and man-made drought devastated the country’s national parks. A five-star hotel replaced Khartoum’s only zoo.
In 1964, my father participated in the October Revolution protests, which unseated Sudan’s first military dictator, Ibrahim Abbud. My father belonged to a generation that had big dreams of progress—the “generation of giving,” as one Sudanese poet called it. In 1980, having completed a Ph.D. in ecology at the University of California, Davis, he returned to Sudan with high hopes for the country. Within a year, the political and economic realities of the time—dictatorship, inflation, and unemployment—forced my father and many of his peers to reluctantly leave again and live abroad, as émigrés.