Sadiq Ismail, 21 years old, from Bagra, Sudan
“Oh, it is easy for me to write lyrics, it goes ‘chik chak’ quickly,” Sadiq smiled playfully. “My songs talk about peace, love, rights…and the land.” For Sadiq, the land in his music is the special fields outside of his village of Bagra.
“My father and I would go on hikes to see the beautiful rivers and the green everywhere,” Sadiq reminisced about growing up in Darfur, Sudan. He loves being in nature. Rather than make the long journey to the nearest school, he worked outdoors with his father. “My family was very rich,” Sadiq stated. “We were farmers with many crops, cows, and sheep.”
One day in 2003 his village was burned and erased. Sadiq, only 9 years old at the time, awoke to shelling from the sky and loud cries from his neighbors. The Janjaweed militiamen were coming. Sadiq’s mother took him and his two sisters and fled. His father, however, remained to look after the family’s property. Running for days amidst the injured and dying, they eventually reached a refugee camp in Zalingei. There he sadly learned that his father had been killed shortly after his family’s escape. Sadiq’s mother overheard that the government-backed Janjaweed wanted to murder all men and boys who did not support them. She told Sadiq to hide in the faraway mountains. Although he was scared to leave, Sadiq obeyed. “I was 9, and before that I never knew what it was like to be alone.”
From the mountains, Sadiq witnessed the destruction of his homeland. “I was sure that Darfur no longer existed.” Luckily, he was spotted by a group of fellow Fur tribesmen also fleeing the Janjaweed and together they travelled to Khartoum. In Khartoum they heard harrowing accounts of Darfurians being imprisoned, raped, and killed at the hands of government forces. Concluding that there was no safety in Sudan, Sadiq fled to Libya with other Fur men.
In light of increasing racism and violence in Libya, the men who looked after Sadiq decided to travel to Egypt to seek help in a refugee camp. Though they had to pay a large sum of money to get Sadiq a passport, they were determined not to abandon him. Upon arrival in Egypt, reports started surfacing that the Egyptian authorities were permitting Sudanese authorities to capture Darfurian refugees living in Egypt. When the eldest member of the group suggested that they try their luck in neighboring Israel, Sadiq agreed to come along.
Sadiq made it to Israel through Sinai, though he lost his shoes in the commotion and badly cut his feet on the barbed wire fence between Israel and Egypt. As he sat in the sand and cried from fear and pain, an Israeli soldier approached him and handed him his military socks. Sadiq kept that pair of socks as a memento. “They are my history,” he explained. But when Knesset Member Miri Regev referred to the Sudanese in Israel as a “cancer,” Sadiq threw the socks in the garbage. Today, he regrets his decision. Now he tells himself that “a person does not throw their history in the garbage because of Miri Regev.”
Sadiq entered Israel when he was 14 and soon found himself living in an overcrowded shelter in Tel Aviv with 300 other asylum seekers. Volunteers from “Hanaor Haoved Vehalomed” youth organization found Sadiq and helped him take his case to the Israeli Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted him residency in Israel. He began 9th grade in a classroom full of Israelis.
“Even today, if anything ever happens to me I know I can go back there and speak to anyone,” he said with a smile. “They are the kind of people that make you feel like a human being, they listen.” When the students started 12th grade, everybody began to talk about their upcoming military draft. Sadiq was excited “to serve the country that helped us so much.” Yet his attempts at enlisting were denied because he was without a proper residency status. “All of my friends went to the army,” Sadiq explained. “I wanted to continue with them and to serve with them too.” To make matters worse, no university would accept Sadiq without a proper visa.
Today Sadiq lives in Rishon LeZion with an old friend from the boarding school and works in a cafe in Tel Aviv. When he is off from work he is busy practicing and performing with his band Darfur Star. “We chose the name Darfur Star, because through music Darfur will come anew.”
Today Darfur Star performs for both Israeli and African audiences. “When I perform in front of people, I want to explain everything. This way the crowd understands where I am from, what I have done, what my music says.” Sadiq sees his music as a tool to counter the xenophobia and racism his community struggles against. “Music is unique,” he insisted. “It doesn't matter that there are some people who hate other people, because no one hates music.”
Growing up in Sudan, Sadiq did not receive any formal education. “I want to study international relations. Politicians should not only intervene when bad things happen, but work to improve lives every day.” He hopes to one day have a position at the UN. When asked about his future as a musician, Sadiq was certain that music will remain an essential part of his life. “What is best is that I have students that I taught, and though I may not have time, they can play.”
Photos: Shayanne Gal / Story: Untold Stories of Success