Souq Omdurman was the beating heart of our mother city. It was a traders’ paradise, a meeting point and a lifeline.
A market where more than money exchanged hands. Agreements, ideas and jokes were yelled across its avenues and as visitors passed through, they were either beckoned into the shops or scoffed at for interrupting the banter.
Every trip was an excursion.
My friends and I went for the silver, antique records and leather. Our mothers went for spices, kitchenware and gold. Their mothers went for that and more, and their mothers before them too.
Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers went for different goods in a different era but at the same market with the same streets at the same iconic spot.
“All our memories are in Souq Omdurman. Our entire childhood was in Souq Omdurman – then we got older and bought our wedding things from there too,” my mother tells me on the phone from Cairo.
She lost her home in Khartoum overnight and now, the home of her founding moments.
After standing for more than a century, the market has been desecrated and destroyed.
What is the war in Sudan about?
Sudan is home to a huge humanitarian crisis, one of the world’s biggest. It also has more than 10 million displaced people.
All this comes amid ten months of brutal war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and their former security partners, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The country is now torn between the two warring factions.
The RSF receives support from the UAE, via Chad, and maintains close links with Russian paramilitary group Wagner.
They currently control four out of five states in Darfur, two-thirds of the tri-city capital – including the heart of Khartoum – and Madani, the state capital of the country’s food basket Al-Jazira.
Al-Jazira is a former humanitarian hub for those who fled Khartoum.
SAF is largely supported by Iran, Egypt and Ukraine.
They now control north and central Omdurman – the old city of the capital – after months of fighting.
SAF have also maintained control of the north and eastern parts of the country and formed a new capital and international airport in Port Sudan.
Looted and pillaged by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the early days of the war and then shelled, punctured with bullets and burnt to black in their ensuing battles with the army.
The cupboards of the gold shops were still open when we arrived. An emptied ring tray flattened on the ammunition-covered ashen ground.
At the corner facing the bullet-hole-ridden bus stop, the front of a wedding shop is littered with broken incense holders in traditional Sudanese scarlet synonymous with brides.
A nearby unexploded mortar round sat slanted on the debris and an upside-down fuschia couch blocked the road with dystopian absurdity.
It was there that I wept – out of disbelief and grief – as gunfire rang out a few hundred metres away.
Sounds, sights and smells I would never attach to this place had assaulted my senses all at once.
The loss is generational. Livelihoods and legacies shattered like the store-front glass.
An agony felt most by the shop owners and residents that once lined the streets, radiating outwards to all that walked them.
The heart of our city has stopped beating. The veins have emptied and the pulse has flatlined.
The destruction of Souq Omdurman is a massacre of memory and communal life. A casualty that even peace will struggle to restore.