Suzan Ali was born in Sudan. She lived in the capital city of Khartoum until she was nine years old, long enough to hold onto formative memories. But civil unrest was mounting in the country. Food insecurity plagued the city, and her parents decided it was time to leave. They went to Egypt, where they would stay for six years, striving to go to the United States.
Suzan’s mother was a midwife in Sudan. Then, in Egypt, she had an accident that rendered her disabled and changed the family’s fate. She fell and broke her wrist. The family suspected something was wrong when she went in for a routine two-hour surgery, and emerged eight-hours later. A criminal surgeon allegedly removed her hip bone and transplanted it into her wrist, but it was revealed that he stole the hipbone for nefarious purposes, and implanted a needle into her wrist instead. She was slated for emergency surgery and sent to America.
Suzan was fifteen when they arrived in Maine, a place she describes as “very cold.” She had expected all of America to look like New York City. It has been nine years, and Suzan is 24. She looks back on immigrating as a teenager, and says it was tough. She is very close with her mother. “We always make sure if anything is wrong, we tell one another. That’s how we can keep up with our traditions and where we came from, even though it’s new place, new people, new language.” Suzan lives at home with her parents and one of her sisters. They have a brother too, but he remains in Egypt. The family has tried, unsuccessfully, to bring him to Maine.
“Now that I’m here in Maine, I don’t think I’d be able to live in a different state. Maine is safe.” Most people have been friendly, but Suzan misses the communal lifestyle of Sudan. Of her neighbors here she says, “I don’t know their names. If I need anything, who am I going to call?” Suzan has always written her thoughts in the diary she has carried with her for the last decade. She safeguards it closely. Aside from protecting her privacy, she doesn’t want it to get damaged. Her best friend wrote in it too. She passed away this year, so the diary means even more now.
Suzan spends a lot of time at the East End beach in Portland. “The smell of the ocean brings me to a different place.” Although water is one of Maine’s great resources, daily life for most people in Maine is not largely affected by the rain. Suzan says it doesn’t rain much here, but it brings brings back vivid childhood memories of playing outside in the mud in Sudan. “The struggle of getting the water out of the house, I still remember.” Recently, she was able to visit Sudan. It rained so hard while she was there, that she longed to play in the mud again like she did as a child. It was an emotional trip for her, and hard. “I went back and finally met with so many people that would be a great addition to my life.” It moved Suzan profoundly that people with so little could be so happy with what little they have. Sudan will likely never be home again, but it is an intrinsic part of her that she carries with her in Maine.