I was born in 1958 in Omdurman, the old part of Khartoum, Sudan. We were a big family, I had five brothers and a sister. I’m still in touch with my siblings, we’re very close. That was where I grew up and finished my studies. I went to Cairo University – branch of Khartoum in 1980. I studied economy and got my first job in Sudan’s Council of Ministries. I’ve always been interested in economics and I’m grateful for that because it’s practical knowledge in this business. I worked there until the end of the 80’s when I decided to quit and open my own business. I wanted to work more freely and I opened a shop just like this one. My father had the same kind of business I have here, this shop. He taught me how to work in the industry. I like to work with people so I always enjoyed it. It teaches you a lot, you learn about other cultures, professions, how to handle problems, be patient, and bargain.
Back in Sudan we celebrated most Muslim holidays. This included Ramadan, Eis al-Adha, Eid al-Iftar, Mawlid, and of course Sudan’s independence and New Year’s. My favorite foods were always home made by my mother, my favorite of them all was foul. Since we didn’t have much to do on the weekends back then, we would go to the cinema a lot. Sometimes we’d even see the same movie four or five times because there was just nothing else to do. Life wasn’t like it is now – there was no internet or phones. But it was a nice time for us, we would go outside a lot and have picnics, explore other cities and regions of Sudan. I used to love going to the river Nile to fish with my cousins, friends, and siblings. Although it was easier to travel back then in terms of visas and restrictions, not many of us travelled outside of Sudan.
I had that shop until 1991. America was always the dream but it wasn’t until this point that I decided to come to the U.S. Everyone dreams of living in a country where you can life however you want, to choose your own direction in life, and this is it. It all depends on your hard work: if you work hard, you achieve your goal. At least that was what I had heaerd from the people that had already made their journey over here. I had a lot of friends that came here and send back pictures and letters. We also watched a lot of movies that gave us an idea of what to expect. So it was my dream to come here, to have a real life where I can work, talk, and move freely. I came straight to the U.S. with my wife. Before that I hadn’t travelled that much. Even now after having been here for so long I haven’t travelled that much. I’ve seen N.Y., N.C., and V.A. and that’s it. That’s because when I first came here I was working three jobs, I didn’t have time. One day, I finished delivering newspapers in the morning and headed to my second job delivering pizzas. I was so tired that I threw a pizza at one of the houses I deliver papers to. My mind was exhausted and thought the pizza was a newspaper. I had little kids and my wife didn’t work so I had to provide for all of them but I was exhausted. It was hard. I didn’t have time for anything other than work and I still don’t.
We had a green card at the time and my kids were all born here. I love DC. I used to live in VA but not anymore. I like that I live in DC, work in DC, and it’s my home now. I like it because it’s like my home town, everything you need is a short walk away: grocery store, restaurant, etc. You can find everything around you. People come from all over the world to visit Adams Morgan. People from all over the world have settled here it’s like a spectacular display of cultures, races, ethnicities. It’s so diverse and multicultural, so rich. People are always curious about cultures and I’m so happy to tell them about my culture, how life in Sudan is, about the hospitality of our culture. Sudanese people they know how to be welcoming to everyone, we’re known for it. We need to share our culture with American people. That’s one good thing that came out of this: you bring the good from back home, and the good from this home and you make your own combination made up of the best part of both worlds. That’s what I feel like I’m doing. This store is my way of sharing that home with people. This store is like my home. I wake up and come here, I eat every meal here. I just go home to sleep and then I come back. I even work 7 days of the week so I’m here very often.
I opened this store in 1998 between July and august. I was working odd jobs until then, mostly in delivery. This taught me the DC city grid pretty well, I know the city like the back of my hand. D.C reminds me of Khartoum in that way, it’s also separated by the Potomac just like Khartoum is separated by the river Nile. I try to bring many things with me from home. First of all is the hospitality, then there’s of course helping others. I feel so grateful to be given the opportunity to help people. I love to help people, if anyone needs any kind of help or they’re hungry, I feel as though God sent him to me. It’s my duty to help him. There’s also this mixed smell of incense and spices that really defines my sensory experience of home. Everyone that comes into my store points that out: ‘omg this place smells like home!’ they’d often exclaim. It’s a mix of food, spices, and incense. I walk into my home of a shop, with the same smell that stirs up feelings, memories, and images of home, and I’m back in Sudan.
Alaaldin owns Khartoum Market in Washington, D.C.