Previously published (http://www.mideastyouth.com/2010/07/28/the-story-of-awadia)
Sometimes when I describe my house to my friends, I tell them to get off the Omdurman bridge and go straight after they see “Awadia Fishes” to their right. Awadia has become a landmark in Omdurman, hundreds of people commute from Khartoum and Bahri to eat Awadia’s fish. When you go there, you probably wouldn’t see her sitting at the reception desk, if you look outside the new, fairly-modern restaurant, you will see a woman of significant size dressed in black sitting on a tiny metal chair under the boiling sun.
After years of observing “Awadia Fishes” expand in size and grow in popularity, I decided to find Awadia, the woman no-one knows much about.
Someone told me she galavants around on one leg.
Does she even exist?
Her chocolate-brown skin glistens under the skin and her larger-than-life personality strikes you every-time she utters a word or gives you a smile. She said she feels self-concious when she smiles because half of her teeth are missing. She remains beautiful despite years of living in grinding poverty, sitting under the sun and walking for miles because she couldn’t afford spending money on transportation.
When I asked her to speak about herself, she told me she was born in the mountains, the Nuba Mountains. She later confessed that she was born and raised in Omdurman, but she still feels loyal to her place of origin. She asked me to write that she is from the Nuba Mountains.
She embodies the repercussions of war. Many were forced to flee the south and move to the safety of the north. Even if they’ve never seen the south, they still feel a connection to it. When you are displaced, you start idolizing your home.
Awadia’s journey with the sea started seventeen years ago.
She was working as a tea-lady in different parts of Omdurman , but she couldn’t make enough money to support her family. One day, she asked her daughter to read the Qu’ran. Her daughter read “Surat Al Baqqara” aloud and Awadia repeated after her since she was illiterate. After she finished reading the sura, Awadia went to sleep. She slept for a long time and in her dreams, she had a life-changing vision.
” If I told you about my vision, you wouldn’t believe me. I saw the sea, people working there, a lot of fishermen and fish. I saw fish everywhere. I woke up and I felt very happy,” she said.
Shortly after that, her neighbor suggested they work as sittat -chai in the area close to the sea.
“I started out as a “sit chai” , I used to make tea, coffee and leigemat,” said Awadia.
Struggling to support her many children, Awadia did the unthinkable and worked after 10 am.
“When I first started working as a sit-chai, all the women left the market area before 10 am because it was unacceptable for them to stay after that, but I had no choice but to stay. I stayed and since I was the only tea-lady there ,I made a lot of extra money.”
To cater to the needs of her growing costumers, she started making traditional Sudanese dishes like Kamoneya and Faseekh. Shortly afterwards, her friend suggested they start making fish. They started buying fish, frying it and selling it.
The building of a restaurant called Golden Gate commenced and the workers building it were helping Awadia’s business grow. She was working day and night to cater to their needs and her income steadily increased. The honeymoon lasted for two to three years until the Council of Omdurman decided to kick out the tea ladies based in that area.
With only a donkey cart, Awadia used to bring fish from the market and sell it at Al Moatamar School in Al-Morada for a little less than a year.
After the Council of Omdurman came under a lot of criticism for its inhumane actions towards the tea ladies, they allowed Awadia to return.
Awadia returned to her old location and continued making fish. As the number of women making fish and tea increased, they started facing problems.
Once again, Awadia had to collect her belongings and find a new place to start from scratch.
Awadia walked for miles under the boiling sun, too poor to afford a tok-tok, she had to find a place as soon as possible.
She finally found a small store in Kenouz, a neighborhood in Omdurman ,but a few weeks later, someone from the neighborhood filed a complaint and she was kicked out.
She rented another store ,yet again she was kicked out because people in that neighborhood filed a complaint.
“They said I attracted too many costumers and women didn’t feel comfortable walking around,” said Awadia.
Being the person she is, she didn’t hold grudges or complain. She gathered her belongings and began looking for another place.
For two weeks, Awadia walked around Omdurman looking for her next venue. She finally found a makeshift tiny store on Al Morada-street. She sat there for hours looking for the owner and when he finally arrived, he refused to rent it to her.
“He left me sitting there, contemplating, attempting to plan my next move. I prayed Duhr and stayed there for hours. When he came back and found me still sitting there, he said yes. Maybe it was God answering my prayers, but he just agreed,” said Awadia.
“3 months later, I had to leave my store. The council said I was blocking the road with my costumers,”added Awadia.
She was looking for a new location. Her many responsibilities encouraged her to persevere against all odds.
Her final stop was her current restaurant. Located only a few minutes away from the Omdurman-Khartoum bridge . It’s next to “Coach Fresh Juices”, a tiny store managed by the former coach of the Hilal Club.
“First Awadia used to tell people that she is situated right next to Coach Fresh , now I tell people I’m next to Awadia Fishes”, said the Coach.
He helped her get the first venue and he also helped her expand into her new restaurant. Her old store is currently where everything is prepared, the new one is modern and caters to families.
Even on a Sunday afternoon, I struggled to find an empty table. It was packed, cars were blocking the road, more people kept arriving. As I entered the restaurant, I saw a group of young women at a table talking and enjoying the fish. The tables are not very close together, giving each group much-needed privacy.
Decades ago, when Awadia, a young girl disabled by polio embarked on a difficult journey called life, she didn’t know what to expect. Through her work as a tea-lady, she served sweet cups of tea to thousands of workers and fishermen. She also inspired poets who came everyday to work on the banks of the nile.
Despite her non-existent educational background, disability and bad luck, she continued to make the best out of each and every opportunity.
Outside her restaurant, a BMW, two land-cruisers and many fancy cars are parked. All her costumers know her by name. They greet her as they walk from their cars to “Awadia Fishes” to eat her signature fish in the comfort of a modern restaurant.
She sits outside in the boiling sun observing her business as if she is a mother watching her baby growing up. Strikingly tall with strong features, she obviously spends a fair amount of time as the observed as well.