PEI·I Live Here Now

Taha Ismail shelters his kids from the pain of the past

Taha Ismail said he is grateful to finally be safe and sound on P.E.I., but he still worries about his parents and seven sisters back in Sudan.

Ismail and family starting new life far removed from turmoil in Sudan

Ismail chose to come to P.E.I. with his family as refugees from Sudan. 2:30

CBC P.E.I. brings you eight stories of immigrants from around the world who have chosen to live on Prince Edward Island. Some have come to learn. Some to work. Others for safety. The series, I Live Here Now, reveals why people left their old lives, what they're doing now on P.E.I., and their dreams for the future.

Interviews for the series were conducted in January, 2020.

Seven-year-old Lojiean sings in the living room with no idea how or why she and her family ended up on P.E.I., halfway around the world from their relatives in Sudan.

Her father, Taha Ismail, wants to keep it that way for now.

Lojiean and her brother, 10-year-old Loui, were too young to remember much about fleeing Darfur, driving from Nyala, Sudan, in a car provided by one of Ismail's friends and arriving as refugees in Tripoli, Libya, in 2016.

Nor did they realize that Libya was not exactly safe either. Ismail and his wife, Mona Tahir, never let on to their children that their lives were ever in danger.

"When they grow up I will tell them what happened exactly," Ismail said.

Just not now. Not when he sees his kids skipping off to school at St. Jean Elementary in Charlottetown. Not when he sees them laughing and playing with friends.

Definitely not when he hears his daughter, for what seems like the millionth time, sing every word of a pop song.

Lojiean can often be heard singing in her bedroom. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"She loves singing," he said happily. "She always says to me, 'Dad, please buy to me piano.'"

Ismail said he is grateful to finally be safe on P.E.I., but he still worries about his parents and seven sisters back in Sudan, as well as his brother, who is a refugee in Tel Aviv.

He calls as often as he can, but said internet and phone service are not reliable in Sudan.

Though Sudan dictator Omar al-Bashir is jailed and his 30-year-year reign appears to be over, violence continues to plague the country, with tens of thousands of people displaced, many fleeing over the border with Chad.

Taha Ismail's journey from Sudan to P.E.I.

While his children are sheltered from the memories and hardships, Ismail is not. 

"Behind every smile there is a lot of pain," he said.

One day I think everything will be all right.— Taha Ismail

Ismail said he worries about his family in Sudan. Life is not always easy for him, even on P.E.I., but he tries to remain positive.

"One day I think everything will be all right."

Ismail with his wife, Mona Tahir, and children, 10-year-old Loui and seven-year-old Lojiean, in their Charlottetown apartment. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Before he had children, Ismail was a farmer in the countryside not far from Nyala. He grew vegetables — including potatoes, he's quick to tell other Islanders — and raised cattle. He travelled by horse and wagon, or by camel if he had to go longer distances.

Ismail said militia and government pillaged his land and belongings during the war in Darfur about 15 years ago. More than 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes in the conflict. Bashir was eventually indicted on charges of genocide. 

From 40 C to –7

For years, Ismail lived in an area alongside others who were displaced from their homes. When he got the opportunity to flee to Libya, he took it. His family joined him one year later.

While in Libya, Ismail worked as an accountant, waiting for the opportunity to relocate to a safer country. That day came in February 2019 when he was told Canada would accept his family as refugees.

Ismail walks to St. Jean Elementary with Loui and Lojiean. (Laura Meader/CBC)

It was 40 C when they left Tripoli and –7 C when they arrived in Toronto. So Ismail was "very grateful" when settlement officials met them at the airport and gave them winter coats, boots, hats and gloves, and they stayed at a hotel for a few hours to rest before connecting to Charlottetown.

"That was a surprise to me," Ismail said. "I appreciate that."

Ismail and his family have been receiving refugee assistance while he and Tahir take English classes at Holland College to help them find jobs.

Ismail said he would like to be a farmer, though he doesn't have the means to acquire land and machinery. He would also like to work as an accountant, but would settle for just about anything.

A job "will make me feel better," he said.

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      He's never owned a car, but is learning to drive. He's happy to walk wherever he needs to go.

      As a family, they like to go to Victoria Park — but only in the summer. When it's cold outside, they prefer to stay inside, where at least they have Lojiean's singing to keep them entertained.

      "I'm very happy in P.E.I.," Ismail said. "I think this is the right place for our children to grow up."


      About the Author

      Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.


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