She wondered, at first, if the reports of crisis in Sudan were overblown.
Then Duaa Abdelfadil heard gunshots and bombs during phone calls with her family in the Sudanese capitol of Khartoum. Relatives told her of seeing a dead person in front of the yard. They spoke of the house next door being flattened.
Abdelfadil, 30, was struck by how lucky she had been, immigrating to the Twin Cities from Sudan a year earlier to marry a childhood friend. But as conflict raged and masses of people fled, she found herself bedridden in her Brooklyn Park home.
"I was kind of depressed for a couple of weeks — I would barely leave my bed," Abdelfadil recalled. "I would barely do anything but just stick to my phone and try to make sure my family was alive."
She and several dozen Sudanese Minnesotans gathered in Gold Medal Park on Saturday to call for an end to the war in northeast Africa. The Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are warring for control a year and a half after they staged a coup to thwart the country's transition to democracy.
At least 100,000 people have escaped to neighboring countries since clashes broke out on April 15, and the United Nations estimates that in all 800,000 people could flee.
Beckry Abdel-Magid of Winona has three nieces trapped in the conflict zone. He said they lack the financial means to pay skyrocketing bus fares to leave Sudan. Abel-Magid, 71, and his relatives have raised money to pay for the women's escape, but cannot send it because banks are no longer operating.
"So they are staying in their homes and apartments dodging bullets," said Abdel-Magid, who immigrated here for graduate school 40 years ago.
Many Sudanese people have taken buses north to Egypt, sometimes encountering massive waits at the border. Woodbury resident Osama Khidir, who immigrated here in 1990, said his mother, brother and in-laws waited 12 hours to cross. He's been comforting his mother, now in Egypt, over the phone.
His mother doesn't know when she'll be able to return, describing herself as "kind of homeless ... a refugee in another country," Khidir, 58, recalled her saying.
U.S. President Joe Biden has called for a ceasefire, and on Thursday signed an executive order authorizing future sanctions for those who are threatening the security of Sudan. May Safwat, who immigrated from Sudan in 1998, said she was happy about it.
"But signing something is one thing," she said. "Implementing it is another thing … We're looking for tangible action."
Safwat and her 16-year-old daughter, a student at Prior Lake High School, taught Sudanese youth remotely through a tech boot camp for African girls in December. They are teaching another camp set for June, and worry that they will no longer be able to connect with Sudanese students.
Abdelfadil's parents and brother left Sudan for Egypt three months earlier. But as gunfire rang out across Khartoum, her three sisters huddled in their homes, thinking it would be over soon. They went without electricity. They hid under beds.
Finally, one sister left by bus with two children. Her husband stayed behind to watch over his aging mother. Her sister sent Abdelfadil a picture of her daughter's face scrunched in tears — "That broke my heart," Abdelfadil recalled. Her sister waited for a week at the border to cross into Egypt amid a massive jam of vehicles. The other sisters finally left for Egypt, too, one pregnant and reluctant to make the journey.
"We want to go back to our homes," Abdelfadil said through a megaphone to the small crowd assembled in Gold Medal Park. "We want to go back to our families. We want to go back to our old life. So please, let's stop the war in Sudan."
"Stop the war in Sudan!" the group chanted back. "Stop the war in Sudan!"