Alberta man relieved to be home after ‘a life-altering experience’ and tense escape from war-torn Sudan 

Tim Sanborn, of Cochrane, Alta., considers himself lucky to have gotten out of Sudan safely and returned home to his family and friends while so many others continue to be at risk.

Tim Sanborn calls it ‘a life-altering experience’ and worries about those left behind

A man in sunglasses is seen on a tugboat as it nears a grey warship.

Tim Sanborn, of Cochrane, Alta., considers himself lucky to have gotten out of Sudan safely and returned home to his family and friends while so many others continue to be at risk.

He says the whole experience has left him rethinking his priorities. He wonders whether he will ever return to the country and the people he started to build a connection with through his work.

""I did a lot of thinking," said Sanborn. "It's not fair to put my family and friends through this again."

Sanborn works for an agricultural equipment manufacturer with an expanding client base in Sudan. Sanborn's job is to install, commission and service the equipment.

He was set to leave the country the day the fighting broke out.

As CBC News reported earlier, Sanborn became stuck in a hotel in Khartoum waiting for an escape plan, either through his company's private evacuation insurance or the Canadian government.

Eventually, Sanborn's insurance company came through. It arranged for him and a few dozen other foreign nationals to be ushered out of the city on a chartered bus to Port Sudan last week.

He says the most dangerous part of the 15-hour bus ride was exiting Khartoum — the focus of so much fighting between the two military factions.

"You're not too sure where are contested areas, whether or not you're going through them. There was quite a bit of carnage in the streets from past battles, a lot of ruined machinery and some evidence of heavy fighting — a visual cue of what you're involved in. And you know there's been people injured and killed," said Sanborn.

Sanborn says they had to hand over their passports at the port's processing area, which was filled with hundreds of other foreign nationals and locals also trying to leave. They then waited 13 hours before the group was led onto a tugboat that brought them out to a waiting Saudi warship in the Red Sea.

Sanborn says it wasn't until he boarded that ship, surrounded by military personnel, that he finally felt safe and could breathe a sigh of relief.

"I knew we were home free at that point," said Sanborn.

From Saudi Arabia, his company arranged a flight home, via Dubai and Toronto, before arriving Sunday in Calgary.

Canadian soldiers in Port Sudan

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed Tuesday that Canadian soldiers are in Port Sudan, assisting any Canadians who make it to the city escape by ship.

"We have armed forces in Port Sudan as we speak," Joly told CBC News during an interview in Nairobi, Kenya. "Our goal is to make sure we can offer options to Canadians."

More than 200 Canadian citizens who asked for assistance getting out of Sudan did not make it out before an airlift ended over the weekend.

WATCH | Canadian Armed Forces on the ground in Port Sudan:

Canadian Armed Forces on the ground in Port Sudan

2 days ago

Duration 1:06

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says military members are in Port Sudan 'as we speak' as Ottawa tries to offer options to Canadians seeking to flee the conflict in Sudan.

Those left behind

Sanborn says he worries about those who are still in Sudan.

He says he's built strong connections with some of the locals throughout his four work trips to Sudan.

And he is still in contact with a Syrian Canadian stuck in Port Sudan because he lacks the proper paperwork to get back to Canada, or anywhere, safely.

"It's important to just keep remembering there's still people working at getting out of there," said Sanborn. "I just hope they're not forgotten."

As of Wednesday, officials say roughly 400 Canadians have been removed over past two weeks as hundreds more struggle to flee

While Sanborn says he felt abandoned by the Canadian government, he hopes officials will be able to mount a better response from Port Sudan.

No plans to return — yet

Sanborn says despite his growing fondness for the Sudanese culture and an overall desire to work in the field, he has no plans to return there for work.

But he holds out hope he might be able to return one day if Sudan ever attains political stability.

"I'd love to go back under better circumstances and have a coffee on the street with friends … (but) they've got a very long road ahead of them."

He says what strikes him most about the experience is the charity and resolve that shone through all the violence and chaos he witnessed.

He recalls how accommodating and friendly the hotel staff were while explosions erupted outside their front door.

And the South African teacher who left him money and a sim card after she had secured a way out.

"(It) was a lifesaver, you know. I would have had no communication. These are the things that people did for one another."

For now, Sanborn says he's taking a break from work to spend more time with family and friends and finishing projects he kept meaning to get to.

"It's a bit of a life-altering experience, and I'm just going to take some time and smell the roses here for a little bit to recalibrate and plan my next kind of chapter."


Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.

    With files from David Common

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