We continue a series on the five largest ethnic groups to be resettled to Sioux Falls in the last five years by the Refugee and Immigration Center (RIC). Upcoming blog posts will focus on the following topics: Conflict History, Cultural Differences, and New American Success Stories. Please join us as we learn together about our new neighbors and their courageous stories.
New American Series: Somalis
Meet Mohamud Abdulle! Part 1
When I got done interviewing Mohamud and was staring at my three pages of notes, my first thought was “How am I ever going to consolidate this into one blog post?” (I couldn’t, so we will have Part 1 and the rest of the story next week as Part 2.) My second thought was “If I write everything that this man was gone through and done, who’s going to believe me?”
When I asked Mohamud about his life in Somalia, he first told me some of his father’s story, a “self-made man” as Mohamud said, who spent most of his career as a military general. His father traveled to southern Somalia when he was in his teens in search of a job and eventually, found himself in Kenya where he lied about his age in order to enlist in the British Imperial Army. According to Mohamud, his father succeeded in the British army and became one of the first Africans to become an officer in this army. When leadership and circumstances changed, Mohamud’s father found himself imprisoned, but escaped and traveled around the world working as a mercenary. Mohamud’s father went back to Somalia in the late 1960s and joined the military of the independent Somali Republic. He rose again in the ranks, but was jailed under the socialist government that came to power in the 1970s. Surprisingly he was released in 1983 and Mohamud was born in 1984. I would find out later that similar honors and prejudices would echo in Mohamud’s own life.
Fleeing the growing violence in Mogadishu, Mohamud’s family moved south, but warfare was everywhere. After losing his father, the family fled to Kenya in 1990 due to the escalating violence and anarchy. While fleeing, Mohamud became separated from his family and suffered a gun shot to his leg.
That was maybe around sunset. When I woke up [having blacked out], it was noon. I walked in no direction. I saw no civilization. I spent many cold nights. I eventually found another convoy where nice lady fed me just like I was one of her children. By this time my leg was infected. I got separated from the convoy and I was eating grass…scavenging. I was walking in circles.
I interjected at this point in his story and asked again how old he was. “Six or seven,” he replied and then shared how after so much walking and seeing no civilization, he made up his mind to end his life.
I decided to find a way to end my life the next morning. It rained that night and I was shivering, but in the morning…I feel I received a sign from God. That night I had been shivering, but I woke up warm. I woke up next to a lion! As I was stepping quietly away because I was terrified to wake him, he woke up and walked in the opposite direction. An hour later I found a settlement. I fainted and woke up in a hut to the smell and sound of my leg being burned to cleanse it of its infection. There was no pain medication.
In Liboi, Kenya, Mohamud found out his family was in a refugee camp near Mombasa, Kenya. He started traveling to them in a truck, but Kenyan police eventually stopped it, and he found himself in a prison program with adult men, where he was forced to work on farms. “Kenyan police saw a Somali as a dollar sign; it was very corrupt.” He worked in this prison program for around two and half months before running to freedom with a large group of men that were attempting to escape.
I got on a bus in Malindi, under a seat in the middle of the bus. Policemen with dogs were checking all the busses and seats. They entered my bus and were one or two seats away from me when a dog found contraband. The bus eventually pulled away and I stayed on until the next town.
Mohamud reached Mombasa where an uncle, who was a doctor and ran a clinic, recognized him and nursed him back to health. Mohamud spent three weeks with his uncle before reuniting with his family. His family eventually traveled to Ethiopia where Mohamud attended a private English school and advanced in English, math, and science.
Check in next week to read about Mohamud’s adventures in the U.S.