New American Series: Somali Success Story Part II

June 3, 2014

 Today we continue Mohamud’s journey from Somalia to the United States, picking up the story when he and his family were resettled to Virginia. Part I of his story can be reached my clicking here.

 In 1996, Mohamud’s family was resettled to Virginia in the United States. As an eleven-year-old and the only member of his family to speak English, Mohamud was excited about this move.

 Mohamud shared some funny stories of cultural adjustment upon arrival. “When we reached the JFK airport I saw a ‘restroom’ sign and informed my mother that this must be where we rest. You see, I spoke British English, where a ‘restroom’ was called a ‘loo’ or ‘toilet.’ Until I graduated high school in 2002, I spoke English with a British accent.” Another story occurred during his family’s health screening. “We were in the tallest building and I was enjoying riding the elevator.” At some point he got a bit turned around in the building and started asking people “Where is the lift?”

People did not understand what I was asking and only answered me with ‘Find your parents. Where are your parents?’ After asking several people I eventually asked one man, telling him not to tell me ‘to find my parents.’ He said ‘You must be new here’ and showed me to the elevator…My mom yelled at me for messing around.            

 Mohamud’s family moved to Prince William County, Virigina where he started in grade four. “I started in grade four and that summer was with the fifth grade class. The next year I spent one semester in grade six and after break, I was placed in the next grade.” His family supported themselves through a janitorial business, and Mohamud worked alongside his family cleaning after school and late into the night.

 His family eventually moved to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Here he experienced culture shock again because up until now, Mohamud’s neighbors and classmates had mostly been Pakastani and Indian. “My second day in Minnesota, a man asked me ‘How old is you?’ I didn’t understand…I didn’t speak Ebonics…I had never worn baggy clothes…I carried my school books in a suitcase.” After putting himself through college while working two to three jobs, Mohamud started working for the St. Paul police department having studied law enforcement. For five years he worked as a community liaison officer on disputes between neighbors and interpreting. Eventually he was investigating and reporting on all Somali cases in St. Paul. He was the first Somali in this position. “I learned to read and write the Somali language in the U.S. I taught myself.” In this position he faced prejudices and discrimination similar to his father.

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 In 2011, Mohamud moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota where he originally wanted to start a restaurant, but after talking with people in the area, he felt there was more need for home health care, and so in November 2011, Mohamud founded Alpha Sigma Health Group, Inc. “We provide waiver services, personal home health aids, companionship, and nursing. In third world countries, we may have different religions, but we have similar values. Parents have raised us so now we take care of them. We give them the rest they need.” Along with running Alpha Sigma, Mohamud helps coach a Nepali soccer team in town and volunteers as a police officer in Minnehaha County.

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 As our conversation was ending, I asked Mohamud what the Sioux Falls community should know about Somali refugees. “We are human; we have a unique story to tell. We are hard-working and have persevered…persevered through refugee camps and much trauma.”

 Thank you, Mohamud, for sharing your incredible story with us and for providing your home health care service to our community.  

 


New American Series: Somali Success Story

May 26, 2014

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.


New American Series: Somalis

March 13, 2014

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

Cultural Differences 

Information on cultural differences between Somali and American culture was gathered for this blog from a special source, a Somali student in English Class 4 at LSS Refugee and Immigration Center.   This student, who asked not to have his real name shared, has lived in the United States for seven years and became an American citizen in 2013.  “Said,” as he will be referred to in this blog, started in English class 2 and worked hard, attending class everyday, and eventually passed into Class 3 and finally to Class 4.

“American and Somali culture…very different.” Said began our conversation by highlighting one difference between the two cultures in the sense of community felt in an apartment complex.  “Here I rent an apartment…I have many, many neighbors, but nobody visit!  In Somalia it’s different.  People eat together, talk together…visit everyday.”  Said also felt that the American diet was different than the typical Somali diet, which includes meat and milk everyday and injera, a sour-dough, spongy flatbread.  “We eat injera for breakfast everyday.”

Injera, known as Canjeero in Somalia, is a staple of their diet.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Injera, known as Canjeero in Somalia, is a staple of their diet. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

I asked Said about differences in the medical system between Somalia and America.  He expressed concern and frustration with the corruption found in Somali health care.  “In Somalia…no money; no help.  The doctor or hospital workers…they find out you are from a small tribe, a minority tribe like mine…they don’t help you.”  The American system of doctor appointments is also a new concept for Somali refugees.  “In Somalia you go to the hospital…in the line, you wait.  Maybe the hospital close…the hours finished…the people in line, they just go home.  Try tomorrow.”

Said believes Somali parents value education and want their children to do well in school.  He shared instances of corruption within the Somali education system in regards to the treatment of students from richer tribes and students from minority tribes.  Said reiterated that it was important for Somali children to go to school and learn the English language.  He has great hope for Somali children educated in America.  “Maybe these children help Somalia.  They help Somalia become good.”

Our conversation ended with Said saying that Somali refugees receive some “false information” in Africa about life in America.  “People tell them [Somalis]…rich people give you money…you come to America, on the ground people…people help you from plane…give you more money.  You have children…you get more money.  This is false information.  Somalis come and…they see it is different, they think ‘no good, no good…not like they said.’  After a short time, they say ‘I want to go back [to Africa]’ but it is just culture shock, you know…culture shock.”

For more information about Somali culture and history, you can visit this link to the Cultural Orientation Resource Center and download a helpful pdf file compiled by the Center for Applied Linguistics.  For more “hands-on” experience with Somalis and other people of diversity,  become a volunteer in our English classes or a mentor for a recently arrived refugee or family.


New American Series: Somalis

March 7, 2014

New Americans Series

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

Conflict History

 Somalia makes up the cap of the Horn of Africa.   Djibouti borders Somalia to the northwest, Ethiopia covers much of the western border, and Kenya comprises its southern border.  Somalia has the longest coastline of any country in Africa at 3,300 kilometers[1].  This coastline had been the desire of many colonial powers and important for trade throughout its history.  Within Somalia there are several autonomous regions including Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug, and Jubaland.

Political Situation in Somalia as of March 25 2013.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Political Situation in Somalia as of March 25 2013. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

National boundaries, set at the end of the 19th century by British, Italian, French, and Ethiopian colonial powers, did not take into account the large number of Somalis living in eastern Ethiopia and northern Kenya.  “The existence of Somalis outside the country’s national borders continues to be a source of conflict in the region.”[2]

The history of the conflict in Somalia has much to do with its citizens’ kinship-based identity in the form of clans.  “Clans constitute the heart of Somali society, and the central challenge facing modern Somalia is how to unify a country whose people often give greater allegiance to lineage than to nation…These hierarchical descent groups, each said to originate with a single male ancestor, are a central fact of Somali life.”[3]

Towards the end of the 19th century and into the next, a growing sense of Somali nationalism grew.  Considered “one of the founders of Somali national identity” was Mohammed ibn Abdullah Hassan, whose “abilities as a poet and orator, highly valued skills among Somalis, won him many disciples, and much of his success was in commanding trans-clan loyalty.”[4] Somalia gained independence from Italy and Great Britain on July 1st, 1960 and became the Somali Republic.

Initially, independence brought with it a highly participative democracy experienced by all Somalis; however all foreign policy “was dominated by the Somali unification issue and by the campaign for self-determination of adjoining Somali communities in the Ogaden, French Somaliland, and northern Kenya.”[5]   This belief in unification, known as “Pan-Somalism,” led to military conflicts in Ethiopia and northern Kenya.

The country’s initial democratic success broke down by the end of the decade.  President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated in October 1969 and the military, led by Major General Mohammed Siad Barre, stepped in to fill the power vacuum.  Barre and his administrators adopted “Scientific Socialism,” aligning itself closely with the Soviet Union and China. Barre’s administration implemented several economic and cultural “crash programs” to “transform” Somali society with varying levels of success and failure.  Democracy ended as Barre “abolished the National Assembly, suspended the Constitution, prohibited any form of political association, and put some prominent politicians and members of the previous government in custody.”[6]  Opposition to Barre’s repressive and nepotistic rule began early on and in order to maintain power and divide his opposition Barre exacerbated clan loyalties, pitting clan against clan, and polarizing the nation along clan lines.  As government efficiency and societal equality declined, militarized opposition increased and on January 27, 1991 Barre’s military dictatorship ended as clan-based guerrilla warfare spread to the Somali capital of Mogadishu.  That same year, unilateral actions by governmental officials in the South and general disillusionment and public pressure in the North, caused Somaliland in the north to declare itself independent.

Mohamed Siad Barre, military dictator of Somalia from 1969 to 1991. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Mohamed Siad Barre, military dictator of Somalia from 1969 to 1991. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The southern and central regions slipped into civil war and anarchy as clan-based militias fought government forces.  Drought and fighting in the fertile south caused widespread famine in the region.

Over the course of the year, several hundred thousand Somalis died of violence, disease, and famine.  At least 45% of the population was displaced internally or fled Somalia to neighboring countries, the Middle East, or the West…Relief organizations estimated that by early 1993, one half of all Somali children under five years old had died.[7]

Military missions to restore peace and safeguard food aid from the United States and the United Nations proved unsuccessful, as those with guns, led by local warlords, stole food and disrupted distribution.  “In the absence of an accepted government, power and food were in the hands of those with guns, and in a country that had been the recipient of much foreign military aid, there was no shortage of arms.”[8]

Numerous unsuccessful peace conferences were attempted in the 1990s.  Hope surfaced as another set of peace talks begun in 2002 yielded a transitional federal government whose Parliament met in the Somali city of Baidoa in February 2006.  However, from March to May, the BBC Africa reported that “scores of people are killed and hundreds are injured during fierce fighting between rival militias in Mogadishu.  It is the worst violence in almost a decade.”[9]  Fighting continued as Islamists insurgents waged guerilla warfare against the transitional government and its African Union allies.  Al-Shabab, a jihadist military group meaning “the Youth,” formed in 2006 after the defeat of the Islamic Courts Union and continues to this day to carry out violence in southern Somali, Kenya, and Uganda.  Al-Shabab joined the Islamist military group, al Qaeda, in 2012.

Somalia was home to one of Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis during the famine of 2010-2012.  August 2012 marked a significant step towards greater stability in the region when Somalia’s first formal parliament was sworn in at Mogadishu bringing an end to the transitional federal government.


[1] The Refugee Service Center, Center for Applied Linguistics. “The Somalis: Their History and Culture” CAL Refugee Fact Sheet No. 9. October 1993

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Ioan M. Lewis. “Somalia” Encyclopeadia Britannica Online. Encyclopeadia Britannica Inc., 2013.  Web. 25 Feb. 2014 Accessed.

[6] The Refugee Service Center, Center for Applied Linguistics. “The Somalis: Their History and Culture” CAL Refugee Fact Sheet No. 9. October 1993

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] “Somalia Profile” BBC News, last modified December 19, 2013, accessed February 26, 2013. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14094632


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