THE POSITIVE SIDE
behind a country torn apart by a brutal civil war
compounded by man-made famine, more than three decades
of military dictatorship, where judges in kangaroo
courts made phone calls to find out how they should
rule, followed by 13 years of gun rule by a bunch
of thugs aka as warlords, the Somali refugees in Minneapolis,
one of a twin cities in Minnesota State (the other
is St. Paul), made an unprecedented economic miracle
and added colour and extravaganza on a hitherto sleepy
20,000 Somali refugees ended up in the US State of
"10,000 Lakes" some 10 years ago with only
the clothes on their backs. Today the city of Minneapolis
is galore with hundreds of Somali owned and operated
colourful stalls inside several malls that offer everything
from Halaal meat to stylish leather shoes to men's
and women's latest fashion, gold jewelry, money transfer
or Xawaala offices, banners advertising the latest
Somali movie, video stores fully stocked with nostalgic
love songs not found in the mainstream supermarkets,
groceries and boutiques.
the Somali community is hungry for movies with familiar
contexts and characters. These movies does not, however,
reach the screens of other Somali communities in the
US and Canada due to distribution bottleneck. Several
bilingual newspapers and radio stations, including
SOMTV and MAYTV, inform, educate and entertain the
Community on hourly basis. SOMTV, however, exhibits
as the most watched channel in the twin cities.
"We're doing our very best to be objective and
at the same time invite our audience to send us their
own versions on controversial issues," Mohamed
Hussein "Shino", Assistant Director and
Producer of SOMTV told me during an interview. The
East African TV is another choice for Somali and other
African viewers in the city.
the interesting aspects is that the scenario could
instantly transports you back to peace time Mogadishu,
half a world away.
through the thriving malls, and past well-tended houses
isn't a lot different than walking along the narrow
streets of Bakaaraha and Sinai open air markets in
Mogadishu, minus the Supermarkets of guns, hand grenades,
bazookas, counterfeit passports, noisy money exchange
stalls and private armed guards high on Qaad, a narcotic
drug flown daily from Kenya by light Cessna and Dakota
arrived here without a single penny in their pockets,
and immediately started everything from scratch,"
said Yoseph Budle, former Editor of Juba Weekly newspaper,
and a man who has gone through the mills of the knotty
Somali media in North America. His resourceful data
of the Community lifestyle is amazing, and I was privileged
to know him. Mr. Budle now runs his own Juba Enterprises,
a travel and insurance agency and doubles as the Director
of Somali Intellectual League with the motto "TO
EMPOWER THE MIND."
selling all kinds of merchandises are still dotted
all over the well-appointed meandering malls, they
include a mix of coffee shops; restaurants video stores
and money transfer offices.
want to get lost in the crowded Somali malls saturated
with small colourful stalls," says a young shopper
who was brought to America by his parents when he
was still a toddler, and prefers to express himself
in a mixer of English and flawed Somali. He is wearing
the ghastly oversized pant and a huge chair around
his neck, in imitation of the mainstream youths in
Americans and law enforcement agencies seemed to be
taking the hubbub and sometimes ear-splitting Somali
music emanating from video stores in stride and most
neighbours are now in buoyant mood, saying the rhythm
of the Somali love songs helps them take their afternoon
floodgate effect," a white taxi driver said,
referring to the Somali business acumen. "I'm
surprised by the inventiveness of the Somali people
without bank loans or business degrees," he added.
Yet, the Somali malls rarely attract the widespread
spotlight enjoyed by what is dubbed as The Biggest
Mall in America in the city.
In an effort
to ease the city's unemployment problem, many of the
Somali business people create jobs and boost state
revenue. Those who are not running their own businesses
are driving taxis or are employed by private companies
or are in the civil service. Others opened their own
neighbourhood groceries outside the congested malls
where customers include non-Somalis.
"They're law abiding tax paying citizens with
an almost clean criminal records," said Omar
Jamal of the Somali Advocacy Center. Omar is a man
who fought for the rights of the newcomers for many
years, until he himself was face to face with the
law on an alleged immigration charge The refugees'
main challenger in the State is officials from Immigration
and Neutralization Department. They struck fear into
the hearts of every asylum seeker. Recently, they
threatened to deport a number of Somali refugees,
including former Police Chief, General Mohamed Abshir
Muse, a man who saved the lives of many Americans
during the bloody conflict in Somalia, according to
a former American ambassador in Mogadishu.
Initially, pressure against the huge influx of Somali
refugees from a section of the residents have been
building for years, claiming they would steal jobs
from them. But city and county officials said the
Somalis are trying doggedly to make a decent living
for themselves in a strange environment and do not
stoop so low to beg for jobs as was the case of earlier
immigrants and refugees from other countries.
of Minnesota is also the home of high profile individuals,
including a former Prime Minister of the civilian
regimes of 1960s, Abdirizak Haji Hussein, former Prime
Minister of the TNG, Ali Khalif Galeyr, former police
boss, General Mohamed Abshir Muse, Professor Abdi
Ismail Samatar and his older brother Ahmed Ismail
Samatar as well as several well known personalities.
the malls' coffee shops and restaurants they talk
politics (Minneapolis's version of Fadhi ku dirir),
about families back home, finances, anxiety, or depression
and about lost family members and friends in the unending
bloodshed in South Somalia. Others face it with great
courage and homour, and regularly send money to their
loved ones through the chain of money remittance offices
conveniently located inside the malls.
are doing well in schools, colleges and even universities
and have even introduced football (soccer in North
America), a game that's not popular in North America.
The Somali women are better in the business world
as most of them have gone through hell and high water
before landing on these shores, penniless. Most of
the stalls are owned and operated exclusively by women.
love the passion of competition," said a middle-aged
woman who hails from Kismayu. Just like their male
counterparts they are motivated, creative and risk-takers
who can survive in a cutthroat competition, where
money generating and "can do" are the catch
phrases. And at the end of each answer to a question
they utter the famous word "Inshallah" (God
the ante in business acumen without business degrees
or schooling. According to Vice-President-in-waiting,
John Edwards, "In America everything is possible."
Family is the cornerstone and moral high ground of
the Somali way of life. For example, Somalis do not
dump their aged parents in nursing or retirement homes.
It is considered as unorthodox and un-Somali. However,
children born in North America have trouble understanding
some of our philosophy and tradition. The parents
in turn do not approve of their ideas and lifestyle.
The parents do not approve of their friends and the
oversized tent-like trousers and the chains they wear
around their necks.
are sucked into a world that was not really their
world. They think their parents were interfering and
restricting them in a country they perceive to be
free and democratic, where everyone is entitled to
express his/her opinion without retribution.
need a book to tell all these properly.
ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE
To a people
who had came from a land of continuous conflict, violence
and bloodshed, elders and religious leaders were expected
to instill in their minds ideals of democracy, tolerance,
appreciation of religious and cultural differences
and peace in today's and tomorrow's adults. Unfortunately,
these elders and religious leaders abdicated their
responsibilities and allowed by what one of my hosts
described as shadowy characters masquerading as leaders
of religious organizations running on the loose in
a bid to create an atmosphere of hatred and disunity
among the community. Misinterpreting the Holy Quran
to suit their purposes, they continually preach falsehoods
against certain well-meaning individuals.
In an interview
with Warsan Times, a vibrant and also the most enduring
Somali newspaper in this State, whose director, Eibakar
proves to be a man who never minces his words, Yoseph
Budle, mentioned above, described the groups as "Jir
aan madax lahayan" (a body with no head).
many versions vis-à-vis these groups. In one,
they are financed by unnamed Middle Eastern country
to divide the community along sects, clan and sub-clan
lines to cause friction among the Community for their
own hidden agenda. In another, members of the bogus
groups are affiliated with black listed organizations,
but an editorial in Warsan Times had omitted to name
names or who funds them, but said members of the group
zeroed on unwary and ignorant individuals, particularly
the women folk in order to scarf up fund raising drives
that netted the bogus groups 1.5 million dollars in
cash and a large booty of gold jewelry. They are currently
in hot water with the IRS, America's tough Internal
myths are particularly potent in a society already
frayed by violence and deeply divided along clan and
sub-clan lines. Since no revelation arrived in a blind
flash, I decided to seek further independent source
and I almost went into a cardiac arrest, "Everything
you do in this city is known in a matter of minutes
and often misinterpreted by the same groups,"
says a young restaurant owner, "Seal your mouth,
or better still play the three proverbial monkeys,"
slogan on a T-Shirt proudly declares: "WHATEVER
HAPPENS, SOMALIA IS STILL MY COUNTRY."
editorial in Warsan under the title of "The Inflation
(sic) of Defrauding Public Assistance," from
childcare misuse to tax fraud within the Somali community
have been mounting to this date. Even driver's licenses
are "doable" in Somali language," the
editorial said. It blamed elders, religious leaders,
media workers and Community activists for not doing
enough to eliminate fraudulent practices.
members of the Community were trying to recover from
the trauma of the savage civil war and clan hegemony
intellectuals like Yoseph Budle gradually continue
to achieve their goal to stabilize the Community.
appears clan worshipping, once again, rears its ugly
head. Will the Community stand the heat?
Minneapolis is a pretty amazing city well worth visiting
by traveling by road from Toronto, in Canada, on what
seems to be an endless Interstate highways across
several States, including Detroit (Michigan), Chicago
(Illinois), Milwaukee, Wisconsin and across the famous
Mississippi River and finally to Minnesota, the State
of 10,000 lakes, to hear the sound of Somalia transplanted
in the United States of America.
like this could not, of course, end without citing
one of the famous murmured words: "Are we there
yet?" But my son, who was behind the wheel, adhering
to the strict highway speed limits, frequently asked
me to be patient and relax. It was summer and it was
Africa hot with barely any breath of air. But the
road trip is an experience like no other.
you next week,
M. M. Afrah©2004,