Wednesday, 30 March 2011



By: Khalif Abdi Hassan
Omaha, North America.

All over North America, the people of Dadaab are making an impact. From the beef plant in Lexington to the hallowed halls of Harvard and from the receipt counters at La Guardia to the wide seas of Alaska. There is no product sold at places like Walmart that hasn’t been touched by Dadaab. The chicken nugget smells of Hagadera, the Alaskan fish has a “Dagahaley” feel to it and the birthday cards have an IFO touch in them.

I have been behind the wheel for six straight hours when I pulled the old Chevy into the convenient store off highway 80 east. I hurriedly made for the restroom and did my business. On the way out, I made two big cups of hot French Vanilla, grabbed some salted peanuts and a candy bar and brought it to the counter. There were two people behind the counter: a woman- an old blonde with tobacco-stained teeth and a man- tall, dark skinned with coarse hair. “Six dollars and sixty two cents”, she said. I gave her a ten-dollar bill and shouted something about a tip and left the store.

 As I fueled my car, the young man came out and started a chat with my friend. From the way he spoke, I gathered he was African and it wasn’t till he b’ed his Ps that I sensed he was Somali. Seconds later we were hugging each other and asking numerous questions in Somali. He told me that he was a college student in a city not far from North Platte and that he was helping out the family of his roommate. Back on the highway, Raniya wondered what a black kid was doing in rural Nebraska of all places. “The generosity of Somalis,” I bragged.

Two weeks later, I took a new refugee family to the clinic. The nurse called out the names and we were ushered into a huge room full of medical paraphernalia. She asked numerous questions but the ones that were difficult for me to translate were the color of their pee and the frequency of the women’s cycle. Not that I did not know how to translate but I was shy. I breathed a sigh of relief when she left. Fifteen minutes later, the door opened and a huge man walked in or rather flooded in. He was so big and tall that he had to enter the room sideways while bending at the same time. He introduced himself as Dr. Kiir and sat down with a thud on the chair. From the way the chair creaked, one would have assumed an earthquake rattled it. His waistline alone could have easily matched my paltry 175 pounds but beneath all the flesh lay an intelligent, caring personality. A native of Sudan who spent 8 years in Dadaab before he moved to United States, Dr. Kiir was a respected man in the medical circles. He attended to all the kids and gave me his business card. “Call me if they need any helf”, he said proudly. I knew he meant help.

On a wet, wintry day last November, I watched as suitcases were loaded into the trunks of yellow cabs. We had just landed at Kansas City International Airport and the wait for my friend was wearing me down. Of the cab drivers who were selling services, more than half were Somalis. I could tell from their demeanor. The youngest of them all looked very familiar. Later, on our way home it dawned on me that I knew him from Ifo’s famous “Jiiro Xaraaro” (Miraa/khat chewing zone at the centre of the market in IFO camp. Not that I frequented the place but whenever my dad sent me to get a marduuf (a bundle of miraa/khat) for him from the woman he patronized, the young lad was always there.

There is no debate as to the sturdiness and sheer determination of the people of Dadaab. The tenacity with which they approach their new environment in America speaks volumes. When I took kids from my high school to a tour of Creighton University last year, half of the students at the English as Second Language class were refugee women. They spoke of their determination to speak the white man’s mouth before enrolling at the nursing school.

There is a school of thought that holds that the future of Dadaab lies not with the agencies and aid from the "fatigued" nations that serve the refugees but with the young men and women straddling the great cities of America. If they measure up to the hopes and aspirations attached to them, there well be a new dawn in Dadaab that shall free its inhabitants from the shackles of poverty, degradation, warehousing, parasitism and confinement. If you want to know how, the answer lies in their role of bringing peace to Somalia.

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