This post was contributed by Hayfa Awshan.
Writing this post has probably taken me this long because, as banal as it may sound, I just did not believe I could conjure the words to describe the feeling of going home for the first time. I say home in every recognition of the word. Every day, each sense of mine was delighted with the very culture and language of MY people. There is a territorial feeling that almost aligns with the definition of patriotism that you immediately are aware of as soon as you get off that plane.
Not many know, but over the past year almost two, I have tried to enhance or rather try to re-find my so-called ‘somalinimo‘. Whether that being through my developed strong love for old-school Somali music that our mothers used to play in the house whilst cooking or through the excessive personal trial and error in trying to improve my Somali. Sounds weird at first I know, but I feel like it’s actually worked. Okay, I can apologise to anyone who witnessed or heard my atrocious Somali, I mean I was trying, but I can confidently challenge anyone right now on a ‘Whose Somali is the best?’ gameshow challenge. Most, as I did, identify language as being that barrier and as the next step in regaining your so-called heritage, sense of self and identity. It’s hard to generalise and say that everyone correlates language with cultural identity, but for me, it was a factor that played a big part. I feel comfort in the fact that I am trying to learn about my people, country, language and discomfort in the possibility of all that being lost in a generation or two. That sense of identity is complex and my idea of what it meant to be “Somali” kind of got lost in the whole diaspora interpretation, it was as if I knew where I was from without knowing the who, what and why of what it meant. This set the perfect backdrop to the best summer of my life.
Somaliland 2017, Dhulka Hooyo.
As said before, there is something about seeing your people and hearing your language with every glance around, that sparks something in you that you probably never knew existed in the form that it does. During my time in Somaliland I was blessed with the opportunity to meet my grandparents, two individuals who have the very definition (if one) of somalinimo engraved into them. The pair of them, stark opposites, are complete libraries of knowledge, both representing a love for a country that I have grown to love too. My awowo (grandad) is a man very much of the miiyi (countryside) who abstains from any attachment of the modern world and who has stories from almost a century, speaking of times completely polar to the one we know of today. He completely refused to allow us to put the light on and so we sat in darkness most of the time – a culture shock I may admit but still an experience I will never forget. My ayeyo (grandma) on the other hand, embodies the exact symbolism of the ‘nation of poets’ in all its glory, speaking in gabey (poetry) with every sentence. With every conversation with her, I seemed to learn a new perspective and valuable life lesson that felt like a transaction of gold. It was an indescribable feeling to be able to sit, laugh, eat and drink with two mesmerising individuals that make me want to just book a one-way ticket home to sit at their feet.
I can safely say it did not feel real being home, and funnily enough the time that it kind of struck me that I was truly in my homeland was when I walked out to find a friendly visitor or two outside my house. We heard a few sounds outside, and as you do, went out to investigate. We were met with 4 camels and as we opened the gate a little further, about 30 around the corner. They were just chilling, no owner around, living their TRUE best lives. I truly took a deep breath and thought to myself ‘wow I really am in Africa’. It is funny to think that the little things like just exploring the hills or playing with the local kids, or walking into town and being greeted with a hundred smiles, truly give you a nostalgic feeling.
I felt myself wanting and having the strong urge to invest in everything, and I mean everything. Trips to the market felt like I was helping to provide to the economy and livelihood of my people. That was probably the first time I admitted to myself that I was not doing enough and not taking advantage of the fortunate position I have as part of the diaspora. It’s weird to think that simply purchasing some fruit from a stall owned by a habo (aunt) in town could develop such a weighted feeling in my chest. I felt selfish, disappointed and confused to why just a simple action of taking a trip to the market instilled such feelings in me. As the diaspora, it is easy to feel disconnected to the very people you SHOULD feel connected to, and admitting to that is probably the first step in realising what I guess finding your somalinimo is about.
It is easy to feel disconnected to the very people you should feel connected to.
I read somewhere once that described the Horn Of Africa as a ‘nation at the crossroads of extreme poverty, conflict and disease. A statement that I don’t necessarily agree with but partly saw during my trip. When visiting the coastal seaside town of Berbera, the realities of civil war and conflict dawned on me. A town once flourishing with tourism, fishermen and all round booq (noise) reduced to silence and rubble. A town where the ‘Father of Love’ Elmi Boodhari fell in love with Hodan, a town on the shores of the beautiful Gulf of Aden. Witnessing its reduction to now a town without its famous personality, it felt like a microcosm of the country that many of our parents fled from.
Nothing can prepare you for the growing sharpening feeling in your chest when witnessing the reality of poverty of YOUR people in YOUR country. I for one, liked to think that I could acknowledge the existence of poverty and its effects around the world. Since a young age, I’ve always had that sick-in-the-stomach feeling, where my body feels droopy and helpless which usually follows with a drive to do something whenever I had felt that I witnessed any sense of injustice. But all that is a dream in comparison to the feeling that accompanies the reality smacking you in the face when you see your own people in that same position of poverty. It’s almost anger, blame misplaced.
Who do you blame?
The government? The diaspora who seemingly just are not there? The greater international community? Or yourself? A complex answer that I can’t answer for you, nor can I answer for myself. This was something that caused a continued internal self-conflict that when I reflect back now was a rather selfish and tedious way to think. I had to stop thinking of who to shift the blame to and instead focus on acknowledging the fortunate position I am in as part of the diaspora, and figure out how to use that to help my country.
I can’t lie – this seems like one big post of pure negativity, innit? Seems like I am shouting down an argument of ‘WE MUST DO BETTER FOR OUR PEOPLE’. You’re probably thinking, so why was this the best trip you had taken in your life? Well, it was the little things like meeting my grandparents and getting chased by goats and camels that made this trip. From eating fish from a local stall in suuq despite my mum telling me not to and it being the best I have ever eaten, to having a barbecue with the sun setting in the distance.
Driving cross-country admiring the mountains and villages and trying to keep a permanent mental screenshot of the beautiful landscapes. Stopping at each checkpoint by askari (police) on road trips with a content feeling knowing these very people are keeping my country safe. And the food. Oh the food, was probably the best thing; Muqumad (small camel meat) in a bag passed along in our car as a road trip snack and the random stops in local villages buying THE BEST fruit from a group of ladies huddled under a tree.
It was the simplicity that drew me the most.
The ability to grab a book, sit on my balcony in a baati (ok I don’t know how to explain this one, a piece of clothing?), with my adopted local cats (shout out Naima one time, I miss you baby girl) with Hargeysa’s skyline in the distance. And most importantly, one of the most beautiful things of being back home is hearing the adhan (call to prayer) completely surround you five times a day. Imagine having a minimum of 4 mosques around you at all times, all calling to prayer in unison, a child of 7 reciting on one side and an awowo on the other.
I’ve realized that there is such a difficulty in trying to articulate that feeling of going home. But I think there are some things that are personal in your interpretation and can only be drawn from personal conclusion. And by that, I mean: that this is not a guide by a diaspora of all the feelings and thoughts YOU will have just that there are lessons I’ve learned and want to share.
One of the main ones is the realisation that we are blessed to be in positions of fortune and opportunity, and we should be the first people trying to exhibit the beauty of our land and successes of our people. We can be the most effective when we each identify our own individual talents and skills… and use them to help in any capacity. There is no one better fortunate or qualified to help our country than Somalis ourselves. Let’s all be encouraged in staying engaged and have a willingness and hope of being a part of the changes that will set the future for the generations of tomorrow.
Let’s continue this conversation.
Thanks for anyone who got to the end, and for reading this.
By: Hayfa x
Meet Hayfa: My name is Hayfa Awshan, and I am a 20-year-old student living in London. I love to travel and take photos (within my student means) and between constant studying but I try my best, as I just love people. Keep up with me on IG.