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Listener’s Notes on Nuruddin Farah

Exile Soldier (Daljiraha Maqan) Exercised his Mind

by Ahmed Ismail Yusuf


On February 8, 2007, Nuruddin Farah, the renowned, an around the world revered, respected writer and as of late a yearly Nobel Prize for Literature nominee was here in Minneapolis at the Loft Literary Center.  He read from Sweet and Sour Milk, one of his earlier trilogies and Knots one of his latest and a second in a trilogy in progress.  The place was packed; people of all ages were sitting on the floor and a few toughed it out by standing on their feet.  It was heartwarming to see that ninety percent or more who came to hear him read were Somalis.  For two to three hours of book signing, reading and Q & A., we listened rather than ranted and most importantly we listened to one of us!  No one hurled insults at another and as it was quite evident that displaced anger and dampened rationalities had been all but arrested or were left outside the door, at least on this occasion.  We, for these counted hours, were likened to people with elevated

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interest.  Of course later there were the thorny questions of why don’t you write in Somali?  Why don’t you do this and that and all, as though Nuruddin is the only man charged with all things Somali and the rest of us are charged to supervise him while sitting around?  But mostly it was civil, enlightening and inspirational.

After the reading, one of the first questions from the audience was succinct and suited the occasion well.  A Somali woman in the audience stated that she had heard that Nuruddin is a feminist, “ is it true?” she inquired and went on to ask whether the prominent writer has any Somalis heroes and if so “Who are they?” 


Nuruddin who is universally known to be acutely aware and sensitive to the plight of women in general but specifically to Somali women was animated, thus lunged on to a litany of how the world around Somali women are moiling, yet task oriented where men, on the other hand, are foaming from the mouth in coffee shops or in dungeons, dosing themselves with detritus from qaat or simply using someone else’s son to carry a gun for them, killing at will when their own (warlords’ and the likes of them that is) are out of harms way, tucked in cozy comfort somewhere safe and far from the man fermented mayhem in the motherland.  Nuruddin valorized Somali women but then at the end of that spirited comment, flung a whiff of a deserving criticism at their side that was more like moaning of what he (and a lot of us) has lost than anything else: that Somali women divorced themselves from their cultural clothes.  The fact that Somalis are not wearing what has been known to Somalis and rest of the world as traditional Somali women dresses irked him.  “Can we be God fearing Somalis without this Afgani business?” he lamented. 


With an absolute certainly, there was neither any intent to slight his faith (Islam) in the statement, nor was he subscribing to any undesirability onward of being an Afgani.  The sentence, the manner in which it was conveyed, the delivery and the context of which it was stated were all clear as day and night.  Thus his message was simply about a cultural identity lost, nothing more nothing less!


So I was surprised to learn later that a talented, young Somali journalist and an upcoming star slipped a little with his burdensome responsibility and in the process to regain his balance spilled a morsel of masticated meat for the vultures of faith. Thus Abdirahman Aynte, the young Somali journalist, unfortunately in this article on Hiiraan.com used words that have not and will never fit Farahian philosophy of feminism by stating that “He [Nuruddin Farah] disparaged Somali women for veiling.”


Consequently, the vultures of faith, who, as though they are closer to God than the rest of us, are sanctimoniously feeding on their favorite feast: chewing a Somali that chose not to mire himself in the diminished personality of clannish connivery nor the countless, conspiratorially calculated politics, but simply uttered a word about a Somali traditional value that has been fading way within a clouded Arab invasion!  Again, no point intended to slight the Arabs.  Just an urge to remind us who we are and recover what we have lost from the dust and the debris!  


Nuruddin Farah has been a man on a mission since the day in 1986, when dictator Said Barre, most ruthless and powerful Somali, tried to silence him to exile.  But Nuruddin swore to turn the volume up on him and did just that, never letting up.  Nuruddin’s mission has been to keep that lighted torch onto his motherland by writing about it and carrying all that is Somali about him with him.  This son of Somalia is the only man that many nations would love to claim as theirs, even if he himself is Somalia!  Just to make it clear, Nuruddin doesn’t need Somalia but Somalia needs him; he does not need Somalis but Somalis need him; yet Nuruddin is willing to be a Somali and always has been when most of us are reluctant.  We are only Somalis when it suits us (that is when it’s convenient).  For example, we, particularly in diaspora, chose to sell our nationality out long ago, myself included.  He does not!


I am going to say it and save it, too, that Nuruddin Farah is for sure going to win the Nobel Prize for literature in English, a language that is not his native tongue but he adopted!  Thanks to all of us, this is not a prize that his countrymen will confer on him, but the rest of a wise caring world that deemed him worthy of literary wealth by already nominating him several times in the past years.  When he is on the top of that mountain, however, he will elevate our national pride (or whatever is left of it) a bit higher, regardless of your absence, for he has been toiling to lift it from the ruins of rust, where the ruthless lions of rape laid it down and left it!  The headlines will read, “Isn’t it an irony that a man from Somalia whose countrymen are not even aware of his personal stature and where the written words have no value wins the Nobel Prize for Literature?”  One more time, Somalia will shock the world but with a positive stroke of a genius pen by a “miracle called Nuruddin Farah” Mohamud Togane.  I hope to God that it will neither be the last of the precocious pen nor the peal of a passionate, precious music of hope and healing!  So please be prepared to be proud and put down you your petty, self generated, sanctimonious, soulless sword!   



For the Locals in Minneapolis


Louise Erdrich & Nuruddin Farah in Conversation



Please beware that Nuruddin Farah will pair up with another deservingly known writer, Minnesota’s Louise Erdrich and a Native American.  It’s said that they met at a conference and found that they have “a lot to talk about” with which they chose to share.


University of Minnesota

 Cowles Auditorium H. H. Humphrey Center

 Sunday Match 4, 3:30-5:30 pm    

 No tickets necessary




Ahmed Ismail Yusuf
E-mail: [email protected]

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