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Somalia Through the Eyes of My Parents
Sunday January 7, 2018
By Naima Elmi

A Diaspora Learning to Love her Motherland

Beledweyne Summer 2014 PHOTO: Shukri Elmi // @shukriel

It was during those summer holiday nights that my mother would put a mattress in our balcony. She would tell us to all put on our PJs and come sit on the mattress, while she sat in front of us and started telling us stories. She was great at storytelling, some stories were based on true events while others were tales told to her when she was young and growing up in Jowhar. One of the stories I remember clearly was when she was told to take food to someone, you see this time she brought Farhan (her cousin) as back up. Previously while making the same journey a monkey attacked her and took the food, it attacked her as she was on her own. My father also used to tell us about his interactions with the local monkey who caused chaos in the streets of Beledweyne. Although my father did not like to tell us everything he got up to, he did tell us the odd story about his friends and how they all got their weird nicknames.

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Another famous tale was one of this woman who ate young kids in the area. She would tell us how local children would go missing and that her and her siblings feared going out after dark. After hearing this story it would take me sometime to fall asleep, I was never a fan of horror or scary films and stories. I did however love hearing these stories especially the ones based on their own experiences, I would imagine my parents' lives back then. At times I wished they had videos to share with us, so we could watch them growing up. We have very few photographs let alone videos, even my parents wedding video was lost due to the war.  I knew my country had its problems and that we had a long way to go before becoming stable. However 50% of the Somalia I pictured in my mind was the one my parents painted using their own memories of growing up there. While the other 50% was the harsh realities as I saw images of Somali people distressed and living in terrible conditions all over TV.

I was thirteen when my mother decided that enough time had passed, she wanted to see her parents she wanted to return home. Despite raising us to love our motherland, you could tell that my parents were anxious of this trip. Not only because only half of our then seven-member family was actually going, but because we were going to a place of conflict. The main reason for going was to meet our grandparents and extended family for the first time. Although it was a nice experience meeting them all, it did leave me with a sense of sadness. Had there been no civil war, me and my siblings would have grown up with our grandparents and extended family. My parents would not have fled to a foreign land leaving all their everything they knew behind. The war did not only strip them of their identity but it also scattered their remaining family members around the world.  

Growing up my father was always a very optimistic person who loved his motherland and his people. His smile would beam when a Somali person was acknowledged for his or her brilliance, or when the diaspora youth mobilised to raise money to send back. However my father did not like dwelling on the negative images the media threw at us constantly and the brutal narratives they wrote about Somalia and the Somali people. This was my mother's department, after returning home twice she no longer saw the Somalia she left behind. The first time we went my mother cried for days, nothing looked the same and the people were quite rude I guess it was a trait developed by growing up in such conditions. I think my father carries all the hope of one day seeing Somalia prosper for the both of them.

Deep down I also carry that same hope and optimism. I will never have such stories of growing up in Somalia to pass on to my own children but I will share the stories my parents told us. In hopes that their grandchildren develop a sense of love towards a country they may never grow up in.

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