I am an African

2010-12-01 12:46

The 2010 World Cup brought me to South Africa.
I was living in Nairobi, Kenya, and I came here to learn English and to report on the World Cup.

I was born in Baledwenyne, 350km north of the capital Mogadishu. It’s an amazing city.

In Somalia men go out to restaurants to chew khat and drink tea while women and girls stay at home. You won’t see men and women sitting together in public.

All Somalis have one religion, one culture and one language. We love talking and we have open hearts. We love giving people surprise gifts.

My father had two wives. My mother has eight children with him and his other wife has four, so I have 11 sisters and brothers. It’s not a big family for Somalia. My uncle has 30 children. My father passed away in 1991 and if he was still alive, I’d have more sisters and brothers.

I started working in 2004 as a radio journalist for HornAfrik. On August 11 2007 my colleague Mahad Ahmed Elmi was killed, and on the same day our boss Ali Iman Sharmarke was killed by a car bomb as he was driving home from Elmi’s funeral. After that lots of journalists left Mogadishu, some of my colleagues went to Kenya while some went to Ethiopia.

Al-Shabab didn’t like women working as journalists and mixing with men. They said it’s haraam (prohibited). I wasn’t scared until they attacked my friend who was also a journalist. She survived and left Somalia.

A few months later Al-Shabab called me and said: “We know where you are, which car you drive and what you’re wearing.”

They said they would get me. And that is when I decided to leave Somalia and go to Nairobi.

I speak English, Arabic and Somali. I’d like to learn isiZulu because I lived in Durban for four months when I first got here.

Something I’ve come to love about South Africa is the peace. When you have peace and are safe that’s the most important part of life. I don’t care about being hungry, but I want to live in peace.

Sometimes South Africans call us black-Indians and won’t believe that we are African. I tell them: “I’m not Indian, I’m not from Asia, I was born in Africa.” They then ask why I do not have a big nose and why I have long hair, and I say: “Well, God made me like this. I’m an African and I’m happy to be an African.”

Many South Africans do not know where Somalia is and when they ask me I tell them that it is in East Africa close to Kenya and Tanzania. I once told a guy that Somalia is close to Rustenberg, and he said: “Okay!”

There is one thing I don’t like about South Africa; it’s a word I can’t pronounce properly – kwere-kwere. I use taxis and people always say that to me. Sometimes I reply and sometimes I just keep quiet and think: “You have the power.” But then again not all South Africans are the same.

Being a woman journalist in Somalia is difficult, we work with men and people call us prostitutes. Everyone knew me because they listened to the radio. In South Africa no one knows me or what I do, but when I tell people I’m a journalist, they usually get surprised to meet a woman sports journalist from Somalia. I’m a star in South Africa, but not in Somalia.

The biggest lesson South Africa has taught me is to speak English. I will never forget this country. My mother taught me to walk and South Africa taught me English. I was blind when I got here, I couldn’t go out to do shopping and had to ask for help, now I can do everything I need. And I have friends from many countries.

Something I would like South Africans to know about Somalis is the reason we ran away from our country and are living here as refugees. There is a war in our country, even on peaceful days you still hear gunfire going off. People die in front of you. In fact, before you go out, you write your name and address on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket, because you don’t know when it will be your time to die. We are all waiting to die.

Immigrants from Zimbabwe and Mozambique have a choice: they can go back to their countries. Somalis have no choice because of the war. We don’t have passports. If I need to go back to see my mother, I can’t because I don’t have a passport.

If I could take a South African to Somalia, I would take them to Afgoowe, which is nearer to Mogadishu. It’s beautiful – there are big farms close to the river that grow mangoes, bananas and watermelons. You can go and eat until you’re full and everything is for free.

The food I miss the most is camel’s milk and meat. We don’t eat beef in Somalia, we eat camel and goat and everything is fresh. I haven’t had camel milk since September 21 last year.

I’m proud of being a Somali because we always help each other. Even here in Johannesburg, if I need anything I can go to Amal Shopping Centre in “Little Mogadishu”, Mayfair, and get whatever I need. I can go and get credit or a loan and no one will ask to see my papers or my passport.

My dream is to continue with my studies in journalism. I did some courses back at home, but there is no university in Somalia. In fact, you’re lucky if you finish high school there.

My favourite South African is Steven Pienaar who plays for Everton in England. I’m proud of him and Bafana Bafana, even though they didn’t do well in the World Cup.

I will definitely go back to Somalia, it’s my country. And I miss my mother.

A piece of advice I would give to any Somali thinking of moving here is: don’t stare at people. In Somalia you don’t see women without headscarves or people kissing in the street. And when I got here I would stare and wonder what they were doing.

I agreed to do this interview because I want South Africans to understand why I am here, why we Somalis are here.

Most marriages in Somalia are arranged.
In my country women get married between the ages of 14 and 18. God bless her, my mother is my mother, father and my friend. She would tell us (her children) that if we met someone it is okay, and that we shouldn’t be afraid because she wouldn’t arrange our marriages.

I don’t want to get married now.
I want to go to university. It’s hard to be married and studying in our culture. If I married a Somali man my profession and studies would stop.

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