Summer 2016 is drawing to a close as the dreaded school term is looming closer; looking back at these past few weeks I can certainly say that I have a whole new perspective on my Somali community.
The summer began with my fateful email to the Anti-Tribalism Movement asking them if they would kindly allow me to volunteer for them during my 8-week long break. I dived into this not quite expecting that I would basically be given a crash course in my culture as I was constantly surrounded by Somalis left, right and centre.
The first event held by the ATM that I attended whilst working with them this summer was a stimulating visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for International Youth Day with 25 other aspirational young Somalis. It was truly inspirational to participate in a youth civic engagement
with 3 influential women- 2 of them being female British-Somali councillors! It was motivating hearing how they progressed in life through such discriminatory circumstances resulting in our hopes for a successful future skyrocketing and growing desperate to make our Somali community as proud as they made us! The day left me itching to narrate my experience, particularly to my fellow Somali youth, which I did so in an article that was sent by the ATM to the FCO to be published online. This event was followed by a trip to the Restless Development Movement where our poetic Somali roots left our feet finding their own way to a much-enjoyed poetry workshop! All in all, youth day left me feeling both connected to my peers of age and my peers of lineage.
Shortly following Youth Day, we were busy on our toes organising the ATM’s monthly Open Minded Debate. This month we decided to make it our aim to break the ice regarding the taboo topic of mental health in the Somali community. Experienced panellists, including a psychotherapist, a student of mental health, a MET police officer and a mental health nurse, joined us in our brave quest to try to find out the causes of this rising issue, within Somalis in particular, and what can be done to enhance the mental progression of our people. Following my high aspirations from Youth Day to truly make a change within my community, this event was certainly a step in the right direction as we engaged in an articulate debate led by our youth inspiring our elders to follow in pursuit and accept this issue as a fact rather than a feared taboo and ultimately to get rid of the stigma of mental health.
The last event held by the ATM during my short stay here was the ‘Don’t Judge. Don’t Label’ campaign. Although I sadly couldn’t attend this event, it was a great success where the Movement strived to educate the public regarding discrimination and encouraged passers-by to sign a pledge for this (which can be found on https://theatm.org/dont-judge-dont-label/). The ATM proved that although they are a Somali charity, they don’t limit themselves to this particular target group and integrate well into the wider public.
As well as nurturing my blood with much-needed culture through my work at this Somali charity, I have also been performing my poems at Somali events- holding true to the Nation of Poets. At each event that I have been given the opportunity to perform at, I have always begun with a poem that I wrote as a letter of apology to Somalia for being away from them in times of adversity called ‘Estranged from the Land of Poets’.
The first Somali event that I attended this summer was Sarah Abdullahi’s Solidarity for Charity event. Although this event wasn’t specifically targeted for Somalis in particular, as usual Somalis dominated the crowds- keen to celebrate their poetic roots being translated into our British-Somali culture and more than ready to cheer on the girls representing Somalia in the fashion show.
The last event for the summer that I performed poetry, it was a launch event for a new initiative called Elays Corner run by the Elays Network. This event was the start of a monthly event (being run on the last Friday of every month) as a platform for youth to showcase their talent in performances and discuss important issues in an insightful debate. The evening was truly a success with so many talented young people performing poetry and the vibrant audience lapped at the opportunity to discuss their opinions in the debates about young marriages in this day and age and whether we believe that males and females can be friends which were concluded by Ma’alim Mohamed narrating his own beautiful life choices regarding these issues.
My humble aim for this article would be to inspire any other fellow ‘fish and chip’ children to take tender steps to find out more about your culture, which doesn’t necessarily need to be done through an orthodox journey to Somalia but can also be done by infusing the Somali dhaqan (culture) with the British culture in a mix that isn’t as daunting as a trip overseas would be. I would also love it if my summer has proven to any non-Somalis that really and truly the stereotypical view of Somalis consisting of mysterious culture-clad women, foreign male cab drivers and reckless youth is nowhere near the truth!
The reality is- like any other culture we have individuals who aren’t the best but we also have individuals who are amazing and who need to be celebrated louder than any criticism can be heard.
The reality is- we are united and this solidarity isn’t simply a ‘summer fling’. This can be assured through numerous initiatives being run including the Anti-Tribalism’s monthly Open Minded Debates, the Elays Corner monthly programmes and the UK’s annual Somali Week coming this October.
I began this summer with an article about my multiple identities (which can be found on http://www.theatm.org/2016/08/09/my-inner-conflict/) and I am ending it with this article celebrating my deeper connection to my Somali identity in particular alhamdullilah (all thanks and praise be to Allah).
Poem Estranged from the Land of the poets:
please don’t resent me
for fleeing our country
as the war of our nation banished me
and swung me to safety.
I beg you,
excuse my cowardice
as I did what I do best,
I ran for my life
and left you to defend us all
against the merciless likes of Al-Shabaab.
If I could,
I would gently strip all of your scars
spread over your wilting legs
and your withering arms
and plaster them onto my condemned heart.
you are the epitome of beauty.
The slashed line across your cheek
of the horizon.
Be careful in this cruel world
you are far too kind and pure
for this bloody, civil war.
I am you
you are me.
So please tread carefully
as you carry us both on your back.
I admire you.
Stronger than steel
yet softer than infant skin,
you balance the waging war with your unwavering love- one of the single things that I am sure of.
As our nation collapses,
like glue, you keep our homes intact.
thank you for brightening my life with the vibrant colours of your
– the colours of the globe,
I look at you
and I see so much of my world before me.
I thank you,
for injecting my mind with poetic diction.
Although I shamefully fail to speak in your exotic tongue,
I am beyond blessed with the ability to speak in our other tongue- poetry.
Known as the land of the poets,
I follow, wakeful, in your admirable footsteps,
embracing the skilful words that you are so well known for.
I am in awe
of your tradition
where you fight with words before weapons,
how artful you are,
slashing in poetic verse before guns,
metaphors slitting the throats of your rivals,
similes cutting off their tongues.
If I were to pinpoint one thing, amongst the infinite, that you have taught me,
I would undoubtedly point to poetry.
continue to play.
Don’t you ever let the bombs take your childhood away?
I promise when I return I will re-pump all of your flattened footballs that gasp, deprived of air.
I will replace the tattered textbooks
with fairytales that you can dream were the past (and first) ten years of your life.
I will teach you how to smile
until your mouth aches with a pain that is far from painful,
I will teach you that sometimes, it’s fine to cry
so long as your cries don’t keep you up at night.
I hope that you too will teach me,
of how to grow up in the time it takes for a bomb to drop,
of how to cook as my British-Somali hands only know of a sandwich,
and most importantly,
I pray that you will teach me about my culture
that I dropped mid-flight of my escape
and didn’t quite manage to fully regain,
please teach me when to use an ‘x’ rather than a ‘h’,
and when to use a ‘c’ at the beginning of a name.
Please teach me of my blood,
is it crimson? scarlet? the forbidden wine?
teach me of how gracefully it flows,
tell me all there is to know of myself.
I am sorry for leaving you in the wake of war.
I wake each day in a foreign land
with strange words escaping my lips
and alien thoughts forming the substance of my mind.
Please forgivingly welcome me if *when I return as I yearn to fall in first-hand-love with Somalia.
This blog was written by one of our volunteers here at the ATM office in London. Sagal Farah is a 17-year-old poet who has has been writing for as long as she can remember.