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Remembering Hodan Nalayeh: Who Showed us Beauty Where We Thought it was Lost Forever

The death of Somali-Canadian media icon and journalist Hodan Nalayeh, who was the victim of a tragic hotel attack in Kismayo has sent waves across the global Somali community. Hodan was a Somali-Canadian media icon who won the hearts of the Somalis everywhere through Integration TV – the first TV platform designed to connect diaspora communities to Somalia.

Prior to the outbreak of the Somali Civil War, Hodan’s family emigrated to Canada in 1984. It was in Canada where she would spend her childhood, gain a degree in Communications to become a mother to two wonderful boys.

Prior to founding Integration TV, Hodan worked as a successful media executive for a number of Canadian media outlets. Integration TV was borne in 2014 as part of a weekly Somali community show on City TV – originally titled Integration: Building a New Cultural Identity. What was initially intended to be a platform for Somali-Canadians to share their unique experiences, Integration quickly burgeoned with thousands of diaspora watching online.

In 2015, Hodan shared her first videos from Somalia for Integration TV. One of her first videos features young, bright-eyed, uniformed schoolboys laughing and singing the Somali national anthem. In another, she sits with Abdi Aynte, a prominent Somali-American diplomat, to talk frankly about security in Somalia. Abdi tells her that the… “people who are bombing and killing want us to run away… but we’re here to stay.”

Hodan decided to stay. Her frequent visits over the last few years became permanent with a move to Kismayo last year. Hodan had found love in the beauty of Somalia but also as a newlywed to former diplomat, Farid Jama Suleiman.

Seldom do we find prominent individuals from our community, who are not just loved but deeply revered across all generations. Some may be respected by us all, I’m thinking of diplomats, musicians and politicians but it is rare to find that individual who touches us all in such a poignant way.

Hodan was able to communicate all of our unique and complex experiences – from the diaspora kids who don’t speak any Somali to our elders who miss their former homes. Dhaqan Celis, the Somali term for “cultural re-education”, is often reserved for wayward Somali youth from Europe or America.

Hodan showed us that we all needed Dhaqan Celis regardless of our individual identities. She challenged patriarchal social practices of elders by literally taking her seat at tables in the male-dominated tea houses of Las Anod but also maintained a rallying call to the qurba joog to see the sheer beauty of Somalia for themselves.

For diaspora, Hodan understood our feelings as “inbetweeners” and she shattered the fear that we had to be a certain way to find our place in Somalia. Her example was to take the risk, go out there and make Somalia find its place within us. Somalia is no doubt in the grips of a dire security situation with the threat of Al-Shabab unpredictable and deadly. Yet against the backdrop of despair, Hodan’s last Instagram story post was of the clear blue waters of Kismayo with a reminder to her followers to always do what is beautiful.

Hodan will be remembered by us all as somebody who rekindled a little bit of hope in us, with each stunning video, every bright smile and the crack of every witty joke. That glimpse of hope is diminished for now as we grieve the loss of an icon who gave us so much – only to be taken away by those who seek to destroy everything she stood for.

We keep the victims of this horrific attack in our prayers and convey our deep sadness for the loss of innocent life in Kismayo. In Hodan’s memory, we would like to share one of our favourite episodes from Integration TV

Las Anod: Returning to my roots: