An interview with Fatuma Hussein, the director of the United Somali Women of Maine. Fatuma describes the pervasive atmosphere of fear in the refugee camps where she lived for two years after leaving the civil war in Somalia. She spoke about the challenge of meeting the United States resettlement categories of family, when extended families are the norm in Somalia. She reported that the role of women in Somali culture has been changed dramatically by the war, life in the camps and the challenges of resettling in an entirely new culture. While, when she was little, the birth of a girl child was not celebrated, now, as Somali women have shown themselves to be the bedrock of their families through extraordinary upheaval, she feels that the status of women is improving. She said that Somali women on the whole do not see the hijab (head scarf) as a form of oppression (as many western women assume), but as a symbol of connection to a culture that they value highly. She also made the distinction between Islam which she feels tends to value women’s authority and rights, more than Somali culture itself. Ultimately she affirmed the courage of the Somali women who have come to this country with absolutely nothing and have found ways to protect and support their families in the face of overwhelming newness. She invites us to see Somali women through this lens.
An interview with business owner, Hussein Ahmed about his journey from Somalia, spending ten years in refugee camps in Kenya before ultimately ending up in Lewiston, Maine. Hussein describes the many challenges for families trying to stay together through the time consuming and difficult process of applying for resettlement in the US after 911. He describes the challenges of finding work in the US due to language barriers, cultural uncertainties and religious stereotypes. He also reports that there are religious restrictions in Islam on borrowing money with interest and how this can serve as a barrier for Somalis starting their own businesses. After working as an employment case manager helping refugees get jobs, Hussein ultimately opened his own businesses, running a store and also running a service to help Somalis communicate with their family members in Kenya and transfer money to them. He is optimistic that with modifications in certain banking practices, Somalis can become even more effective entrepreneurs adding to the future of the Lewiston-Auburn area in Maine
An interview with Maria Padian, author of Out of Nowhere, about friendships between Somali and franco-catholic high school students in Maine. Maria talks about her own experience with four immigrant grandparents, and how different it is to come here as an immigrant, eager to build a new life, than to come as a refugee, having had to flee a war and the loss of loved ones. She describes how the numerous losses may make holding onto one’s culture and religion even more important when they are some of the few remaining ties to home. The book describes many moments of well-intentioned misunderstandings as the students build friendships across multiple layers of difference. Maria shares her belief that forming real relationships, or knowing the true story of individuals is what can help us overcome fear and mistrust of each other.
An interview with Mohammed Dini, executive director of the African Diaspora Institute, founder of Portland Forward and former candidate for state representative. Mohammed talks about his experience moving to Maine at age 13 and learning to identify himself as a Mainer. He introduces us to the Somali concept of furfurnaan, which means openness [Read more…]