Somali

You will check in, calmly, at about 3 PM and you will immediately feel the heat, heat that is a foreshadowing of the kind of life you’ll have, a metaphor of sorts as yours will not be, literally, a breezy life. You won’t start crying yet because of the heat, you’re a cool chap so who has got it under control. You will then scan the room, sorry, hut, with your tiny eyes, expecting to see a hospital with white floors, white ceilings, air conditioning and pretty nurses in sexy white overalls. But you’ll realize there are none. At least, you will think, there will be lots of female babies all over the place that you can start shukansi with, that you can hit on. But there is still no sign of that. But you realize there aren’t any of these things.

What is more, to your utter shock, there’s no one taking selfies of your grand entry, your triumph, your escape from the womb. No one is tweeting about your big day either. Who are these people? Who does that? You’ll roll your still half-open eyes.

There is an elderly wrinkled woman holding you and frantically applying very peculiar ointments to your tiny body. Although you don’t know, she is very pleased with herself for just delivering the next legendary camel herder or warrior yet to be seen. You wanna tell me this old gal just ushered me in? No way! What is going on? What are camels? Will there be a baby shower? What about normal shower? Which century is this? You lose it. You will start wailing, demanding someone hand your umbilical cord back so you can strangle yourself, but of course everyone will think you are crying for milk!

So you are Somali; an awesome community of people who like to eat everything with bananas. This will be confusing for you, and as you grow up, you will grapple with the question of whether you are more Somali than Kenyan and vice versa. Where is the line between your nationality and your historical identity? Is there a line at all? Can these two identities co-exist in perfect harmony? Or are they conflicting and contradictory to each other?

I understand your confusion. But I’m here to try to tell you a few things to expect. First, you’ll have to google camels. Seriously. They are a huge deal, and the earlier you accept it, the better for you. If you find camels a tall order (pardon the pun), people will definitely question your Somaliness. You’ll soon discover you have a very strong bond with this tall creature. You’ll discover that you’ll feel calm and at home around it. You’ll come to love that rough feeling of its skin, the unique desert scent it has, the majestic way it walks, its uniquely calm demeanour that is unlike any other animal, it’s unmatched resilience and ability to survive even the harshest conditions. You’ll even see yourself in it love when you see how worked up and dangerous it can get once in a while especially when provoked. The camel is a reflection of you, a brilliant metaphor. You share a lot of common traits; the calm exterior, the resilience to survive anywhere, the tallness, the somewhat regal aura, the ability to charge when provoked or is on heat (I don’t know if the behaviour is the same for you when it comes to being on heat though, the jury is still out on that one), being rough at the edges et cetera. It has a lot of symbolism for as well. It’s a sign of wealth and will bring you immense respect amongst your tribesmen. It’s also a cultural symbol, so you’ll be taken seriously if you keep it close, so that when you decide to pay dowry for that hot chic from Dadaab in the form of camels, you’ll be a tad above the jokers who will promise to pay theirs in cows or goats. You are rolling your little eyes; you get it.

If you had a dollar every time you will face stereotypes, you’d become a millionaire without a doubt. For starters, you may be to regarded as unruly, violent, an extremist, an ingrate, a refugee (seems crossing from Garissa to Nairobi makes you one), a pirate, uncouth, chauvinistic, rude, aggressive, hunger-stricken et cetera. Perhaps this due to the fact that people don’t understand you. You see, the only material available for people to rely on to figure you out are ‘Black Hawk Down,’ and ‘Captain Philips,’ which don’t exactly portray you in a favourable light.

The expectation is that you’ll have to be tall, dark and skinny. Of course you’ll have more siblings than you can count. Folks will think that you like to keep clearing your throat even when you don’t have to, make it very loud and then spit it out far off just for sport! You may also earn yourself the highly distinguished reputation of bumping onto everyone as you walk in the streets, you make conversations animated like it is a fight and of course you may chew khat.

Some people may refer to you as Somalian. Although you’ll pardon the misnomer, it is not actually true that you are from Somalia, you’ve never set foot there and had nothing to do with or experienced the civil war. Some may believe that you know pirates on a first name basis, never mind the fact that you’ve never crossed the Kenya-Somalia border. Your impressive rap sheet also includes the “fact” that you’ve got gun dealers on speed dial! Man aren’t you so cool!

In an interesting twist, however, when you grow up, you might be quite the Romeo, or should I say quite the Farah. You see, being Somali and all, you’ll know how to talk to a pretty girl as soon as you are able to walk and talk. You will try, at least. Somali is a romantic language. I swear, I’m not shitting you. The odds favour you as well because I predict your generation will be on Twitter by age six. You’ll also have a girlfriend from each bulla (neighbourhood) in your home town and you’ll never be busted, at least for a good few years. You’ll be a sly little bastard.

But I have some bad news for you in that regard; you will not know how to dance. Unfortunately for you, you’ll not be the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to this. You will be blessed with two left feet so you’ll haplessly wobble your feet and nod occasionally. You’ll also probably not know how to make out. What the hell is that you ask? Well, you are a bit too young to know. But I’ll tell you our forefathers never did it, and they still made plenty of strong healthy babies. They were pretty simple folks who did. It have time for that. Camels don’t make out either and you share a lot of traits with them, so there must be a reason. You are actually picturing camels making out, aren’t you? You really need help! Focus on the story, will you? You’ll also have an unusual bond with fruit juice, especially afya juice because of the thirst caused by the unforgiving heat. As a result, you’ll not miss afya juice in your dates because lucky for you, she’ll dig it. Who does coffee anyway? So mainstream. I see you nodding your head. I like you.

Even though you will be educated and urbane, you will still be a nomad at heart. Cities will scare the crap out of you, at least at first. It will take some getting used to. Your immersion into urban cultural norms and linguistic idiosyncrasies will be nothing short of baptism by fire. You’ll have to learn the local slang and colloquialisms. You’ll surely make more than your share of faux pas in the first few months. Let’s hope that you’ll not be like yours truly here, who used to leave shoes at the entrance when going into a building; would sit down inside elevators and got terrified of flushing toilets!

Of you grew up in the semi-arid plains of the North, the culture shock will have question why you even left the simple life of the rural home. You were not prepared for the city’s hodgepodge of unfamiliar cultures and social norms. You are a conservative when it comes to social behaviour and cultural practices, and you take immense pride in that. This is partly as an outcome of a collective identity steeped in tradition. So it is expected that you will view change with a great deal of caution and suspicion.

You’ll resist the urge to whip anyone who does not conform to your standard of social behaviour. There’ll be so much tights, piercings, skinny jeans, tattooed bodies and cleavage for you to process. How come we don’t have this back home? Hehe. Animal print clothing will drive you over the edge. Blood red lips will have you terrified of women, thinking they must drink blood in broad day light. Everything will be in loud colours too. The masses of people, who strangely don’t stop to great each other will have you dizzy. In every turn there will be folks who come complete with sunglasses and smart phones to sip on their cappuccinos while exchanging gossip in English.

Sometimes you’ll miss the quiet and the slower pace (and the lower expenses!) of Garissa or Wajir, but there will be simply so much more here, and the people will be just fine once you realize that the coldness and impatience are defence mechanisms against a chaotic, fast-paced culture, and that quiet times with good friends are cherished here as much as anywhere.

You’ll also miss that sense of small town intimacy. Back home, you could just approach a stranger, and you call anyone who’s older than you ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ because they’re really part of the family. Everyone will speak to each other as people know each other, and even if they won’t know each other, they won’t care. They’ll quickly struck a lively conversation about the hot sun and afya juice. Things were much simpler. Here it’s just strangers, you wouldn’t approach someone just calling them a family member. That’d be weird. So weird.
So it’ll be tough to adjust. You’ll try to shake off the homesickness with a bottle of camel milk – it’ll remind you of life back at home. And even though it’d be processed and will taste funny, you’ll feel good about yourself since it’ll be the thought that will count. Just like the average Somali, you won’t stand the sight of fast food chains or chain restaurants in general- they simply don’t give you that feeling you get when you find yourself in Al Yusra.

When you see a Somali person, you’ll gleefully strike up a conversation with them just so you know you haven’t forgotten the language. Since you understand and appreciate the importance of the clan dynamics that form the base of traditional Somali society, the introduction will feature family lineage, and within seconds you’ll find out that the person is from a family very well known to you. You might have briefly dated the cousin, promising heaven and beyond but that didn’t happen obviously and you broke her heart. But of course you’ll not mention this. You’ll be glad the ice will be broken just like that.

When all fails to get you going, you’ll travel back home, leaving your phone and gadgets behind. You’d missed how red the sand was, how bright the sun was, and the multi-coloured plastic bags that hung haphazardly in trees for as far as the eye could see. Sometimes all you’ll need is to just spend a few days tending to the camels and breathe in the hot dry air. You’ll take in the bright blue skies and the sight of bony acacia trees and the thorny bushes and you’ll feel great. It’d feel calm and natural. Everything will make sense in that moment. It’ll be one of those perfect moments of your life and you won’t waste one moment of it.

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11 thoughts on “Somali

  1. I really like this one. Very insightful.

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    1. Thanks Kavita, I’m glad to hear that..

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  2. I’m not a Somali but I loved this piece. I now understand the Somali people better.

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  3. great piece brother, i loved every bit of it, we haven’t met for a long time and i have no idea what you do so if one asks what is aress up-to this days i will simply say he is a writer and a great one at that. Looking forward to your next piece

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    1. Glad to hear that bro, appreciate it. I hope I will live up to that description. Thanks

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  4. great piece, humorous, descriptive and a little intrusive to our adored “bula iftin” culture… couldn’t agree more; we, somalis, are indeed a puzzle and as a friend would say “almost parallel to the rest of the world” unfathomable!
    captivating! !

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    1. Parallel indeed. Never thought of it like that. Thank you

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  5. My identity, my pride. Mash Allah Aress

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  6. I think this is my favorite, funny thing is a part of me could connect because i feel like a stranger when i go back home. Good piece and very funny, keep writing bro. You were born to do this.

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    1. Shukran so much Saku, glad to hear that.. appreciate the encouragement.

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