In the Somali culture, we carry our forefather’s name like an ID card; you have your name, your father’s name and then your grandfather’s etc etc etc. In my case, ‘Id’/’Ciid’/’Eid’, is my great-grandfather’s name and it’s also the kind of name that hits you with a spotlight when you’re in certain places…this town I’ve moved to is one of those places. Less than 2 hours in the country and at least 3 different people had figured out who my family is, and all I could do was that awkward tight-liped smile with a gentle nod of the head to confirm.
Being my own person and doing things on my own is something that I pride myself in. So, imagine my frustration when in the past 5 days of being in Somalia, I’ve gotten an army of people calling me to introduce themselves as family, and that they want to introduce me to my entire clan because they simply heard the three names that came before me on my family tree. I try to be as polite as possible because of course there’s no reason to be hostile, and I when people’s intentions are good, even if I’m uncomfortable, I try to just see it from their perspective.
I had multiple people warn me that people would come find me. I had one cousin warn me that I will be asked for money (hasn’t happened yet), and another said I would walk into my office one day with someone sitting there waiting for me (this happened). This got me thinking how being so far removed from a place can very much change our mannerisms as well. I’m a Danish-born Somali who has grown up around the world, with people from all cultures and religions, this experience has definitely shaped the way I interact with the world around me.
There are certain things that I just don’t do but are somewhat socially acceptable here: First thing’s first, you don’t hand out phone numbers without consulting the owner of that phone number. You don’t pop up at a stranger’s office because you want to say ‘hi’. You do not assume that you can so casually be in my space if I didn’t invite you in. These are seemingly basic know-how’s of conducting yourself, right? But I can’t expect you, my dear reader, or anyone else to act a certain way if the environments we grew up in were different, if the culture that was passed down to us is different…and I’m beginning to realise that navigating socially here will be a trip.
Many people will usually experience culture shock when they are faced with such alien circumstances but isn’t it wild that we can sometimes be so set in our ways that we can very subconciously look down on someone else because we see our way to be the right way? In a world of over 7 billion, shouldn’t we be more excited to learn from each other than continuing to restrict the way we live? Let me give you something I’ve learnt along the way: as much as you’re incredibly special and unique in your own right, you are not above anyone else –
be humble and recognise that you’re less than a percent of what makes up the world, which is ironic because you’re also one of the most unique beings ever.
My name is what it is, I am from a long line of people that are so epic and I’m proud of it. But just because I carry this name doesn’t mean it defines me, or guides my destiny and no-one is entitled to inject themselves into my life because they may have known my grandfather at some point or because they are being nosy. I just need a little room to breathe, and a little time to show you that me, Qali, I have a lot of to say and be, separate from who I come from. I just need you to meet me with an unbiased lens. Is that too much to ask?