I only heard her speak and my heart broke.Let me start this conversation with a disclaimer – I have never been part of stan culture, there are people that I deeply admire, but becoming star struck and not being able to think straight doesn’t happen, which may also be because I never really try to physically meet them. Now the individuals that I geek about the most are (1) the ones that have contributed to things I am passionate about, which I guess is similar to most people and (2) people that are Somali. The latter because they are usually the ones that made me believe that I could push forward, if they are up there changing things, and they look like me, then I can too. For young me, this was incredibly important.
Last night I went for the closing ceremony of 16 Days of Activism (an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls that takes place annually from 25/11-10/12). There were representatives from government, civil society, NGOs, we had activist, actors and musicians in there too, it was a celebration to say the least. From the moment I walked in, I spotted a face that I had seen in so many articles, a face that represented excellence, a face that had showed me that hard work in service of your people will always win…or at least that is what the younger me had perceived and internalized because last night I was in for a rude awakening.
It’s no secret that Somalia has been politically separated for a while and that the clan system has caused us more grief than progress. I was raised by parents who never spoke about clans but rather told me of a time where they sat in classrooms and were neighbours with people from all backgrounds. A time when many of the most educated today were given scholarships to travel to countries in the West for education regardless of your clan. A time when there was some sort of national identity, so today when people ask me where in Somalia I am from, although I know exactly what that means between the lines, I have always and will always say Somalia. This also helped shaped how proud I am of Somali people achieving, there’s no hate in me only an abundance of love and pride for a place that I am trying my hardest to relearn as a reality vs. secondary nostalgia. I am not a politician and so borders and othering rhetoric is not something that interests me, if anything it turns me off. I am for healing and reconciliation. Understanding and compassion.
“I love the most, the one who puts Somaliland before anything else”.
I sat through a speech by someone that I have admired for a long time because of their dedication to serving people. I have been aware of problematic rhetoric that this individual has used in the past, but I have always given credit where credit is due, and besides I had never witnessed or heard any of this for myself.
The speech continued down a path that if you weren’t from the self-proclaimed nation, you would want the ground to swallow you whole. For the first time in my 7 months of living, working and travelling in Somalia, I felt isolated and alone. Scratch that, for the first time in my 25 years of living, I felt like I didn’t belong somewhere. This is the power of othering – us versus them – this rhetoric is what keeps the roots of this country poisoned.
“In all his imaginings, he had never envisioned her crying. He knew that her son had died, but he’d never expected that her pain might be anything he could recognize, almost as though he believed that Negroes had their own special kind of grieving ritual, another language, something other than tears they used to express their sadness.”
― Bebe Moore Campbell, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine
Forget that this individual was an active individual in the SOMALI political scene back in the day, that all education came by virtue of the SOMALI government, that all the fundraising they have done in the past was through and from SOMALI people, including my parents. Forget that they had even represented SOMALIA on very public stages in the past. Forget all of it.
Last night I finally understood why Moby has a strict ‘no meeting heroes’ policy because you could meet them on a bad day, except I saw mine for who they really are. Someone who doesn’t care much about individuals like me, someone who sounds a lot like an elitist, which is a huge contradiction to everything they do.
You see I learnt that integrity is something that people will sell at the expense of getting ahead in this world and to separate yourself from the ‘taint’ in your past. The taint in this case is Somalia and it’s turbulent past. It was a direct “f**k you” to anyone who isn’t from Somaliland. By no means am I saying Somaliland doesn’t exist, let’s chill, half of my family are from here and it’s all love. All I’m saying is that regardless of where in this vast and divided country we are from, we are still one people and advocating for anything that isn’t founded in our shared blood and peace and unity is dangerous in my opinion.
“We’ve moved forward, we’ve come far, we have hope.”
These words were spoken in Somali. All of this was said in a room filled with people I work with or parallel to on the daily, except I wasn’t part of the ‘we’. Half of my family are from this region, and it’s always been love and bants. I have never experienced wanting to cry because I felt so ostracized. In that moment I honestly asked myself “why the hell am I even doing any of this?” I mean how naïve could I be?
We put people on pedestals and we know of them through our own perceptions of them. We never have the chance to hear and see who they truly are because our lenses are fogged up with our dreams and hopes. My dreams and hopes. I wanted to go and tell them that they disappointed me, that they broke my heart, but I went outside for some air and remembered something:
“If you can find no one to become your ideal to aspire to, no one to be your ultimate example, your idol, your motivation— don’t fret! You can and you must become your own ultimate aspiration, your own example, your own idol, ideal, motivation! You go and be what you haven’t found yet!”
― C. JoyBell C.
I am here because I was tired of waiting for older, ‘responsible’ leaders to do the right thing. Like I said I am not a politician. I will always try do the right thing selflessly despite the consequences. I strive to be an ideal for young African and Muslim girls everywhere.
“Feelings of superiority always stem from an illusion.”
― Marty Rubin
What illusions have you sold yourself?