I Thank Allah for Such a Mother

Excerpts from The First Winter, a collection of writings by young Somali-American women and the first book published by Two Shrews Press.

We were impressed — but not surprised — at how much these young women’s mothers and grandmothers mean to them. Throughout their journeys to the United States, a common theme emerges: Strong and brave mothers doing everything they can to give their daughters the best possible life, even when it means leaving behind everything they’ve ever known. This is at once astonishing and expected: It’s simply what mothers do.

The First Winter is dedicated to the women who came before us. Today we celebrate the mothers of our authors and mothers everywhere.

One day we went, seven of us including my mom, to the interview place in Ethiopia. People were waiting outside, and it was the most crowded and loudest place that I have ever been. We were all holding my mom’s dress, so that we wouldn’t get separated from each other or lost. We were in the line, the sun on top of our heads, it was really hot, then our names were called. My mom told us to stay close. The door was narrow and a lot of people were standing and yelling to go inside. My mom tried to go through, we were still hanging on her dress. Some of us lost our shoes, but we made it inside. We were safe. We got to sit down.

“Why did you leave your homeland?”

“Because of the civil war in Somalia.”

“How old are you?”

“I am nine.”

“Why are you here?”

“We are trying to find peace.”

And so on. After two days my mom went to get the result: pass or fail. When she came back, we were so excited that there might be someplace safe we could call home that we ran to her as soon as we saw her. Did we pass the interview, mom?

Yes. They’d given us the card that proved we were eligible to stay at the refugee camp, a place that provided free food, shelter, and more. We started school right away. We were happy that we finally had a place to settle in. Little did I know that I would move again. My family and I lived in that refuge for about seven years, and then we moved here, to America.

— Nimo Kasim

(A Conversation about Life in the Camp)

Nada: We didn’t think of ourselves as refugees in the camp. Maybe it was because we were younger. We didn’t feel poor or like we lacked anything. We just ate whatever we wanted.

Najma: I didn’t feel that I was a refugee. I didn’t think someone was helping me. It was my best life there, but now that I am older, I wouldn’t want to be there at this age.

Nada: Maybe my uncle, who was five years older than us, felt different. But when I was younger everything was perfect. You didn’t have to worry about what you were going to eat. All the older people thought about that.

Nadifo: Our mother didn’t love life in the camp.

Nada: But I’ve never seen her sad. Even there. Even when she didn’t know what was going to happen to us or where we were going to end up. She worked hard for us and still does.

— Nadifo, Nada, Nimo, and Najma Kasim

One day my mom started packing up everything and I got like about twelve shots for vaccination. Here it comes, the last day that I stepped my legs in Africa, Tuesday, July 8th, 2014.

I left the friends I went to school with and played jump rope with. It was the worst feeling that I have ever felt in my whole life. (Now, what I miss the most is fighting with my friends over simple things and forgiving each other five minutes later.) I still can see, when I close my eyes, the last glimpse of my friends, neighbors, family, my grandma waving at us.

I went to the airport with my mom, my six siblings, and six huge bags. It was the longest two days of my life, in an airplane or waiting for an airplane. I couldn’t sleep that night on the airplane. The one from Ethiopia stopped in Frankfurt, Germany. The next airplane landed in New York in the late afternoon of a Thursday, July 10th, 2014. The case worker came and told us we were going to take a car to Hartford, Connecticut. She was Somali, but she couldn’t speak Somali very well. The driver was an Arab man — I remember Mom and him talking Arabic. He bought some fruit and chips. We were very hungry because the food at the airport was different from what we used to eat, so we hadn’t eaten any. After we had the snacks, my siblings and I slept on each other in the car. When we got to Hartford Mom woke us up and we carried our bags and supplies to the apartment. It was a three-bedroom apartment and it was three AM. We all lay down and slept right there, our first sleep in America.

— Nadifo Kasim

© Kara Counard

My mom is my world.

Every day and night I like to put a smile on her face. My mom, she is my best friend. If I put myself in her shoes, I wouldn’t be able to handle it for one second. She is very patient. Whenever I face obstacles she is there to guard and guide me. My mom is inspirational to me. Being a single mother with seven children is a lot harder than you can imagine, but my mom never let us work while we were in school. She believes we wouldn’t be able to focus on both our education and our jobs. She works very hard for us to get whatever we need. She goes to work at noon, while we are at school, and when she comes home at midnight, we’re asleep. When we go to school in the morning, she’s asleep. On the weekends, it feels like we haven’t seen each other forever.

All that I am today or hope to be in the future, I owe to my kind-hearted mom. My mom is and always has been my greatest teacher of compassion, of patience, of love, and mostly, of fearlessness.

I thank Allah for such a mother.

— Najma Kasim

I sat next to the window in the corner of my empty room and the house felt deserted and foreign to me. I tried denying the truth, that we would move tomorrow and that I might never see this house again. This was the run-down house with yellow bricks, distinct from the neighboring houses. This was where I spent my childhood, running around with my sisters and brothers, playing rope and hopscotch in the backyard. This was where I lived, near my friends and close family, my uncles, my ayeeyo.

As I stood up to look at the enormous moon hovering in the sky, surrounded by his companions, the stars, I wondered, if the moon were alone, would it be able to shine? Would it feel lonely? My wondering was interrupted when my ayeeyo entered the room. She stood next to me as we watched the moon together and I felt my heart break with the thought of leaving her.

“Nasteho, what is wrong? Why are you crying?” She spoke tenderly, in her soft, soothing voice.

“Ayeeyo,” I sobbed, “Why do we have to leave? I have you, my friends, and my school here and I don’t want to go to another country.”

She turned to me and hugged me and smiled. Ayeeyo told me how she hadn’t been able to get an education beyond middle school and how lucky I was to be able to go to the United States. I would get a better education, an opportunity only fortunate people get. Then she told me something that changed my life forever.

She said, “Aqoon la’aan, waa iftiin la’aan” which translates “That without knowledge, there is no light.”

From that moment, I decided to study hard and get the highest education I can get. I would live my life with new purpose, to finish school, to have a career that I choose for myself, to make my family and the people I care about proud.

— Nasteho Kasim

As a child, I always wanted to be like my mom, aunts, and grandma and wear the hijab. I remember the first hijab that my grandma designed and gifted me when I was seven years old: the color of the hijab was the color of the sky with white flowers and it was precious to me. When we celebrated Eid, I used to compete with my friends over who would get the cutest new dress and hijab for Eid. Later, when I lived in a refugee camp, all the women covered their hair.

Coming from such a place and coming to the United States, where women do not cover their heads, was new to me. When my classmates asked me about my culture and why I wear hijab, I had to ask myself. I’d never had to answer this question before.

Hijab isn’t just about wearing a scarf on my head, it’s about covering my body with loose clothing in order to concentrate on becoming who I am within. True hijab comes from inside, just as true modesty comes from within.

Finding my clothing style in the stores is almost impossible in Green Bay. Our first year in the United States, my family and I wore the clothing that we’d brought with us. My mom is the only one that works in the family. Traveling to another state to get a new hijab wasn’t really an option, but we needed new clothes. That’s when it occurred to me that I like design — I could make my own clothes! Teaching myself how to use the sewing machine was a challenge. YouTube, social media, and sewing websites helped. Using a simple fabric and making any style that I wanted was a dream of mine that has come true.

Whenever I finish a piece of clothing, I thank my new community, who helped me learn designing and sewing without them knowing it. It is not Green Bay’s fault that it does not have my clothing style in its stores — I would not see their clothing style sold in my home country either. I’ve learned a skill that I will have for the rest of my life. Someday I will sell the clothing that I design to the stores where I live, which will make it easier for young Muslim girls to dress like I do without going through the same struggles.

I kept that first hijab that my grandmother made for me in the color of the sky. I am planning on gifting it to my first daughter.

— Nada Kasim

The First WInter: Stories of Survival by Experienced Hearts is available for preorder at www.twoshrewspress.com.

Copyright © by Bisharo Abdullahi, Nimco Sh. Abdullahi Hassan, Najma Hussein, Hafsa Husseyn, Maryam Husseyn, Nade (Nada) Kasim, Nadifo Kasim, Najma Kasim, Nasteho Kasim, Nimo Kasim, Yasmin Nur, and Zamzam Nur.

www.twoshrewspress.com Steph and Liz believe empathy and friendship can solve almost anything.