I was always one of those passionate Somali youngsters. I’d never claim to be British, because for me a British person was overly competitive sore loser with passive-aggressive tendencies and an aversion to telling the truth. My Somali nature would brazenly opt for honesty over forced politeness. And well, being a Black refugee child taught me I had little room to be smug; which was the inevitable goal of most of my self-righteous peers in their game of thrones.
As a member of the African Diaspora, I grew up feeling this need to fight and counteract the negative depictions of the continent. Without much reference or experience living on the continent, I had to use the few surviving family photos in my aunt’s albums and the internet to construct an idea of what home was. The albums later became the second floor of my university library which had an extensive collection of African books. I devoured all things Somali I could get my hands on; novels, diary accounts of British government administrators, government records, photography books – anything to insert myself into the historical narrative of a country I had been born in but knew little about. Through it all, I had an unwavering sense of loyalty to this country and people who had (and continue to be) portrayed inhumanely as part of the world’s media. Somalia had very few friends and I had a duty to befriend it and maybe even love it, contrary to the fact all it had seemed to contribute to my family was immeasurable pain.
It was with this naive perspective and unrelenting loyalty I came to this country two years ago. I came with the hope this long suffering mother would adopt its long lost daughter. What I found was far removed from my infantile notions of Somalia. The most striking was the glaring gap between the haves and have-nots, and equally hard to digest was the public’s acceptance of routine injustices. I have broached both these harsh realities with colleagues and friends, and found their accounts have somewhat helped me contextualize the complexity of the present Somali state.
In my quest to forge a solid identity- one that didn’t pit my poverty or Blackness against my ability- I longed to touch something of the Somalia my father knew. He perished during the war when I was young and I have no recollections of him or photos save for those few in my aunt’s prized albums. I wanted to feel something of his short life; the colours, the smells, the music. What I learned instead was (that Burao, that Hargeisa) that Somalia is no more.
Our mothers, aunts, cousins fill us with nostalgia for a place that has ceased to exist. So, we grow up in perpetual homesickness, a void we can’t fill with traditional dancing at weddings, old comedic plays on VHS or aged audio cassette tapes. We grow up yearning and hungry to fill the empty parts of ourselves. And when that emptiness spills over into violent delinquency, extremist ideologies, or any such activities of disenfranchised youth the Western media basks in our emptiness and portrays our homelessness for all to see.
Living in Hargeisa for the past two years has taught me that in the end; home is not a place, home is with people who feed your soul.