5 Things I Miss About Somalia

 

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It’s been a while since I last visited Somalia. Despite it’s flaws in the eyes of the world (I mean, what country’s reputation improves after two decades of civil war, right?), there are many reasons why I wish I could be there in an instant. I really miss being there. The entire paternal side of my family is from there, the North in particular, and so I always feel welcome and at home whenever I do manage to visit. Every now and again I am reminded of some odd thing that makes me miss it more than usual. Today, it was some frankincense scented incense. Of course, anything frankincense scented feels simply disappointing once you’ve smelt the real deal.

  1. The food is so fresh. The fruits here in the UK, whilst still delicious, just can’t compare to the mangos and bananas you can buy in the local markets in Hargeisa and Berbera. Meat is also much fresher, even though I don’t eat that much. Chickens, goats, ans other animals are usually killed and cooked shortly before the meal, unlike readily killed and butchered animal parts you buy in the West. The are certainly fewer ingredients available, but the overall freshness makes the ingredients you have pack a punch as it is. I also miss traditional Somali foods like angello, sambusas and xalwo.
  2. I feel so at home there. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life so far here in the UK and feel very British overall, yet somehow whenever I go back I feel at home in a different way. I suppose it has everything to do with having so much family living there. I’m always discovering new family members, distant aunts, uncles and cousins, that I had never known about before whenever I go back. Something funny about Somali society is that everyone who is Somali has a place in it, depending on who you are related to and their Clan. No matter where you grew up or even if you have ever been to Somalia itself, there will always be a place for you. It gives you a certain sense of belonging.  Also, everyone looks like you (in a way). I love the diversity here in the UK, especially in London. People from all over the world can belong here, no matter what their background. But there’s a certain different type of belonging you feel when everyone around you is somewhat like you. In a similar way to feeling you belong in a pack of students wandering around a university where you are all usually the same age and at the same point in life. In Somalia, we all speak our own language (which I should get to better grips with myself), we are all Muslim (that I know of), dress in a similar way and the fact that we all have Somali features. I still consider myself to be predominantly British and English at that, but it feels wonderful to fit so well somewhere else.
  3. Somali is spoken everywhere. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can truly immerse yourself in the language. If you ever want to properly get to grips with a language, having it being spoken around you and to you constantly is a huge help, if not a necessity. My Somali speaking skills always fade after I’ve been away for a while, although speaking to family at get togethers helps. Somali is such a poetic language and hearing people who have used it their whole lives gives you a new appreciation for it.
  4. The weather is nice and hot. Sometimes it’s far too hot for comfort, but all hot weather sounds a treat when another Scottish winter is approaching. The ocean is wonderful too. A rich, sparkling blue and warm to the touch. I’ve heard it’s good water to go diving in if you have the equipment, with colourful fish and coral reefs.
  5. The clothes. I often wish I could wear my Somali clothes often while wandering outside in the UK, because they are just so comfortable. They are light and cool to wear and full of colour. They also make choosing an outfit nice and simple, you shove on a baati and headscarf and you’re good to go! Having said that, I do love the way we dress in the UK, especially in London. It feels great to put together a sleek and stylish outfit with a variety of clothing styles. Not that you can’t look sleek and stylish in a Somali dress! It is definitely harder to find modest clothing though.

 

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Disclaimer: none of the images above where created by me, but I feel they accurately illustrate the things I try to describe.

Thank you for reading this far and have a wonderful day.

A Somali Wedding in London

In my last post I mentioned that one of my cousins living in London was getting married. It was wonderful. More in “look at all this great food” sense rather than “aww, what a sweet couple they make” sense. To be fair, they seemed like a very nice couple together, but my main concern was pigging out on the impressive feast of Somali food there. My mum and sister told me off a couple of times for snatching up all the sambusas and I left with one heck of a food baby, which no one could see under my guntiino (loose fitting Somali dress).

While I won’t add any photos from my cousin’s wedding, I found quite a few photos from other UK based Somali weddings (and elsewhere) to give you all a picture of what it was like. Also, you can take a look at 2nukollection’s post on Blogspot where she has some several photos of a British-Somali wedding. Another nice post with some info plus a video can be found on worldinmybackyard.com.

If you are ever invited to a Somali wedding, the first thing to take care of is finding the right dirac or guntiino to wear for the occasion. Some women use it as an excuse for a trip to Dubai (lucky bitches), but sadly we didn’t have enough prep time (or funds) to do such a thing.

A dirac is more commonly worn, especially by older women. They’re large, colourful and made of soft, silky material.

 

The other most popular option is the guntiino, as mentioned, which is also made of nice silky material and is wrapped over one shoulder. With a guntiino you would normally leave your hair uncovered and your shoulders bare, but I’ve seen them worn in a variety of ways before.

 

Sometimes men and women will celebrate together in one aroos (after party) and other times the men and women celebrate separately. The ceremony itself is nearly always mixed. My cousin’s had the men and women party separately. The aroos is also something that starts late in the evening (say 9pm-ish) and goes on into the night. Sometimes they last only one night, others they last for days. My guess is that they tend to be shorter in the UK since work is less flexible and people need to be somewhere in the morning.

Weddings that take place in the UK and probably many other Western countries where Somalis live usually take a more Western approach than in Somalia. For example, it’s uncommon for the groom’s family to pay meher (dowry) to the brides’s family, or at least in the cases I’m aware of. I’ve sometimes heard of ‘meher’ being used to talk about the engagement, but I’m more used to it meaning dowry.  Also the ceremonies in the UK focus more on the couple rather than the family as a whole. In a traditional Somali wedding, neither the bride nor groom actually has to attend; their families can arrange it all on their behalf.A bride might also wear a Western style wedding dress and there may be a wedding cake. I’ve never actually been to a wedding in Somalia (or Kenya or Ethiopia for that matter), but I know many who have and they’re always keen to describe every detail.

In both the West and Somalia the bride is decorated in wonderful henna designs. My sister and I wore a little henna ourselves, but were careful not to make it too elaborate. To have nicer henna than the bride would probably be similar to wearing a white dress at a Western wedding i.e. not recommended.

 

No matter where the wedding is being held, there will likely be an abundance in Somali treats! Lots of xalwo (Somali sweets) and sambusas (otherwise known as samosas) plus much more.

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I’m no longer in London, so perhaps the updates will be more frequent from now on (hopefully). That said, I have exams soon and should be spending as much time as I can bare hitting the books. A nice update now and again could make a decent study break though.

Back to London

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(Not my picture, but illustrates the journey fairly well)

It’s funny how you can almost instantly tell once you have crossed the boundary between Scotland and England. All the pretty hills become ironed out into smooth, flat farmland followed by a sign that says “Welcome to England”. England looks rather depressing in comparison. Not that I’m at all sad to be back. I’ve missed my family back in London, especially since I didn’t return for the winter break. I tend to call it “winter break” rather than the Christmas holidays simply because I feel odd calling it that, as someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. And yet what others call “spring break”, I still call “Easter holidays”, as senseless as that is. Perhaps because it just sounds too American.

I get to abandon “Henna”, my dancer persona, for a couple of weeks and go back to being nothing but my normal self. I’m writing this from my old room that I grew up in while my family bustle around downstairs, completely ignorant of that persona and the blog that goes with it. I was almost tempted to bring along my favourite pair of dancer shoes, but thought best of it. They are so comfortable and good for an ordinary night out without getting painfully blistered feet my the end of the night like normal high heels do. Plus most of my family couldn’t tell the difference (providing that they aren’t the clear plastic platforms that practically scream “stripper!”).My big sister is also hear for the week and would have questioned those shoes in a heartbeat. Part of me really wishes I could check out the local gentleman’s clubs just to see how they differ to the couple in Scotland that I’ve worked in, but I don’t see that being possible. The risk of wandering into another Somali here in London feels just too high.

It has been wonderful being around everyone from home again and hearing Somali being spoken all over the house. I hadn’t even realised how much I missed Somali music either.My sister feels it necessary to correct my pronunciation every once in a while whenever it sounds slightly too Scottish for her liking. It all sounds straight up English to my ears! I’m sure my Scottish pals would laugh at her for thinking anything I say sounds too Scottish. I also heard my mother speaking to one of her relatives in French and Tamashek the other day, which made a change. My mother’s side of the family is not Somali, but Tuareg. Most of her family still live in West Africa and are difficult to track down for a visit since they live a nomadic lifestyle. As a result, I’ve always felt more connected with Somalis and Brits.

One of my many cousins is getting married next week, so my mother, sister and I will need to have a dirac or guntiino ready. There will be relatives coming from Somalia, Kenya, the USA and New Zealand plus probably many more. They had better stock up on bariis! Needless to say, I’m very excited for the occasion!

I might not be able to update too frequently until I get back to Scotland. My sister is terrible for snooping and I really would rather she didn’t find the blog. I can already imagine her endless lectures if she ever found out about my exotic dancing habit. How funny it would be if I found out she was one. She’d never be able to play Holier than Thou with me again!

In the meantime, Salaam to you all.