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.

The Highs and Lows of Being Hijabi

There are many reasons why Muslim women and girls choose to wear or not wear a hijab. Each has their own very personal story behind it. Many feel that it gives them respect. That instead of focusing on their beauty or (lack of), people must appreciate them for their intelligence, wit and personality and find wearing the hijab to be liberating. Others do it because they wish to feel closer to Allah and that by wearing one they show their loyalness to him. Some wear it simply because they think it looks good. For me it was partly because I feel culturally connected to the piece, but for the most part because I wanted to show the world that I’m Muslim and not afraid to let everyone know.

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When you wear the hijab, it becomes a part of your identity. Much like being British, female or Muslim. When you pass another hijabi in the street, you acknowledge one another with that knowing smile and an “Assalamu alaikum”. Even if you have never seen this person before in all your life. It’s kind of like a part of a secret sisterhood. Only of course, it isn’t at all secret. Anyone can spot someone wearing hijab miles off. It’s also kind of similar to when you see another person who’s also wearing a t-shirt by your favourite YouTuber, in my case Markiplier, and you give them a high-fiving and complement them on their fantastic taste in TouTube channels (this actually happened once). On a slightly different level of course, but you catch my drift.

The hijab is also great on a superficial level. Don’t feel like styling your hair today? No problem; shove a scarf over it. Don’t feel like washing your hair just yet? Hide it under a brightly coloured scarf. Having one of those days when your hair resembles a troll doll and nothing you do can tame it? You know the answer. Have a hideous pulsing growth on the back of your neck? You should probably get that checked out by a doctor. But in the meantime, shove a scarf over that mofo! Not to mention, there is a near endless possibilities with different colours, patterns and styles. It’s so much easier that cutting and dying your hair all the time. Alternatively, if you DO feel like dying your hair and do a really shitty job like I did once (it was an awful orangey pink) and want no one to see the disaster area on your head, wearing the hijab is also a great way to conceal that.

Having said that, it isn’t always easy wearing one in public in Western countries. I rarely have any trouble here in Scotland. Most people seem to be fairly used to seeing hijabis in my adopted city and I’m treated as normally as I would if I had been wearing a hat. The same goes for London in general. The center is so diverse that you can wear almost any garment from anywhere in the world and still blend in. The part of London I grew up in has a more suburban feel to it with not all that many people who don’t look “native” so to speak. I was never harassed or made to feel unwelcome, but I did attract a lot of stares on a regular basis when I first started wearing my hijab. Then again, that may have been because people were used to seeing me without it.

The the places where I DO get hassled tend to be either in the small villagers where people tend to be naturally insular, the US, Korea and continental Europe.  For example, when I was in Orlando, Florida last year, I had several people come up to me and say along the lines of “Honey, you know you don’t have to wear that anymore? You’re in America!” Why yes! I did know exactly which country I was in. Good for me. I don’t feel badly towards the few who said that. They may have been grossly misinformed, but they were just trying to be helpful. Perhaps I should have let them know that they didn’t have to show their hair if they didn’t want to either. Others were less friendly and told me the usual “Go back to your own country, terrorist!” Unsettling, but again, not too bad.

One of the worst experiences I’ve had while wearing a headscarf in public was on a street in Spain. I was on holiday with several mates and wee were wandering around looking for somewhere to eat at(i.e. minding our own business). I was the only one of us wearing a scarf. We stood chatting for a moment trying to decide whether to pick a restaurant on close by or keep trying to find this particular place for tapas. I noticed a woman staring at me intently slightly further up the road. I figured she was just another starer, so ignored her. We eventually decided on a place and continued to walk up the road, the woman’s eyes still locked onto me. As we were about to pass she called out in Spanish “Why do you wear that? This is Spain, not a place for barbarians. Take that rag off your head!” We then started to move more quickly. She called out again “I said take it off!” and just as I was passing her she lunged forward and grabbed a hold of my hijab, yanking it hard. I yelped in pain a surprise and felt myself flying towards her. She then proceeded to tug at my scarf and hair, chocking me in the process. My friends all tried to bat her off and shouted threats towards her. She became maddened and started to scratch me and bite my ear. In the end I was able to throw her off, knocking the air out of her and we all made a run for it. Needless to say, my pals and I were all in a state of shock straight afterwards.

We found our way to the restaurant and tried to look as composed as possible when the waiter appeared and lead us to our seats. He clearly noticed something was up. He kept glancing at us nervously and asked if we were okay. Once we had all sat down and the dazed feeling started to fade and I felt a sharp pain in my right ear where the mad woman had bitten me. Before long, much to my embarrassment, I started to cry like a little girl. The waiter returned and asked what was wrong and so we (or rather my pals since I was still blubbering like a baby) told him what had just happened outside. He was absolutely wonderful. Not only did he have lots of comforting words and offer to fetch the police, but he organised for my meal to be on the house. I left him a massive tip.

I suppose what it boils down to is that there are both ugly and generous people wherever you go. Nevertheless, it is definitely a different experience when you wear a hijab and when you don’t. It’s a shame how wearing one can bring out the worst in some people. What I find strange is that the same piece of clothing provokes such different reactions depending on whether you wear a scarf over your hair or around your neck. Whether you do or whether you don’t wear it, it is a personal choice to make. Be sure it is for the reasons you feel rather than fear of those around you. The choice is yours and yours alone.