May/Jun
2015

A Nomad Girl: Raises her children in Rochester

Written by By Habibo A. Haji, R.N., Photography By Mike Hardwick Photography
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I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, where it is always sunny and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Given up by my mother at the age of 6 months, I went to live with my grandmother in a remote, primitive village. As a toddler, while grandmother grazed the sheep and goats in the grasslands, I was left to stay in the hut by myself. We slept on the dirt floor. 

 

By the time I turned 5 years old, my grandmother taught me how to graze the animals by myself, which I did each day, seven days a week, in the grasslands of Somalia. I often fought jackals by day and hyenas by night, experiences from which I developed my addiction to the adrenaline rush. By the age of 11, I was grazing the cattle as a nomad for months on end—a male-dominated role—having to fend for myself, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

LUCKY LOTTERY WINNER

At the age of 14, I was torn from what I knew and tossed into Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world, located in western Kenya. Built to hold 90,000 refugees, it had swollen to 150,000 by the time I arrived there; it is now 760,000 and still growing. For three years, I helped my mother care for my younger brother and four sisters while living in our makeshift tent. I feared for our lives at night from marauders, rapists, thieves and murderers, but most of all, I was heartbroken to see the severely malnourished, especially the very young and the very old. 

In 1999, I left the refugee camp and immigrated to the United States, settling in Phoenix, Arizona. I was selected out of a lottery. Everyone in the camp applies but few are picked. When someone is chosen, they go through a series of interviews and medical testing. It is a long and tedious process. I was then sponsored by Catholic Charities, who assisted me with housing and finances for the first few months of adjusting to the United States. When my housing situation in Phoenix became difficult, I decided to move. 

A PLACE CALLED HOME

My arrival to Rochester, Minnesota in 2008 was fortunate, unexpected and unplanned. I did not look it up on the Internet, ask anyone about it or check out the weather before moving. I like the quietness here and that I can easily travel from one side of the city to the other in 15 minutes. I am used to the vast grassland of Somalia, so big cities make me nervous. 

Growing up in a small, primitive village, I fantasized about owning my home. I would imagine living in the most beautiful, well-decorated hut in our village, very different from my home in Rochester. 

In my time here, I have acquired great friendships, some of whom I consider family. I realize that it doesn’t matter as much where we are from or even what our beliefs are; rather, it is our openness toward others that allows us to form lasting relationships. I like the saying, “You have two kinds of families: your blood family and the ones you adopt throughout life.” Although I miss my family very much, I have developed a close relationship with two ladies, Shelly Shurson and Joleen Stamer. While Shelly took me in as her daughter, Joleen stepped in like my own sister. I know I can call them anytime to come to my rescue. I am so blessed and grateful to have them in my life. They are a part of the reason why I call Rochester my home.

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