Casualties of the Truth

Not too long ago, I saw a post on Facebook which gave me a lot to ponder about.
Someone shared a reddit post about a young Somali man, a college student, who fell in love with an African American woman and presented the idea of marrying her to his Somali parents, who in turn threatened him with disownment, and isolation from his younger siblings if he went through with marrying this woman. Religion wasn’t the issue as the young woman converted to Islam. It was her ethnicity that was the issue. His Somali parents did not want him to marry an African American woman.

Based on my own experience of being in a relationship with an African American man, and having a child with him, and thus being disowned and isolated from my own siblings, this obviously hit very close to home.
As I read what his parents said to him about this young woman, I thought about what my father said about my own relationship and about my child ; his granchild. I struggle still with having a relationship with my father because of things said and done that caused our relationship to be broken, and incredibly difficult to repair.

As I relived fighting for my own child’s mental and emotional wellbeing in 1) a country with a historical and current race problem and 2) in an insular immigrant community with its own prejudices, and bigotry, I did what I do when I need to process things: I write about it.

And although, I have written about personal things before, this one gave me a hard time. I struggled with writing about this in a way that adequately honors my child, his personal story and identity but also challenges these archaic notions of who is a better and more superior human? How do I dismantle the,”them vs us,” mentality, this tribal mentality that exists among all humans for some reason? And how do I do it with while protecting my child?

I am still working on it, because I really don’t have the answers.

Being exiled from public places is where it all starts

I have a visceral reaction whenever I am reminded of how male dominated Somali society and Somalia is. Being constantly reminded that you’re not an equal member of a community because of your sex is just so jarring. Women are excluded and erased from the public sphere. There is just no sugar coating this. It’s part and parcel of the culture.

Any society where women even being in public is seen as something to be shameful of really has no space for women participation in decision making.There is a connection between the lack of visibility and exclusion. When your physical body is not to be visible – in sight in public-you are excluded from participation in public life. You can’t have a seat at the table because you’re not even supposed to be seen.

We have to take up space. We are not asking.

The public sphere is just as much ours, as women, as it theirs, as men. I was traveling in Mombasa, Kenya, a few years back, and as I was strolling around with my son and some of my siblings, I noted something peculiar about the scenery. A lot of the men were outdoors, sitting outside drinking tea, chit chatting, eyeing us …and there were a few women in sight. If we did see any, they were en route to go somewhere, to the market, to run an errand, etc. They were not outside to just hang out, to enjoy the scenery, to chit chat, etc. 

I realized that to occupy us as women with work, especially domestic work, is by design, to keep us from imagining a better world for ourselves that doesn’t involve constant labor in the service of men. And our mothers, and the general society supports that we are not seen in the public. There is shame attached to a girl who is out and about. Isla wareegto baa loo bixiyaa. But there isn’t a male equivalent and if there is, its usually just said in a joking manner with no real repercussions or damage to their reputations.

We go back to this continuously, that it all starts in the home. All the ways that women are disenfranchised starts at home.

Now you may say that,”Ifrah, that Mombasa, Kenya,” but the thing is, patriarchy is quite global. I noticed the same scenery when I was in Somalia in 2019. It was even more anger inducing for me, because I was back in my home country after 26 years abroad. I felt suffocated most days. Granted, Somalia isn’t known currently for being the most safe place in the world, but even in seemingly well guarded areas, there were always more men in sight than there were women.

Our culture has it that women that are seen in public are not good women. When our reputation is tied to whether we are visible or not, then you can imagine that a lot of women are not going to be visible if they can help it to protect their reputation. The only acceptable reasons to be out in public would be to work, and that is out of necessity. But then this lack of visibility leads to exclusions from decision making tables, and we are back at square one again.

What we need to do is normalize women being in public just because they want to. Just the way men can sit outside a cafe, drink their tea, and chit chat about politics, or whatever they want. The more women are seen in public, living their lives, the more they are seen as equal to men. Equal access to public spaces = equality.

Thursday Thoughts

Sometimes when I write, I WRITE from the heart, and sometimes when I write, I just put words on paper, or on Word document lol. There’s no in-between. As a writer, are you ever satisfied with what you write? I cringe every time I read what I write, and that’s probably why I can’t get myself to share much of my writing. It’s NEVER good enough for me. It’s one of the things I am super sensitive about. Erykah Badu once said, “Now keep in mind, I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” Ah! That’s how I feel about writing. I’m sensitive about my writing. I read it a hundred times, and get so sick of it that I’m like, “This can’t see the light of day.” Ah! I have too much unfinished work in my drafts section.

Now as you know, I CAN post on Facebook all day lol, and I’m not very sensitive about that writing. I guess there is something about a lengthier piece that raises my anxiety. I’m thinking about whether I have a clear thesis statement, whether the grammar and punctuation are correct, if the flow of thoughts and transitions are seamless, and whether it is actually GOOD writing. 

What the hell is good writing, anyways? Is it the reader understanding where you’re coming from? Do they have to be dazzled and bewitched by your writing that they forget where they end, and the writing begins? What is good writing? That is the Million Dollar Question. 

Homebound After 26 Years Away

On July 10th, 2019, I  stepped onto a plane to visit the land of my birth after being away from it for 26 years. 

My final leg of the trip was to travel from Addis Ababa to Mogadishu, and I  could hardly contain myself. This was also the shortest of my trips, so it was going to be over very quickly. I was so nervous, but I was also so excited. I  could hardly stay in my seat. When I saw a glimpse of the outline of the Somali coastline, I became undone. I rambled in English and Somali to my seatmate continuously asking,” Is that Somalia? Are we there already? Is that really Somalia?”

When we touched down, like any airplane, it took us awhile to get out, but when we did, the heat slapped me in the face. But I  didn’t even mind. I was at Aden Adde Airport. I was standing on Somali soil. It was unbelievable to me. I could hardly hide my excitement. My usual permanent smile was even more evident today. 

Finally in Somalia

Everyone who assisted us spoke in Somali. I  had never thought that I would be back in my homeland being assisted by Somali people speaking in Somali. It was surreal. 

I still remember how I felt when I saw so many Somali people in one place. I had never before seen that many Somali people in one place. It was the most surreal experience. Everywhere I heard Somali people speaking in Somali. It felt like I was in a dream. 

I still remember vividly how I felt when I touched down on Aden Adde Airport. Anigoo dan waan kala badbatay. OHMYGOODNESS. “I am really in Somalia. My feet are actually touching Somali soil. Am I dreaming? Am I really in the land of my birth? The land of my father’s and my mother’s birth? The land where my foremothers and forefathers were born and bred in? Oh my goodness! I am in Somalia!”

I was a rambling mess. I was smiling and talking so much- yes even more than I usually did. Everywhere I looked were Somali people. Every word I heard was Somali. I was asked for my passport in Somali. I was asked for my visa money in Somali. Speaking of that, though, because I had an American passport I had to get in the,”Ajnabi/Foreigner,” line – much to my dismay.

When I was getting my bag, the person assisting me was speaking Somali. I was so shocked. What did I expect? That’s it. I DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. So everything was shocking. I was like a newborn baby experiencing everything for the first time.

Benadir Municipality with the one and only Dr. Hodan Ali

For the discarded girl/women #Isbadbaadi

Why are Somali girls not given grace or offered any redemption after youthful indiscretions? Why are they(we) considered worthless, tarnished, damaged goods? 

I remember when I was pregnant with my son when one of my father’s distant cousins who lived in the same house with us accused me of stealing from him. He said I stole his credit card and supposedly paid my phone bill with it as well as bought abortion pills it. I of course did no such thing, but he knew I was down given my situation – pregnant out of wedlock and the entire family upset with me- and kicked me while I was down. 

Karma would have it that the same man would be arrested the following week for – you guessed it- stealing. He stole from his employer’s cash register while he thought no one was looking. Of course, the cameras are always looking. 

My father who had previously thrown me under the bus when this man accused me of stealing by saying,” way ka suurtagashaa (it’s possible given her situation),” solicited me for money to bail this man out. My father was soliciting qaraan(collecting money) from everyone to bail him out. I asked him why he was collecting money for this man who had obviously committed a crime? Especially since my father took back a check from me that he wrote for my college studies not long before that when he initially found out I was pregnant. 

Apparently, he rendered me worthless and no longer worthy of investing in. 

He said to me loosely translated, “men can bounce back from shame, but women can never.” And mind you what I did was a personal indiscretion religiously speaking between my Creator and I, and personally may warrant, yes, my parent’sdisappointment, but it shouldn’t have cost me the loss of his supposed unconditional love.

So, to add insult to injury, not only did he not defend me from this man’s slander, he also raised my blood pressure by asking me, the injured person, to contribute to bail this man out- all because he has a penis, and I don’t.

As you can imagine and or guess, my father and I have a very estranged relationship due to many violations before and after this incident which he has not apologized for. He believes that no amendments are necessary. And that is why our relationship fractured beyond repair.

But this story isn’t about my father and I’s relationship.  It’s  about Somali girls/women not being given any grace and or redemption by their immediate families as well as our greater society. 

So I want to speak for (and to) young women in similar situations who have no one and nowhere to turn to. 

Young women are not allowed to make mistakes. We are not allowed youthful indiscretion and to grow from that. We are completely tarnished and disregarded and considered damaged goods. It’s in the way people talk about us and our children. It’s in the way men treat us like shit and as though they are doing us a favor. And after being beaten down mentally and emotionally, one may even accept their mistreatment because our self-esteem has been completely shattered. After your family has disowned you and your child, it’s hard to build yourself back up.

Society throws away women like us, but we have to be our own best friends, and create our own tribes of people who truly love us.

I need you to know you have inherent worth as a human being. You need to dig deep and rediscover that. Look in the mirror and repeat after me,”I am important. I am worthy. I am my own hero.” Isbadbaadi. No one is coming to save you. Build yourself from the ground up.

And keep your head up, ok?

Procrastination and Emotional Regulation

Most people struggle with procrastination. Procrastination is when you put off important tasks for a later mythical time where you will be highly productive, and in the zone to do the particular task. 

I love putting things off but time and again I have learned that I am figuratively shooting myself in the foot by procrastinating. Surprise!

I constantly convince myself that I just can’t do it right now – for whatever reason. I have other things to do, or to be frank I just don’t feel like it. I decide on a future date that I’m going to buckle down to do this particular task, but when THAT times comes, I either 1) don’t feel like it again, or 2) something goes wrong. Something always seems to happen! Sometimes, I get sick, and sometimes I have other things come up. Sometimes the week just tires me so much, and I have nothing else to give. For real, this time. 

One of my biggest issues has always been responding to email in a timely manner. I was never too sure of what to say or how to say it, so I waited till…well, later. Then I forgot about it. Big oops!

Now when I get an email, I try to answer the question(s) asked, say what I need to say and add no more if it’s not necessary. I am becoming okay with imperfection. This is one of the obstacles that you have to overcome if you want to get things done quickly or be more efficient. 

 And if I start a task, I am going to either complete it, or work on it for at least 25 minutes. The Pomodoro Technique is an effective technique to get work done. You work for 25 minutes straight on one task, and nothing else. At the end of the 25 minutes, you take a 5-minute break. You can continue for another 25 minutes or you can call it a day. 

Thinking you’ll do it later when the time is right just doesn’t work. The perfect time just doesn’t exist – at least not for me. Most of the time I am waiting for inspiration to strike, but the muse is so elusive, it just doesn’t appear when I want it to.

I’ve always thought that I don’t get started on a task right away because I don’t feel like it. But I’ve realized that’s a little too simplistic. There is actually something more to it. I’ve been reading about the emotional aspect of procrastination.  For example, when I have to grade, I resent the time that I have to take outside of my workday to grade. I don’t get enough time at work to do the grading that I need, and when I go home after work, I don’t want to do work stuff. I just want to be able to do other things with my life, like spend time with my son. I just hadn’t made peace with the fact that since this was a central aspect of my job, I had to take time outside of work to do it, and that I had to actively regulate my emotions as well as my attitude about my work. 

The emotional linkage to procrastination is about the negative emotions that accompany the task, and our desire to avoid them. 

There is something about the thought of doing this task that is making me feel bad. Like anyone, I don’t like feeling bad, so I avoid doing it, and thus avoid feeling bad about it. But now I feel bad about not doing this important thing that needs to be done. More time passes, and the deadline gets closer, and closer, and my anxiety rises, because when the deadline hits, I actually have to deliver. 

And round and round we go : task makes me feel bad, I don’t want to feel bad, so I put it off, but then more time passes, deadlines comes closer, anxiety swells up, and now I have to produce something, so I finally sit down and do it, because you know, now I have NO choice, but to deliver, and I realize, “wow, that wasn’t so hard at all! It didn’t even take that much time.”

It’s important to just get started without ruminating on it for too long. That is the key to getting work done. Just get on with it. I know that is easier said than done. Some days you have to self-asses and see what is going on emotionally that is causing you to not get to it. What is holding you back? Why do you feel dread about the task you’re about to do? You know that once you’re done you will feel better, and its one thing off your seemingly never ending to do list. Some of the feeling of dread could be being resentful of all the work that you have to do, and how life is supposed to be about more than work. Figure out what’s holding YOU back.

Okay, but what about projects that you’re passionate about? I have a google doc full of ideas that *someday* I am going to implement. When that someday is going to come, I do not know, because I’ve put it off for so long that at this point, I think its moot. Why do I feel bad about projects that I am actually passionate about?

Insecurity. Imposter Syndrome. 

The feeling that I am just not capable is holding me back and so instead of creating something not so great, I’d rather not put anything out there at all for people to critique. Well, I’m done with that, because the truth is no matter what you do, people will always talk. And for some people you will never do anything that pleases them. That’s okay. Make peace with that.

Day by day, I am making peace with imperfection, and embracing progress over perfection. 

So, ask yourself; what is really holding you back from reaching your potential? Dig deep, and just get on with it. Write that paper. Take that class. Start learning a new skill. Record your podcast episode. Record your video. Get on YouTube and learn the skills you need to edit. You got this! 


Random thoughts floating about.

I  absolutely respect other people’s intellect, so when people say I may “misguide” someone, I am offended for the people who are supposedly easily misguided. In fact, my advice to people is always to not be so gullible and to not believe everything and everyone. Everything is political in the world. Think about who benefits from things. Everyone has bias and we must actively work against our biases and try to confront our own personal demons. Objective truths are hard to identify as everything has a little relativity and subjectivity. Especially “divine” truths. If they were objective, there wouldn’t be so many of them.  

I’m always thinking of this: can we be 100% unbiased? Even 80%? How can you measure bias? When do you know you have no bias at all? Is that even possible? How can you do research if you have any bias? Is bias domain specific?  Is it more important that you have no bias based on protected attributes race, color, national origin, sexualities?

The older one gets, the more one becomes aware of their own mortality. Sooner, or later the clock will stop ticking. What do we do with this time? Do we devote it to faith? Do we devote it to activism, and making the world a better place for future generations? Do we leave a legacy of our own by creating and curating work that is important to us, and close to our own hearts? I think of this a lot. Today I have the time to do something of my own choosing. If I make it to tomorrow, I’m one step closer to death. What am I doing with my time? Am I doing anything that’s worth a grain of salt to humanity, even to my own small family? To my child, and future generations? I don’t know really. A lot of days I just think about a lot of things, try to read a couple of articles, or a few pages in a book that I’m reading, write a few lines, and try to make it through the day. All I know is that living every day is a struggle for everyone. So, one thing I can try to do consciously each day is to be kinder, more understanding, concede on some things in the interest of community and humanity overall. It is hard but it is also very important to me. Other days, I want to fight. That also serves a purpose. You can’t concede all the time, and you can’t concede on some things at all, especially if they’re at the very essence of who you are as an individual. Navigating these things, conceding in the interest of unity and fighting for self-perseveration, are a daily struggle for me. I think for us all, to be honest. I’m just willing to say it out loud. 


So I’m reading Frantz Fanon for my philosophy class, and one of his ways of resisting colonialism /colonization is/was resisting assimilation. This made me think about, “Call Me American,” and Abdi’s quest of assimilation and how many Somalis were calling him a sellout, and other choice words which will not be repeated here.
Resisting assimilation during colonial times obviously has its purpose, but even then assimilation could also have an important purpose: survival. Think about natural selection.
In fact, Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. … but rather, that which is most adaptable to change.”
This does not only apply to physical traits, and surviving the elements, but also to social situations.
Somali waxay ku maah maahdaa,” Haddaad tagto meel lagu il la’yahay ishaa layska ridaa.” (If you go somewhere where people only have one eye, you should take out one of your eyes.) Very gruesome proverb lol…But the idea is assimilation can be good.
It also makes me think of one of the narratives surrounding the hijab discourse ; that the point of the hijab is that you don’t stand out, and where hijab is not the norm, one would obviously stand out, and that would defeat its purpose. (There are various ideas/narratives about the hijab, and its an endless discussion, but this one related to assimilation, and that’s why I used it). Conversely, if you are somewhere (ehem… when I find myself in Somalia some day soon) where the majority of women wear it, then one would stand out if they didn’t. Again, assimilation.
Now, here in the West we, immigrants from Muslim majority countries, speak about being brave against tyranny and standing your ground and not changing in the face of oppression. Aasiya bint Muzahim, who is often used as an example to Muslim women, stood strong against her husband’s tyranny by secretly praying to her God, and practicing her faith. She was eventually killed by her husband. She’s lauded as a martyr for her faith.
However, if one was to be back in their homeland and stood fiercely against the oppression there, whether its the patriarchy or religion, one would be chastised for following gaal (infidel) ways, and be considered a disgrace to her family’s honor. Something terrible would most likely happen to her, more likely than not death, but no one would call her a martyr until much later when society changes and people (generations after) realize how much she sacrificed for what she believed in. Like Aasiya.
In both these examples, they were lauded for their actions much later. They probably had a better chance of survival if they played by the rules made up by the dominant group in the society they lived in.
But having the strength to stay true to oneself ( to thine own self be true) is an admirable trait, now and when we look back at history. Well, if you were on the right side of history, that is. Who admires Nazis?
But for the most part, we do admire people who stay true to themselves. This mantra is also used by ethnic people to hold on to the cultures and traditions of their forefathers. Here assimilation comes across as an affront, a personal betrayal to your ancestors.
In the practical sense, however, I’m always thinking in terms of progress, and I don’t believe its reasonable to hold on to all aspects of our ancestors’ lives. In fact, in our own short lifespan, we know that we’ve wasted ten years if we remain the same person we were at 20 when we are 30. Progress is a consistent theme in human history.
I can’t help but wonder then, how can this apply to our own individual characteristics, our philosophies on living, and even to our belief systems?
How can we make progress there? These are the kind of things I think about. Defining morality, for example, is one such thing that comes up often in my own line of thinking. If one doesn’t go to church or bow down five times a day towards Mecca, are they debased and immoral?
Such simplistic ways of explaining morality make no sense to any thinking being.
For example in Abdi’s book, his white friends who were practicing Buddhism helped him, a black Muslim man, out of sheer humanity. Are those people immoral? Are they going to hell for simply not worshiping Allah? Where is the space in religion for people whose actions define their goodness, although they have not uttered words of tawheed?
How our ancestors would’ve dealt with this question is not the same way we can deal with it today simply because our lived experiences are different than our forefathers and mothers.
In some ways, we are a product of our environment.
Is there any progress in faith where one can not only acknowledge human beings of different faiths but also challenge their own faith to be inclusive and understanding?

Decolonizing Our Minds

It’s really hard to exist in Somali community or any ultra conservative community as a woman with her own mind and full autonomy over her own body. Challenging patriarchy, which is often supported by both culture&religion, is often seen as an affront and betrayal of your culture.
If you say religion is a problem because it infantilizes women and robs us of our autonomy and full humanity, you’re accused of being Islamophobic. This to me is a silencing tactic. I’m quite tired of it, tbh.
Religion sanctions and enables patriarchy and abuse by patriarchy. It infantilizes women and puts men in charge of us. It attaches our bodies to sin by virtue of being born women. We have already committed a crime by being born woman.
When decolonizing our minds, why can’t we talk about how religion suppresses critical thinking, advising that you should never question it even though what it demands at times goes against common sense, and even common decency?
Our morals shouldn’t be governed by the religions of our forefathers. If I say, I don’t practice Islam, Somalis who are in a constant battle across tribal lines, and committing all types of atrocities to one another, want to make me look like I’m a bad person.
What defines a bad person? Your actions? Or that you profess to believe in the God of Abraham? There’s no point mentioning any other tenets because often people just want to know your affiliation. They don’t care what you do really as long as you stay loyal to your birth right.
That’s divine, apparently, and the one and only true path.
How convenient that the religion you were born into is the correct one?

Call me Intrigued

” Nothing was too disgusting, even dead skin we peeled off our feet.” Abdi Iftin,”Call Me American.”
Earlier in the week, I saw a facebook post mocking this sentence. I read how people in their comfortable Western lives mocked desperation and the physical need for food.
I wondered: Have they never known hunger? Even if was due to them accidentally forgetting to pack for school or work, and then feeling so dizzy and hangry by the time they got home, or were able to get some food?
Even that is quite unbearable. But atleast,one knows that they’ll get food as soon as possible. It was not a matter of if they’ll get food, but when.
As Muslims, didn’t they fast 14,16,18 hours at times feeling the hunger pangs, dry mouth, confusion, and irritability that comes with hunger?
This lack of food was their own choice, however, and they knew food was guaranteed as soon as the sun set.
How could they not relate to hunger? How could they not imagine then not having guaranteed food, and how this could drive someone to eat almost anything to survive?
Even I, who’s never known real hunger, other than not eating when I’m supposed to and deeply regretting it when working out, or in the classroom with 30 rambunctious teenagers, could imagine this hell. Real hunger. It terrifies me.
“Desperate situations call for desperate measures.” Most people know that.
Where was their sense of humanity?
As I’m learning more and more about my own people, some things are becoming clearer.
I am realizing that although we may come from the same ethnic community, we can be very different people with different life experiences, different social classes, which can then pave way for different opinions on different aspects of life.
That should be common sense, right?
When you’re an ethnic minority outside of your homeland, your people become a singular entity, devoid of their own individual characteristics. I used to wonder why Somalis were so offended by my choice to not wear hijab, or my nerve to openly question religion. They would say things like,”We don’t do that.” And my Somali American self would say,”Who is WE? I’m just me.” *Kanye shrug *
I’ve realized just as outsiders see us as a singular entity, we also see ourselves that way.
“We’re Somalis, and this is what Somalis do or don’t do.” This leaves no room for individuality. This leaves no room for mistakes. This leaves no room for dissenting voices, or difference in opinion.
I have a lot of thoughts about the book, the discussions online, and about Somalis: our clan dynamics (author is from a minority clan, and I’m sure this influences discussions), group think, and lack of individuality, that I hope to share in the coming weeks.