Wednesday, June 21, 2006

June 17- Karmel Somali Mall

The purpose of my trip to the Somali Mall was to meet with Hussein to discuss the non-profit organization he is creating for an after school program in which Somali children can access computers with software to learn English and other skills to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind. I also helped him create the bilaws and constitution. I will be helping him write grants for funding once the 501c3 status is established.

I have been to Karmel Mall about 4 times and still feel a little uncomfortable. I’m the only white person I’ve ever seen there. I’m not uncomfortable with that fact, but uncomfortable with the idea that my presence makes other people uncomfortable. Some people don’t seem care, some look at me funny, some smile, but I guess I don’t feel welcome. I guess I know how many Somalis feel coming here!

We went to the little café and got some snacks to eat. We got sambusa, which I’ve had before and enjoy, but it was a little spicy for me. There was a boiled egg in potato (I can’t remember what it’s called) which I liked. There was a pastry I didn’t like, and it was the first Somali food I’ve tried that I didn’t like. I usually really like the food, with the exception that sometimes it’s too spicy for me, but I still like the flavor.

I talked to three of my friends there about learning Somali. They were discouraging and told me to learn Swahili because Somali is too hard to learn. If they weren’t my friends I would probably think that’s code for “we aren’t going to share our culture” but that’s not what they meant. They said many Somalis know Swahili, but to me, that’s the language of being a refugee. Personally, I feel that speaking in Swahili would be a reminder that they are refugees. If I’m going to make the effort to learn a language in order to communicate with Somalis, I think it should be Somali. Also, many PhD programs I’ve looked at want a foreign language in the area you are studying, so it would be appropriate that I learn Somali.

While the guys were on the computer, I saw an advertisement for Somali Education, but it occurred the night before. I emailed the story to myself so that I can contact the organizers to find out about the event, and see if it’s something that I can apply to my work in St. Cloud.

I found an African Journal Newspaper in the office which contained many articles and advertising with good knowledge base information. It didn’t have any info that would be helpful to incorporate into a project, but it was good info to help me understand the community I am working with. It also listed a number of places where I can engage the Somali culture.

While on the computer we found the University of Pennsylvania and their African Studies site. They listed many resources and links about Somalia, language, culture, etc. We also looked at two famous Somalis; Rageh Omaar who is a BBC reporter, and Nuruddin Farah who is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist.

We went to eat at a restaurant across the street from the mall. The restaurant was a large room with a lot of space, and then there was a wall partition and small space off to the left. The two Somali men I was with went and sat in the smaller space. There were no women or children in the restaurant, and I was about to ask why were sitting in this area, when I realized that this area was probably for women and children. I didn’t ask at the time, but later I asked a different friend about it and he confirmed. He was surprised that I waited that long to talk about it. I am knowledgeable about Islam so I know it’s not an oppressive religion to women, but I am curious about this practice.

My friend received a phone call and asked me to talk to his friend on the phone. I started to talk a little bit quieter and the person on the other line asked why I was getting quiet. I told him it was prayer time and the mosque was located across the hall. He said that was very nice of me to be respectful, and I said it’s not even something I think about, I just do it.

It was a very educational and information filled day. My friends are open and share information with me freely which I am grateful for. I do however have my self-esteem issues and comfort levels to deal with while I am at the mall. I am aware of the fact that I am someone who is studying a culture, and what right do I have to do that. Also, I have to consider where these people have come from and the journey and struggles that brought them here and that they have the right to be distrusting of me. However, I would love to find a way to get them to trust me and see that I am an ally for their community.

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