The benefits of coming home: My journey of fulfillment and growth in Puntland, Somalia

Part A: Letting the heart speak

In January of 2011 I moved to live and work in Puntland State of Somalia as an EU consultant attached to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education of Puntland in order to contribute to efforts in the education sector. Prior to that I’d worked in The Hague, the cultural capital of the Netherlands- a country that has been home to myself and my siblings for over 15 years. I’d traveled then with my beloved husband and our 6-month old baby Najma-Bilan.

We all seek meaning in life. We all seek happiness. We seek belonging. Completion. Fulfillment. Growth. Home. Family. We came to Puntland in search of these values because we could not find them in Europe. We lived like dispersed seeds in Europe. Like lost souls. Running but not reaching. Working but not gaining. Earning but struggling. Its not easy living as a Somali woman in Europe. No matter how many academic degrees you have or how fully naturalized/integrated you are. How do you measure growth? The true sense of spiritual growth cant be calculated quantitatively but qualitatively. And no growth can occur without God by your side. But in many parts of Europe God is not valued. God is a private matter. Below are some of the indicators that are fundamental to our spiritual growth, because I am a woman, a Somali woman who is empowered and enlightened by Islam.

Coming to Puntland was and still is by far the best decision we’d ever made. We’ve since grown together in many ways. We have grown as a family, as a unit, in every way possible: spiritually, socially, economically, professionally, culturally, linguistically, career wise, just to name but a few. I don’t define our growth in monetary gains but in the language of spirituality. I found our true passion in Puntland, the place where we were able to also bring together our dispersed cherished family ties and roots. I don’t think my family and I could’ve ever grown this strong together in Europe.

In Puntland, as elsewhere in Somalia, the family unit is very important. The family is the backbone of society and it is the responsibility of all to make sure that the family unit stays strong and continues to grow and to survive calamity. Neighbors, traditional elders and other extended family are expected to take part in this preservation. I myself have at times felt compelled to contribute to the establishment of the family unit through support for young couples willing to join hands in holy matrimony. The benefits of coming home and the value of finding true meaning in both our individual and collective lives remain incalculable. Because, in Puntland, as elsewhere in Somalia, full of ambitions, we are rising again.

As a family, we continue to find comfort and joy in the small things that life here offers us. Small, meaningful daily occurrences provide spiritual nourishment such as hearing the call to prayer several times a day from the comfort of our home. In Europe we used to relay on the clock; continuously looking at the time or asking others if it was time for prayer. Or we relayed on technology: pre-programmed automated calls for prayer on our devices. More deeper, personal benefits also exist like wearing your hijaab without receiving strange stares of condemnation from others. There are also more humor-filled events like hearing strange noises in our kitchen only to rush to find goats reaping our cooked breakfast of canjeelo apart. How did they get in the yard? Did they perhaps fly in? Goats roam the streets in big numbers and they easily open doors and gates or climb over walls!

There are also more spectacular events like hearing the rooster crow too early on a Thursday morning waking up excited children in the neighborhood. It is weekend and that means no school. Or about hospitably welcoming unannounced guests who decide to come not only for lunch but also for the night or perhaps for multiple nights. And about discovering how you have slowly given in to the Somali conceptualization of time, even owning the experience. No worries. No stress. Chill. No real time issue here.

Home is where the heart is. Home is where your roots are. We found in Puntland a home like no other. A home that will stay with us. Always. And knowing this is very gratifying. Do you know what it is like to experience the sensation of peace and tranquility on a cozy, rainy Friday morning while having breakfast with your family on the floor fadhi-carbeed sofa, enjoying pan-fried liver with onion rings and canjeelo?

Not forgetting to mention the endless choices of family destination, family holidays and true relaxation on a Friday afternoon. A Full package enjoyment at Dhareyle awaits you in Garowe and at the Xeebta/beach of Bosaaso as well or perhaps you want to visit the hot-springs Biyokulule in Bosaaso or the green leafy farms in Qardho or the Yameyska in Galkayo. To enjoy the freedom of exploring the beautiful nature here, whether by water or by land, you will find it all here.

I want to continue enjoying this feeling. I want to continue reliving the peace of knowing that my child is safe playing outside, without worrying myself sick about a stranger snatching her away. I want to continue playing my role here because I feel useful. I feel valued and i feel appreciated. I am wanted here. I am needed here. I am loved here. I love it here. I love my people. I love my land. It is after all my only real home. I want to continue planting seeds of happiness in Somalia. I want to continue working on peace building, on poetry and cultural revival for the youth.

The feeling of being part and parcel of a bigger entity, The feeling of being part of a bigger, greater whole is immense. That feeling is very useful for the soul of the Somali professional. That feeling of knowing that you are contributing to a larger activity, a bigger, goal, an end result with a defined objective with reachable results. Knowing that it is a collective mission that requires collective effort. Teamwork. You are only playing your part. Playing your role. Home is the only place where I can harmoniously play multiple roles all at the same time. A wife. A mother. A daughter. A sister. An aunt. A neighbor. A niece. A friend. A humanitarian worker. An educationalist. A gender advisor. Even a grandmother. A place where I feel responsible for my extended family members knowing that they are counting on me and that they are making lots of duas for me, even from afar, deep in the miyii desert.

But most important of all, I think is the feeling of finding home. The feeling of being at home. Now that we’re in Puntland we are no longer nomads. In Europe we rented house after house, town after town, country after country. We lived like nomads. Not here. Not now. The benefits of finding home and of coming home are immense.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living or how much money you have. I want to know if you ache for home, for Puntland, for Somalia the way I did and if you also dream big for her. It doesn’t interest me which clan you are from or from which region in Somalia you are. I want to know if you will risk your life in order to assist another Somali person in need. I want to know if you have touched the hearts of vulnerable Somali mothers and children. Tell me how many Somali causes have you initiated? And how many young people’s futures have you shaped? How many of those were not from your own clan? Tell me do you feel pain and cry when you see a Somali person suffering? I want to know what sustains you from the inside. How would you define your home? Your identity? Your Somaliness?

Of course there is some stress here too. From all the commotion and what have you. But I have a way of coping with it, you see. Sometimes, when the stress of town gets to me I run to the mountains. I then take my mat, book and favorite pen with me. I sit under an acacia tree and enjoy the blessed view. I hear the winds hitting against the faces of the mountains. I hear them hissing, almost as if seductively calling me, singing to me and to me only. So special. And then a camel and its herder majestically come galloping. They always offer me fresh, frothy camel milk and sometimes honey. They never, ever ask for money. In return I read my poetry to them as a token of my gratitude! Here I go i say. I read I Am A Somali Woman. And they always respond with ‘waan gartay’, ‘waa saas’, ‘ka soco’, ‘haye’!.

The feeling of relief when I pull into the driveway of our home after a long day at work and the kids run to me calling “hooyo, hooyo”! It is priceless. The warmth of family. I don’t want to let go. I hold on with all my might. Alhamdulilah. I did not own a car in Europe. No I did not. I could not. And home has been many places for us in Europe the past years. But home in Puntland for us is defined by simple, blissful moments like these. To me home is a place you can feel comfortable enjoying your freshly cleaned uunsi-scented living room filled with Somali decorations. A place where you can walk barefoot. A home where you can deeply breathe in and out. With plenty of sunshine and warmth. I did not own a home in Europe neither. No I did not. I could not.

Home is also the place where I enjoy teaching my daughter about the art of storytelling. It is the place where I enjoy nurturing baby goats and cats with my little daughter and teaching her about animal welfare in Puntland. As well as talking about Somali identity and about Somalinimo with her. At almost 5 years old my daughter speaks better Somali than I do. Masha Allah. The other day she said “hooyo waan shuxayaa”. I thought she had diarrhea.

Home for me means gaining a few extra kilos and still feeling loved and beautiful. Its a place that evokes a sigh of relief in me as I walk in the door. It’s about hearing my neighbor’s kal hit against the moyo grinding spices for fresh Somali tea. Its about knowing that I can walk in her home unannounced for a cup of that tea without much ado. A place where I can wear my worn out batty bacweeyne and flipflops and still feel pretty. The only place on this earth where I feel like a complete marwadii guriga.

In Part B: Letting the mind speak, I will talk about the rewards of my professional work in Puntland and how it has significantly shaped my life. I will talk about why girls education is so important to me and so close to my heart and why I decided to come to Puntland. This story shall therefore be continued. Until then enjoy these pictures of Puntland which in a way reflect my story.

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