How Visiting Somalia Changed My Life

By Muna Mohamed

In 2017, I was lucky enough to visit Somalia for the first time in my life, and I never thought it would be such an eye-opening experience as to what I wanted in the future. A part of you changes when you get to see the place you would’ve have most likely lived in if it wasn’t for the war. The beauty that you could’ve claimed fully with pride. You see how lucky you are that you are given such an opportunity to live the lives we do. You get a new-found source of energy and a reason to try harder in life.

Seeing all the beauty still present in Somalia that was accompanied by the destruction really does get your head turning. You think of all the things that are needed; engineers, doctors, roads, politicians that aren’t corrupt, investments, beauty influencers and countless other stuff, and you wish you could be them all. Seeing everything that needed to be done reaffirmed my want to come back and work in Somalia when I finish my education. Seeing a country that is yours, where everyone has the same blood as you and where everyone speaks the the same language makes you feel like you have somewhere you really belong.

The business woman in me went off throwing ideas out to my business man father. All the opportunities at our disposal were making me lose my head. I wanted to own a hotel franchise, a Somali version of Target (my safe haven) malls, schools. Everything. The next day, the makeup fanatic in me would come out. I would plan to open to a makeup store, give free makeup lessons, get rid of the desire to be lighter by bleaching and damaging skin, and fix up those eyebrows that really bothered me. I would do makeup for the girls that we lived with and they would be in shock of how much makeup I had and how much steps I needed to complete the look. I left each of them with an eye shadow palette, hopefully they are putting it to good use. Then the politician in me would want make plans to make things better – better roads, reformed fishing rights, better docks, welfare, free education, getting rid of FGM. My head hurt. I tried to stop thinking. So many things I never wanted to be came up as an option, and it made my decision of what I wanted to study 100 times harder than it already was.

One Ramadan night, I was in the kitchen washing dishes. I asked Khadija, a woman who lived in the house with us, where the taxes they paid went. She answered that it all went to the local government and they spent it on themselves. Another question popped up, how in god’s name are they paying taxes if they live on less than $150 a month. Next question, are there no labor laws that are broken by her husband working 23 hours a day at a gas station and still only making that little amount? I just gave up asking because each answer was worse than the last. My heart broke for what the people of Somalia were going through, but I also felt jealous that despite what they were going through, they always had a smile on their face. What they were going through brought them closer to Allah because in a world where you don’t have much, you don’t lose sight of truth. The simplicity of life was such a blessing and curse.

We would sit under the night sky everyday for Maghrib to break our fast and my grandma would break down where the food we were eating came from. “That papaya came from a garden in Bosaso.” “Those tomatoes were grown in Baidabo” and so on. She would tell us about the houses she owned across the country; 3 or so in Mogadishu, 1 in Bosaso, 2 in Garowe and the one we were in at the time in Carmo, along with 30 or so plots of land across the country. She would tell us about her life before the war. The wealth she has now wasn’t even a fraction of what she had back then. When she fled the war to Kenya, she left all her animals, who soon died. She left her land plots, they are now lost and occupied by other people. She left her garden, someone took it over. It really got me thinking about how life would be if things were the way they once were. However, the many things I love today wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the way things happened. I most likely wouldn’t have met the people who are important to me. Would I even exist if that war didn’t happen? I wanted success for Somalia so bad, that it ruined the rest of my trip.

At the airport, people would call at us saying ‘reer marecan’ (American people), and tease us saying ‘stay, you don’t belong in America’. Stepping out of the plane, you would expect that I would be happy. At last, I was in a more modern place with malls, unlimited WiFi, and AC. I was happy for those things, but I was also jealous. I am not the type to get jealous over something, and when I felt it to that intensity, I wish I never had. I don’t really feel jealousy for myself, but when it came to my country, oh was it different! I saw the Dubai airport, and I all I could think was, ‘what if Somalia had this, why cant Somalia have this?’. I couldn’t enjoy half the things I was blessed to be around because I kept thinking about how this country got it when they were just like us, and even worse off. In 20 years, the Emirates managed to build a beautiful country from the sand up. We have the resources, our land is so expanse we could probably fit 10 Emirates in it. We had the human resources with 12 million people, and I’m 100% sure we have the brains. We were just missing proper management.

After a week spent envying in Dubai, we went to Salalah, Oman. I lived in Oman when I was younger and it is such a dear place to me. I couldn’t wait to go back, and was expecting it to be the highlight of my trip. When we left Salalah, it was a small city with not very much to do. I was enjoying my time, going to the places I grew up in. We picnicked at the same exact area we did years ago and I was living it up. I tried my best to not think about Somalia. One day, we took a day trip to this city called Mirbat. To get there, we had to go through empty land. We passed animals grazing; camels and goats. We passed lands that looked exactly like Somalia’s land did. The thoughts were back. The lands looked EXACTLY the same, rocky plains that were inhabited by the same animals. Oman was doing so good, building places that had you in awe and people who were so well off. I found it so ironic and funny that I felt that type of jealousy for a country. How does that happen? When I got back to America, the feelings really didn’t come up. It was seeing Muslim countries like us and people so similar to us making it big, and seeing us still stuck as being categorized as one of the poorest countries. We are neighboring two countries; Kenya and Ethiopia that are also doing so great. Way to make me feel better.

Although in my eyes Somalia is not a poor country, the majority of the people are poor in terms of worldly wealth. Sometimes I want our people to be rich and successful in every aspect of life, but then I remember it comes with a cost; most times it is your deen. We are seeing before our own eyes one of the signs of the day of judgement where naked nomads will compete to build taller buildings. I don’t want Somalia to be in that competition. Sometimes I think about the hadith “I stood by the gate of Paradise and saw that the majority of those who entered were the poor and wretched.- Sahih Bukari. Wouldn’t it be better to just not try, because after all the most people in jannah will be the poor? I really haven’t found an answer but I do know I want to go back one day, if Allah wills, and make a difference. For now, I’ll do my part and that’s by getting an education. I know Allah knows best and has a plan in store for everything and he will do what’s good so I left it up to him. I hope that many people will also make it their aspiration to go back. Whether you are from Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Cameroon, Pakistan, Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Iraq, and everywhere in between. Whether your goal is to help the Muslim ummah, who needs all the help, or your own country, I hope you are successful.

I pray for rest of the Muslim Ummah, may Allah reward every single pain they feel – Ameen.


Read more by Muna on her blog – 

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