By Halima Mohamed, as told to Ramlah Ringold Olt
My family moved to the United States six years ago. Well, most of my family.
My dad had to stay behind in Ethiopia. He didn’t receive permission to enter the country until two years ago. See, we came as refugees. And while I’m Somali, because both of my parents were born in Somalia, all five of my brothers, sisters, and I were born in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
If my story confuses you, believe me, I’m confused, too. Like, what does it mean to be Somali, even though I’ve never set foot in Somalia? And how is it possible that my mom lived for twenty years in a refugee camp? Then there’s the fact that after my youngest brother was born, my parents decided the best thing for our family would be if my dad left the camp and traveled to the nearest big city so he could work and send us money. Even though he got to leave the camp, the rest of us couldn’t leave.
Thankfully, one thing that doesn’t confuse me is my mom. She’s awesome. And inspiring. When I hear about everything she went through, it makes me want to do a lot of things for her when I grow up. And she’d do anything for me. Like the other day, my stomach was hurting. It was late at night, but she said she’d get me whatever I needed. It was raining hard, but she drove to the store to get me some food. She said it would make me feel better.
Driving itself is a weird thing for my mom. She didn’t learn to drive until she came to America. Women didn’t drive back “home,” only the privileged men who had the money to buy a car did. Can you imagine how she must have felt when we came here?
I remember we had to move around a lot back then, too. The last apartment we lived in was right next to a place called ReWA, which is short for the Refugee Women’s Alliance. My mom took English classes and U.S. Citizenship classes there. Later, when my dad moved to Seattle, he started taking English classes there, too.
The classes worked. My whole family is celebrating right now because my mom just became a U.S. Citizen. It means I get to become a citizen, too, which is totally awesome. And passing the test is a big deal. She keeps saying it was because of her teachers at ReWA, but I know enough about studying and taking tests to know she had to study hard to pass it.
Actually, it was people at ReWA who helped me learn how to study better. When we used to live next door, my older sister and I went to the Youth Program there after school. The teachers helped us with our homework and told us things we could do to be good in school. We also met a lot of other kids our age and got to do fun things and go on fieldtrips with them, sometimes. There were Somali kids, but also kids from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Vietnam in my group.
One of the best things I remember doing was volunteering together at a food bank. We all laughed a lot and it was nice because we were helping other people at the same time.
It’s not always easy being here around American kids who don’t get us. Some people are bullies, after all. Like, back when I was in first grade and it was time to wash our hands, this one kid would always put soap in my eyes. And another time, a girl tripped me and I hit my ear on a chair. There was blood all over.
The worst thing, though, is kids always ask me why I cover my hair. Sometimes, kids will even take off my scarf.
So meeting other refugee kids at ReWA was a good thing for me. I knew I wasn’t the only one. And people like the teachers at ReWA, and my mom, of course, helped me be a stronger person. When kids try to bully me now, I have ideas about what I can do. Someday, I’m going to be a psychologist and help other kids understand what they can do when someone hurts them. I’d even like to help kids like the bullies, so they learn how to be nicer in the world.
Ramlah Ringold Olt is the Capital Campaign Director at the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA). She was honored to have the chance to sit down recently with Halima and her mother to hear about their lives. Ramlah can identify with parts of Halima’s story, as her own mother came to this country over 40 years ago as an immigrant from Malaysia, a country with a Muslim-majority population like Somalia. Similar to Halima, she saw her adult mother go to school to improve her earning potential in this country. Ramlah has three children, one of whom is the same age as Halima.
Note: Halima Mohamed is a pseudonym for the 13-year-old heroine of this story. Halima discussed her life with Ramlah and has read, edited, and approved the publication of this story. To protect her privacy, she asked to remain anonymous. To read more about Halima’s family and see how you can get involved with ReWA, visit the ReWA website.