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Mohamed's Story

Knocks.

Hello. Hello. Good morning. Good morning. How are you?

 

My name is Mohamed Abdurahman. I'm from Somalia. I work as a medical case manager with Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Services.

 

Welcome to Chicago. Welcome to America. To the United States.

 

I was born in Somalia, in eastern Africa, in 1959. My father was an elementary school teacher. My mother was a homemaker. I had 4 brothers and 4 sisters. We lived with other families in one big house. As kids, all we had to do was just go to school and come back and play around. Life was simple, really. Yes.

 

MUSIC

 

The change for me came in 1969.

 

BBC BROADCAST: General Siad, why did you dismiss the civilian government, and assume control of the country?

 

I very vividly remember that I was going to school, and seeing all these pickups, you know, with all these military uniformed guys, with machineguns. And we were told there was a coup. We didn't know what the coup was.

 

BBC: Was there any fighting at all? No. Would you say that it was a bloodless clue?

 

In the beginning, it seemed normal, and the country was progressing. A few years down the road, things changed.

 

MUSIC

 

I got my bachelor's degree in agriculture in Saudi Arabia in 1987. I went back to Somalia and joined the ministry of agriculture. Then I met my wife. Her family and my family lived in the same neighborhood. I always knew I really wanted her. We got married, and I went to India to do a master's degree in agriculture.

 

My wife joined me, and she got pregnant. She got very sick. We both decided that she would go back to Somalia, to be with her family so they can take care of her.

 

One day, I'm sitting in India, and I get a fax that says, “Congratulations, it's a boy.” And that was the last time I heard about them.

 

NPR BROADAST: This is Morning Edition. I'm Bob Edwards. The capital city of the northeast African nation of Somalia is reported in chaos today.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Bands of government soldiers, rebels and just plain criminals have been roaming some neighborhoods, stealing cars, and killing people in broad daylight and having gun battles in the markets. Hundreds of citizens have died

EDWARDS: Fighting continues today in Mogadishu.

ZWERDLING: Most communications between the city and the outside world have been cut off.

 

I have kept writing letters through Red Cross, but there was nobody. It was one of the most scariest, frustrating times in my life.

 

By then, in 1991, I finished my master's degree, and I'm supposed to go back to Somalia, but there is a war in Somalia, so I can't go. So I became a refugee myself.

 

So, you know, I would come and help my professor, you know, analyze some data and write some research papers just to keep my mind busy. So I don't go crazy. It took me 3 years to find out whether my parents, my wife, my sisters, my brothers, were alive. Or not.

 

A friend of mind who was with me in India went to Kenya, and he met a friend of mine, who came from the refugee camp in Nairobi. “Do you know Mohamed? ‘Yeah.' Oh, well, his wife and parents are in the refugee camps.

 

MUSIC

 

He e-mailed to my professor. And when I read, I, you know, burst into tears. I could not believe that they were alive.

 

My parents and my wife had fled Mogadishu, the capital. You know, they saw the killing of my younger brother right in front of them. They had to move from city to city to city. She has been, you know, assaulted. My parents got wounded in the war. So you know, my wife and my parents don't like to talk about what happened because of the bad memories.

 

The Indian government said you can only bring my wife and my son. So they joined me in early 1994. The night before, I could not sleep. I was up all night. I was turning and tossing and thinking about it. I remember very well going to the airport two hours ahead of time, sitting in the airport, waiting for them. And when they arrived, I was running like crazy in the airport, trying to see what gate they were coming out. As soon as I saw my wife, and my son, I just don't know what I did. I just went through people and grabbed them. We started crying. My son was crying. Of course he didn't know me. Here's your dad. Meet him for the first time Mr. 3-year-old.

 

A few months later, she got pregnant with our younger son.

 

LOOKING AT PHOTOGRAPHS

WIFE: And this is Radwan, my son, when he lost his first teeth, his first teeth. (Laughs) and this is Abdi in the camps, he was in the camp, refugee camp. My boys, they are handsome, both of them. (Laughs.)

 

In 1996, I finished my PHD, and I obtained my doctorate degree. Here I am a refugee. I can't go back to my country, I can't work here, I cannot do anything. So the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees took our case to the American Embassy.

 

I got the letter of the approval and I brought to my wife and I showed her. You  know, the children didn't know what was going on. We started jumping up and down. We were so happy.

 

We left India in 2000. The thing was we didn't know where we were coming to the United States, what city. It was picked for us. All I knew there was a team called the Chicago Bulls, because I loved basketball.

 

They gave us a piece of paper saying you're going to Chicago, and somebody is going to meet you at the airport, and if they don't, then call this number. And I am looking at the flight arrival time, and it's 8:30 p.m. And I'm thinking, What if there's nobody there? And who works 8:30 at night?

 

At least 10 or 15 people with balloons and our names were waiting for us right at the gate.

 

LOOKING AT PHOTOGRAPHS

SON: That's the airport.

MOHAMED: There's Michigan Avenue.

WIFE: We love Chicago. Really. This is our real home right now.

 

In 2005, my wife and I and our children, became United States citizens. To me, this country means everything that I was missing over the last 10-15 years. Freedom to do whatever I want. Freedom to express my opinion. Freedom to work.

 

I love Somalia. I'm hoping and praying that it becomes peaceful. I'd love to go back to Somalia, help build Somalia. I just want peace.

**

"Mohamed's Story" was produced by Lynette Kalsnes and edited by Cate Cahan with production assistance from Stacie Johnson for Chicago Matters: Beyond Borders, a series exploring the impact of immigration on the region.
Archival tape was provided by the BBC and National Public Radio.

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