HARGEISA, 27 November 2009 (Somalilandpress) – As a naturalized citizen and IT specialist working with the US Department of Treasury at Martinsburg Computing Center in West Virginia, I have a reason to be thankful of where I am today.
Nearly 30 years ago, as a foreign student, I came to Upstate New York in search of education from a rural town in Somalia. Four years after obtaining a degree, I went back to my home country to re-unite with my extended family, contribute to my society, and settle in Mogadishu, the capital city. I remained there until January 1991, the beginning of a civil war.
One morning, I had to abruptly abandon my house after digging a hole in my front yard, burying few of my precious items. I had hoped to return soon and the war would quickly be over.
In search of a safe place, I headed south with my wife and two children, carrying one of the children on the top of my shoulders. After spending three harrowing days in a friend’s house with the fighting all over town, we decided to flee the city to a Southwest Somali town situated at the border crossing between Kenya and Somalia. We left our house and car to my uncle, who was determined to stay and protect his family and properties. It was sad to learn later, that a day after I left, my uncle was taken away by gunmen and was never seen again. He was presumably killed.
In this hot, sandy town, a relative offered us a shelter made of mud and tree branches. I stayed there until fighting broke out between local feuding clans. One day, an artillery shell hit the house and split it into two when members of the family were looking for cover. We all ran to different directions not knowing that we left behind the children, one of them an infant. People were running toward the border of Kenya against a hail of bullets coming from Kenyan soldiers. I could see half a dozen people falling on the ground shot and bleeding to death.
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That same day, I hired a truck transporting goats to Nairobi from a trader who promised me to take us there safely at the cost of four times more than the normal price. By this time, I was the head of 20 extended family members, including brothers, sisters, cousins and their children. Throughout the journey, the five male adults were placed at the back of the truck with the goats. The unpaved road was full of mud and bandits. For every town we passed, we walked miles around to avoid command posts. While walking in the bush, we were threatened by lions and surrounded by local tribesmen in the area with machetes who called the Kenyan police. We were detained in a mosquito infested jail and malaria almost killed my younger daughter. In the middle of the journey, my wife lost our unborn child and my sister gave birth prematurely to a baby girl.
It took us two weeks to reach Nairobi and after our arrival, we were allowed to stay as fleeing refugees. The future hope of peace was getting bleaker everyday and war was raging in every corner of Somalia. There was no place to stay and nowhere to return. The only option left was to seek safe sanctuary anywhere we could find.
I began to think over the future, hoping against hope that war will stop and clans and communities will reconcile and eventually bring to an end the life in the Diaspora. Three million people were displaced and half a million lost their lives; to this day, the war has never stopped. Twenty years later, some of my family members still suffer the trauma and the mental scars of the war.
Fortunately, with my immediate family, I was granted asylum in the Netherlands and after spending a year in a reception center and five years residing in the Dutch city of Groningen , the US government offered to resettle us in America through a diversity visa program that every year allows 100,000 families and individuals from different parts of the world to settle in the United States of America.
Now in a safe environment, I realize that I have also a responsibility towards my new adopted land. I have to be a productive citizen and be able to look after the well being of my family. As an IRS employee, currently residing in Ashburn – Virginia, (30 miles west of Washington, DC), I’m grateful to this country for having provided me an ample opportunity for good career, decent living, safe environment and the ability to send two of my children to college.
Every morning, on my way to work through the mountains of Shenandoah Valley in West Virginia, I ponder of my long journey from Africa to America.
Abdisalam m Garjex Ashburn – Virginia (USA) firstname.lastname@example.org