I’m sure most of us have a love-hate relationship with the question, “where are you from?” How it is asked comes in a variety of ways. I walked into my class the first day of the semester during my last year in college and the professor looked at me and said you must be from Somalia. Oh my, she was quite right because I always got, you are either Ethiopian or Eritrean since there were many that live in the Washington, DC area. I’ll never forget the next thing she said and I quote, “you know when God was making bread, the first time it turned out too white, so he gave it a second try and he left it in the oven too long so it became really dark, but the third time just turned out right, brown, golden and pleasing to the eye. So you must be some of the brown bunch.” I couldn’t help but laugh……..
In the states you are always reminded about the color of your skin, whether it’s through conversations or something as simple as filling out an application. Depending on the crowd you are with you are always labeled somehow. In the white community, I am black, in the black community I am African, in the African community I am Somali, and in the Somali community I was a certain tribe. This became a role that I came to understand and accept.
When I decided to come back to Somalia and work here for a bit, to my surprise, I quickly realized that it was a whole new ball game; there was a different kind of categorization. It was not your usual tribal supremacy and tribal institutionalization that I was familiar with. Rather what I found was quite amusing, there was a new tribe called ‘Diaspora.’
During a quick outing to the local market in Garowe, the cashier asked, “So where are you from?” With an annoyed look on my face, I said, “Did you mean to ask me either what region am I from? or what my tribe is?” He chuckled and said, “No. I mean what country, because you are obviously Diaspora.”
I was taken aback by the statement because here I was in my own country, speaking fluent Somali, dressed like the locals and this man was telling me I was ‘Diaspora.’ I was not offended by the term Diaspora. It’s just that the first thought that came to my mind was, so you really have not escaped explaining where you are from.
Eventually I asked the cashier, how he came to the conclusion that I was Diaspora. He said, simple, “Diaspora girls walk differently compared to our local girls. It doesn’t matter if she is dressed identical to a local girl; I can just spot you girls out. First you all walk like you are always late for something or tight on time and you manage to walk faster than us men. While on the other hand, our local girls walk with grace, swaying their hips from side to side, using their left hand to hold their garment and take their time.”
He went on to say, “It doesn’t matter if you Diasporas are from North, South, East or West of Somalia, your dialect all sounds the same. Diasporas don’t come back here for ‘daqan celis’ (reinvigorate one’s culture) or help their country. They are here to make money off of us poor folks, confuse our system by trying to introduce these foreign concepts that are too advanced for our state at the moment. Most of you walk around with an expensive camera that weighs too heavy on your neck, taking a picture of everything that moves, interviewing anyone and everyone you meet, you are always documenting things. Take these politicians for example, some of them are running for a Governor of a region, and most likely can’t name all the districts in that region.”
Lastly he said, “please don’t take it personal as this is something I have observed throughout the years. I hope I didn’t offend you in anyway.”
The ironic thing was that as soon as I walked out of that store, I said to myself, you should write about this. I was just being told by a stranger everything I was not. You would think, one would say ‘WOW’ she came back because not a lot of Diasporas do once they assimilate to other cultures. This was epic.
I thought to myself, does the rest of the Somali population really think this way or was it just him?
One thing is for sure, I did not choose to be a Diaspora, Somalia chose it for me. I did not choose to be seen as an outsider in my own community, Somalia chose it for me. I did not choose to have lived in four different countries, and adopt few other cultures, Somalia chose it for me.
Just because I enjoy taking pictures and keep a journal does not mean I have ill intentions. Blame technology and globalization for this. Also, all these documentations and pictures that the so called ‘Diasporas’ are taking might actually be useful once we have a central information storage system for the country. I came to the conclusion that, if Somalia ever becomes united and peaceful, and expats continue to come back, there will be aTribe called Diaspora, his sons named America, Canada and U.K, their cousins Holland and Belgium and their friend Suju.