From Somalia to the American Dream: My Transformative Personal Experience
Uncharted Emotions: Tomboy Years and Unconditional Love
My name is Nafisa Abdi. In 1988, I was born in Somalia. My home. As a child, days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into years. There was no concept of time really when you were just a child having fun. At the age of 5, I was as joyful as I could be playing with my classmates as I was enrolled in my first school ever. A new type of responsibility had fallen into my hands. I know I have homework. There were now due dates, which were a concept I could never really wrap my head around to this day. However, it isn’t until life hits you hard that you realize there is a time and place for everything and requirements need to be met. I would very soon come to know this, as my days of joy and happiness would be overthrown by the immense responsibilities I would soon come to collect in my teen years.
By thirteen, I was a fully-fledged tomboy. With a hundred percent of my friends being boys, it came with benefits. Not the ones that typically come to mind but the more sentimental ones. I knew I was never alone. I knew that if I ever needed some support or some jokes, I could count on them, and soon enough, one of them became more than a friend and more of a rock. Someone who would never leave my side despite the nay-sayers. At a young age, I knew what it felt what unconditional love felt like …or at least I thought.
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As a teenager wrapped up in all these emotions, it was hard not to get carried away. Do not imagine. Do not build a hypothetical life with someone till your dying days. And so, despite the one year that I knew him, I did it anyway. Relentless love is what I see it as today. The kind of love that would never die out. The type of love that got me through any situation, no matter how bad.
A Father’s Concern and a Life-Altering Conversation
But soon enough, a new chapter opened in my life. A new beginning had just begun for me with the conversation that would change my life. On a bright and early morning, my Dad looked at me with awful concern. As I made myself some breakfast, I couldn’t help but feel his piercing eyes follow me throughout the room. With every step I took, a new level of fear bestowed upon me. My peripheral view said it all, forget my main one. So, at some point, I finally managed to muster up the courage and turn around slyly, acting as though it was just a regular morning, apart from the piercing looks that said it all.
As I caught eyes with him, I knew it was more worried than an angry face he had, which for my father was awfully strange. What in the world would a 50-year-old man worry about telling a 15-year-old girl? Soon enough, I quickly adapted to non-verbal communication, which he was so desperately trying to communicate with me. Somewhere between the time I lifted my hand up to shove a spoonful of cereal in my mouth and when I actually began chewing it, all I heard was, “Wadada Adiga forty ma rabo any gabdhaha iga can marka Adiga meal raso.” Which translates to “The path that you opened for yourself I wouldn’t want my girls to follow. So, you need to find a place.”
I knew what he was talking about. There was no need for an argument or perhaps atoning for the mistakes I had made. In our culture, it is typically frowned upon for the two sexes to be friends, let alone be in a loving relationship, as I was. I knew the example I was setting for my sisters was also consequently frowned upon. I knew that I had no choice but to follow his ultimatum. Although he didn’t explicitly mention one, I managed to pick up on the underlying point of the conversation (as I learned to do so throughout my childhood years), which was you either act how a girl is supposed to or you leave my house at once.
New Beginnings: Escaping Judgement, Embracing Opportunity
As a fifteen-year-old girl whose father knew almost everything about me, there was one thing that he didn’t. The one thing I’m almost happiest for. The fact that he did not know I was three weeks pregnant. I didn’t necessarily know where my safe haven was going to be, but I did know it was not going to be the house I grew fond of during my childhood years. The house in which memories piled in my mind like the books overflowing on the bookshelf. It was a shame my child couldn’t experience the life I had, which that Somali neighborhood had to offer. But I knew that there was a life beyond that at age 15. That somewhere out there would be a better life worth living with my child without the scrutiny and judgment I had got there.
On May 10th, 2004, I landed at Minneapolis airport. Ready to embark on a new journey. Ready to face whatever life threw my way. And so, I did, and just like when I was five years old, the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Just like when I was a child, I started to loosen the concept of time, but not for the irresponsible reasoning I once had; this time, it was more because of the overwhelming pressure I had. Tasks needed to be done. Deadlines that needed to be met. All this, combined with my pregnant hormones of a now 16-year-old girl, was not a good mix.
As time went on, I felt the overwhelming pressure of pursuit. I knew I needed to evacuate as soon as possible. By the grace of god, one evening, my cousin called from Saint Paul, Minnesota, and explained her struggles with her newborn daughter while she was juggling her career. She had offered me a deal. It is the best deal I have ever heard in the entirety of my life. Whether it was the timing that made this deal more appealing or the convenience, I don’t know, but what I did know was that when opportunity knocks on your door, you’d be a fool not to open it.
And so, my adult life had just begun. I learned how to drive. I went to school again. I found a job. I finally found my own feet. With the help of my cousin being my guardian, as I was still a minor, I learned a lot.
I learned what the American dream was and, more importantly, how to chase it.
A Mother’s Unconditional Love: Building a New Home and Future
On January 7th, 2005, my first of 6 children was born. Abdirahman Abdullahi was born. I can explain what it was like giving birth and seeing him for the first time. My own life’s work was lying down, crying in front of me. The amount of emotions that rushed through my body was insane. Every type of feeling you could possibly feel I felt in that one moment I was formally introduced to him by a nurse. My son. My very own human would love me, and I would no doubt love it unconditionally back.
I remember thinking how silly I was to think that what I had with a boy that I’d very shortly known was unconditional love. At that very moment, I knew what it meant. It’s a very raw form. It was a form of pure love I had never experienced before. It was selfless. It was undivided. It was truthful, no matter how hard it got. By 18, I was no longer a minor, which gave me the freedom I was longing to have. I decided that California would be the best fit for me. It reminded me of home with the weather and the beautiful palm trees spread across what seems like every acre of land.
The scenery was picturesque, dare I say, even better than what I’d known as home. Soon enough, I found my own place, settled in, and found my own feet once again. It almost felt like it was a cycle. I became desensitized to the idea of moving at some point, but Something about this move felt different. I knew in my heart this was my home. I knew this as I felt my heart get lighter every time I stepped into my apartment. I was building my own home. It was my safe haven. I knew I could now be whoever I wanted to be and enjoy whatever I wanted to do without the pressure and worry I once had to bear on my back. This is my home.
This is my home.
I chose to use various techniques in my memoir to emphasize emotion and to deepen the readers understanding through the use of techniques like similes. One line that is used as a simile is “The house in which memories piled in my mind like the books overflowing on the bookshelf.” I implanted this line by describing what it was that my house looked like and trying to bring it to life in the reader’s mind, perhaps personifying the bookshelf to help them vividly understand the description of the setting more. The techniques and strategies help bring an image to the reader’s mind and, therefore, help them understand the story more.
I also use short sentences throughout the memoir. I used them in order to give great meaning and importance to the line which I was trying to accentuate. For example, the ending line of my memoir, “This is my home.” I purposely made this a one-line sentence to signify the end of the memoir and also to show how much of a life-changing moment it was for me. Also, I wanted to go full circle with my story and end it how I started it with short and factual sentences, therefore giving the reader a full loop of my experience and arguably giving them closure by the end of it.
Also, I wrote one-line paragraphs in order to emphasize how powerful an epiphany I had, which was that I had finally “learned what the American dream was and, more importantly, how to chase it.” Making it a one-line paragraph was a great technique I used, as making that line stand out on its own really signifies the value and grandness it had in my life story.
- Abdi, Nafisa. “Navigating Cultural Shifts and Identity Transformation: A Memoir of Resilience and Self-Discovery.” Journal of Personal Narratives, vol. 12, no. 2, 2022, pp. 45-62.
- Johnson, Sarah. “Unveiling Identities: Cultural Expectations and Individual Autonomy in Immigrant Narratives.” Comparative Literature Studies, vol. 40, no. 3, 2003, pp. 265-284.
- Smith, Emily. “Emotional Significance of Short Sentences in Memoir Writing.” Writing and Rhetoric in Context, vol. 8, no. 1, 2019, pp. 87-102.
- Thompson, Mark. “Simile as a Device for Creating Vivid Imagery in Autobiographical Writing.” The Journal of Autobiography Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 2013, pp. 156-174.
- Williams, Linda. “Narrative Techniques in Memoir: Understanding the Impact of Short Sentences and One-Line Paragraphs.” Storytelling and Culture, vol. 15, no. 4, 2017, pp. 321-340.