Through My Lens: Grateful to be a Mainer for eight years
I woke up on August 11 to celebrate my eighth birthday after leaving refugee life in Kenya and moving to Maine. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that all this time has passed since I left Kenya with only a refugee document and a US visa printed on a piece of paper.
I remember the overwhelming emotion as I leaned my forehead against the plane window, watching the first glimpse of America on the descent to Boston. I arrived on the night of August 11 and the shimmers of Logan Airport were the first images of the great dream to come – the dream of breathing and finding peace. Eight years have passed and I still carry those memories with me over the years.
For the first few weeks, things felt different, the air smelled different, the size of the houses and cars made me feel like I had arrived in the land of giants. In Yarmouth it was quiet except for the noise of cars on the roads, the mooing of midnight cows or the honking of train horns. On my first ride through Royal River Park, a cyclist coming from behind shouted, “I’m coming on the left.” I remember standing there and wondering what to do with what I was hearing. I learned later that the Mainers kindly and peacefully let you know that they wanted to go through you. During my years in Kenya and Somalia, people would push you aside and without saying “get out” they would move on.
For the first five years, I couldn’t participate in the democracy of this country because I didn’t have American citizenship. It takes five years of waiting and passing a civics and English test to become a naturalized citizen. No matter how good my English is or how many American music lyrics I can say, the immigrant who doesn’t speak English and I have to wait the same time to be citizens. The real test of American democracy only began a few years ago when I registered as a Maine voter and proud new Mainer.
The hardest part over the past eight years, of course, has been trying to fit in. I had phases of loving Maine and being frustrated.
For the first two years, Maine was such a difficult place to adjust to. It was so weird and I felt like a stranger every day. It was not a popular destination for many refugees and there was no deep connection between the native Mainers and the new Mainers. I had to join my East African community in Maine to find a safe place. I participated in the Qaaraan system – a traditional community contribution system rooted in the Somali kinship system where social relations are governed by customary law. The Qaaraan mobilizes resources for use by the community according to need. But I didn’t leave Somalia and Kenya to come here and just live in the same Qaaraan system that I have known all my life. Although it’s a system that works for so many people, I thought finding my own way, even in an undiverse city, was a better option.
It is a country with a certain individual freedom. I thought I didn’t care about the etiquette of ordering food and eating with my hands, or being silent in a movie theater since I grew up with friends who talked and laughed during movies. . Eight years ago, I was not a skier, hiker or lobster lover. I didn’t even know how to twist and snap the claws of delicious Maine lobster, but now I do.
Maine, thank you for giving me a space to express myself. I look forward to many more years of being a Mainer.
Meanwhile: turn up the heat for winter preparations