From crocodiles to refugee camps, Habibo Haji's incredible journey

(Images courtesy of Habibo Haji)

The Twin Cities is well known for its strong Somali community, but soon it may be known for their authors as well.

Somali-Minnesotan author Habibo Haji is showcasing her 2013 debut memoir Conquering the Odds: Journey of a Shepherd Girl at Subtext Books in St. Paul on Aug. 26. The book follows Haji as a young girl growing up in central Somalia during the peak of civil war, and as she flees to the United States with no education and speaking no English.

"This book is based on my life experience living in a primitive village in Balcad, Somalia with my grandmother where I worked as a shepherd and nomad from the age of four,” Haji said. “I survived crocodiles, jackals, malaria and civil war. I also survived the largest refugee camp in the world—Dadaab.”

Haji came to the United States when she was only 16 and in the book, she recounts some of the harder moments in her journey, like when she would tie her legs together at night while she watched over the cattle so she wouldn’t get raped in her sleep.

“There would be a lot of young men and boys around because they would be doing the same thing as I was doing,” she said. “So my fear of getting raped at night … I think that’s probably one of the hardest things. Especially at the age of 12 when you’re trying to find your identity anyway.”

But every hardship Haji faced throughout her journey was difficult for different reasons, she said, and coming to the United States was equally as terrifying for her.

“Coming here to the United States with no English, no education. That itself is pretty frightening,” she said. “I don’t know how I actually did it. Sometimes I look back and go, ‘Wow, that is crazy.’”

But Haji, now a registered nurse living in Rochester, said the book isn’t meant to simply document her hardships, but be an inspiration to those who are facing or have faced great adversity in their life.

“I would like to empower individuals. I would like to share my ups and downs and my pain and my success with them and say, ‘Look, you can overcome anything,’” she said. “It’s how you view what’s present and in front of you.”

You can meet Habibo Haji and watch her present her memoir at Subtext Books this Tuesday, Aug. 26, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Free. This work was co-authored by Joseph Culhane.

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

Habibo Haji presents 'Conquering the Odds: Journey of a Shepherd Girl'

08/26/2014 - 7:00pm - 8:00pm

This story tells the incredible tale of a Somali woman's trials and tribulations endured on her journey from the plains of Africa to her arrival in the United States.

  • Habibo, My Daughter Kim Wiltshire ( RN that also works at Mayo in the PICU) met you and bought your book for me. You signed it to me. My husband and I do medical missions in Kenya and work with may refugees from Samolia as well as the Congo and Kenyans displaced due to tribal differences. Although your story is more geared to your people, it gave me a great insight into what many Africans have induced. My daughter's neighbor is a Kenyan and I was sharing with her some of your story and I could see in her eyes that she had experienced many of the same things you discussed. It was a time to be able to understand her at a deeper level. She too has some issues with relationships and getting close. She has become a nurse and just got hired on at Mayo, the sme place my daughter and her husband work. You mentioned God and your faith many times through you story, it is he and only he that has guided your path as hard as it was! You are a survivor!!! May God Bless all that you do and your willingness to share some of the most intimate times of your life. We go to Kenya every November and do medical clinics providing free exams, medications, vision and dental. This year will be our 10th year. Our team is a mix of different walks of life and from several different states. If you ever want to join us just drop us a message. We have a Facebook page fot the Kenya Project Hope as well as you can see some videos on Youtube under Kenya Project Hope/Black Pearl Media. Thanks again for sharing your Story!! Arlene Shipman RN, RNFA, FNP or FB Arlene Shipman Kingsburg, Calif. - by Arlene Shipman on Sat, 03/07/2015 - 11:15am
  • Can't wait to read it! We need to uphold and continue to improve on standards of equality for women here so such extraordinary women from afar have a safe place to land and thrive. - by YogaHotDish on Tue, 08/26/2014 - 7:01pm
  • Way to go Habiba!! - by Kirstie Olson on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 6:24pm

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Kristoffer Tigue's picture
Kristoffer Tigue

Kristoffer Tigue is the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

(editor [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net)