Lack of peace has affected the lives of my family and friends. My friend and colleague Adar Kahin had tears in her eyes when I asked about the civil war in Somalia. She described a time before the war when she “was young and famous;” in her perspective the world was the perfect world to live in. When the war began in Somalia, her world was turned upside down, with a separation from friends and family. It was the most obvious manifestation of a lack of peace for her. Kahin talked about her unbearable pain in the last 23 years. She had gone to Kenya as a refugee, and it had taken more than 20 years to reconnect with some of her family who had fled to different countries fearing for their lives.
The refugee experience in Kenya represents some of the most harrowing challenges any human could experience. Year after year during my family’s stay there, life did not get any easier. It remained difficult to adapt. The biggest challenges were the lack of security and sanitization. Every night you heard that another person was raped and nothing could be done, or someone’s mother or daughter had died while giving birth because there was no hospital close to the camp.
When I first arrived in the United States, I remember feeling confused; the only thing that was familiar was my family. Thinking back, my first experience was the weather, and even today-almost 15 years later-it is hard to adapt to the cold weather.
Other challenges my family continues to face are the cultural differences. For example, society expects you to dress one way, but your own culture tells you to dress modestly. The younger generations struggle because they are stuck between two cultures and feel loyalty to both. Sometimes these cultural clashes create misunderstandings between parents and the children. My aunt and mom have the old traditional beliefs from East Africa, but the children want to behave and act the Western way.
Living in an unfamiliar environment affects everyone in the family differently. I can see my grandmother sitting home most of the time and not able to enjoy life as she used to during the peaceful time back home. The rest of us were able to adapt more easily and move ahead with our lives, taking advantage of the opportunity to gain an education or get a job. My grandmother and her peers feel homesick every day, but they cannot go back home because the same continues.
Everybody in my community has a shared story when it comes to war. The lack of peace has caused my community unimaginable pain. We long for peace.
Zahra Abdalla lives in Minneapolis and is a community health worker at WellShare International. www.wellshareinternational.org