Before the first light shines over the Mississippi River, Siyad Salah is already on the road outside Minneapolis, driving a taxicab for a living. By early afternoon, he’s carrying around his video camera, interviewing and shooting images for his volunteer work at a local Somali television station.
A father of three children, Salah’s daily life behind the steering wheel and camera sounds hectic and intense, but it’s something that he won’t trade for anything. He said that he still manages to spend time with his family at night, gets a complete eight hours of sleep, and most importantly, he gives back to his community.
“Many Somalis here, particularly the elderly who stay at their homes most of the time, need to get information,” he said. “They watch shows in English, and it’s hard for them to fully understand.”
Salah, 33, recalled that his volunteer work at Minneapolis-based Somali TV, the country’s first nonprofit television network that runs daily talk shows and news programs in Somali, has been motivated by his mother’s struggle with the English language.
“Many times, when I came home from work, she repeatedly asked me, ‘Can we watch the news in Somali?’ I knew that there are many older Somalis like her who have the same question,” he said.
Salah immigrated to the United States with his parents and three siblings in 1993. He tried to live in Ohio years ago,but he found a home in Minnesota.“I like the Twin City. My family is here,” he said proudly. “My father is a middle school teacher at Minneapolis Public School.”
In the last decade, more than 20,000 Somali refugees have ended up in the state of “10,000 Lakes.” Minneapolis is now home to hundreds of Somali-owned and operated businesses. Several malls in this city now offer everything from halal meat to leather shoes to money transfer to videos and DVDs of the latest songs and Somali movies. The refugee population has increased especially in the Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis.
For safety, Salah only drives his cab in the suburban areas. “I have to be careful. Everyday I start to drive at 4 a.m.” Between driving hours he organizes interviews, and by 1 p.m. he goes back to the studio and begins the production work. “Sometimes I still have to edit, so I finish the day at 5p.m.”
But while driving a cab and working for a television seem to be a mismatch to many, it actually complements each other.
“Because Siyad [Salah] drives around, he meets a lot of people and is exposed to many different things,” said Abdulkadir Osman, executive producer for SomaliTV. “He knows what’s happening around us.”
Osman, who also heads a nonprofit charter school in St. Paul, has been working closely with Salahfor a long time. He said that Salah is “known to the community.”
“He’s not only a cameraman. He plans the programs, he coordinates with the anchorperson, and he makes the schedule,” Osman said. “Without him, I don’t know how the station is going to work. He is our main machine.”