Better Days

They went through hell in Mogadishu. But for 17-year-old Mohamed Abdullahi and other Somali immigrants, in Minneapolis it's still an uphill climb.

"Last Thursday I almost got in a fight with this dude," he goes on. "At lunch there wasn't any place for me and my friend to sit except one table where four seats were around this one black student. When we sat down, he was like, 'Oh, the Somalis are this and that.' I said, 'Why you gotta talk like that, badmouthing me? And I stepped up to him. And the vice principal came up to me and said, 'He was sitting there first.' Okay. But his name wasn't on those other chairs, right?"

Adds Mohamed matter-of-factly: "Whites don't show racism the way black people show it. Black people come up to you and say everything on their mind. White people hide it and show it in other, little ways that will hurt you. But black people, they don't care--they will tell you."

His mother complains about gun-toting students, and Mohamed agrees. "That's stupid! They make big things out of little things, like with the gangs and stuff. That's nothing compared to what I have been through. 'Been there. Done that.'" He mutters the cliché disgustedly.

"I worry because where we live before, he's always getting into fights on the [basketball] court," Faisa puts in.

"Sometimes people will talk a lot of trash and I'll just go, 'Whatever, just play on,'" Mohamed explains. "It's just that when they touch me, I gotta fight back, because that's me. Just handle it once and get it finished.

"I have no desire to join a gang or anything," he emphasizes. "But I am not scared when they come up to me and things have to go down. Everybody is going to die sometime, so let's just all get through it. I don't care, I'll step up to you if I have to. I'm not scared of anybody except God."

His Muslim faith is the core of Mohamed's existence. When his mother expresses skepticism about a God who would allow so many of her people to be killed, he is quick to rebuke her. "No, Mom, it did help--because we prayed a lot and that's why we're here right now, because it is a more peaceful place."

Mohamed has a dream. "I've told her before I'm not going to stay here," he says, gesturing across the couch to his mother. "America is a fast land, a fast life. Everything is about money. As soon as I get married, I'm going to save up money, like a couple of thousand, go to Africa, Egypt or something, and buy my own home. Because my mother sends, like, $200 to Africa and it can save them for a couple of months. I'm like, 'What are we doing here, then?' I want to go someplace where I'll be with my religious group, where you know it is time to pray because you can hear everybody praying, all over the country. I want to go someplace safer, someplace where life is simple."

 

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year, is a time of fasting and worship. On this snowy late-November evening, the second day of Ramadan, the small concrete-block mosque across from the Coyle Community Center is packed shoulder-to-shoulder with worshipers, to the point where no one else will fit inside the open door. Dozens of pairs of shoes are jumbled on shelves along the back wall. Up front, on a crude dais of unfinished wood, a man reads from the Koran in a hypnotic cadence occasionally answered by the crowd, who alternate between standing and kneeling. Mohamed Abdullahi is somewhere inside.

As the service continues, more people arrive. Some stand outside, waiting fruitlessly for people to leave. Several return to their cars to fetch small Persian-style rugs. They lay their rugs on the snow-covered ground and slowly sink to their knees, palms apart and facing upward.

The gentle snowfall, mixed with the reading of the Koran, is ethereal. The survivors of Somalia are praying: May the will of God be more merciful in the days and years ahead.

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