The Mall of Somalia

Minneapolis's own slice of Mogadishu

Once he finishes that film, Liban plans to make another movie starring Hassan, this one called ESL. He shot Flight 13 on a slim $5,000 budget, which meant hardly anyone got paid. For ESL, he hopes to round up enough money to at least put up the actors in a hotel. Liban's vision for his movies is largely educational. He wishes to warn Somalis about common mistakes made when encountering such American booby traps as "cars, parking, and drugs."

Liban, who left Somalia with his family in 1982, has been in this country long enough to know. He has lived in several North American cities--Washington, D.C., Toronto, Atlanta, New York--and for years was "an international DJ" at various dance clubs. Because his family disapproved of his working in alcohol-centric venues, he moved on to filmmaking and other forms of entertainment production. He rents a studio on nearby Lake Street, where Somali TV shows are occasionally shot. He also likes to throw parties and social events for Somali teens. Because he is more acculturated to the ways of the West, Liban figures he has the ability--even the responsibility--to provide useful guidance to his less clued-in compatriots.

As Liban explains all of this, a slick-looking Somali guy--maybe in his mid-20s--stops by the table. The two make small talk in Somali and laugh. After a minute, Liban reaches into his pocket, pulls out a pack of Marlboro Lights and hands over a smoke. The guy saunters off to the pool hall. Liban explains that he "had a meeting" with the guy the night before. He's an unemployed, broke drug user, Liban says, shaking his head.

"Last night, I sat with him for two hours. I told him, 'Stop coming out to Karmel and the other malls if you want to sell drugs. Go to Portland and Franklin. Stay away from my territory," Liban continues. "And then I told him, 'Everybody who loves you knows what you're doing. If you don't want to lose their friendship, you better stop.'" But Liban explains that he didn't want to lean on the guy too hard. He believes people can turn their lives around.

So he doled out the cigarette, despite the fact that his pack has dwindled steadily since arriving at the café and he's only got five dollars in his pocket. At Karmel, it doesn't matter that he's light in the wallet. "You have everything you need here just like Mall of America," he says. "Except it's not expensive. You can come here with nothing and still get a cup of coffee."

Does he think Karmel will retain its status as a focal point for Minnesota's Somali community? He pauses for a moment, and then answers: "Somalis are nomads. We find something better, we'll move on. We always look for the best. Something comes out better tomorrow, we'll move there."

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