Sunday, November 02, 2014

An Unexpected Case of the Feels- Somali Edition

Trust me to not be able to sleep on the daylight savings time when we actually GAIN an extra hour.

In my dreams all I could see was the faces of the Somali women I had spent time with earlier in the day.  You see, yesterday was the first day of the healing circle/support group for Somali refugee women that we are doing at my office.  Years ago, when I would present in front of a group I would come down with what I referred to as "stress stomach", but as I present in front of a variety of groups all the time, I rarely get that anymore.  Yesterday, I had an awful attack of it.  I was so nervous.  Talking in front of people....easy.  Talking to and encouraging people to open up about their trauma....frightening.  And it isn't what I am likely to hear that worries me....what worries me is that I don't want to mess this up.  I do not want to let these women down.

And these women.... they are the most brave, are the most beautiful (in all of the complexities that the term can denote) women that I have ever met in my life.  Their strength and resiliency is not able to be compared to mine....not that that is something that should ever be compared to begin with.

This is a new gathering of women for me to work with.  I've presented twice to this particular Somali band before and many of the faces I have seen already.  The goal of this group being to create a space where these women can have a safe place to talk about the trauma in their lives and learn new coping strategies.  It is a pilot project....and I really hope we can make something good of it.  If we can, we can bring this to the other refugee communities, who are vastly under-served in Utah.

Yesterday's meeting was merely an introduction and we had our share of logistical hurdles.  I took notes when everyone introduced themselves, but I can hardly read the names that I wrote.  I had them tell me about their families....who was married, who was not, who had children, grandchildren, how many years they had been in the US...  I may not remember the names of some of these women, but I'll remember their stories....such as the woman with 8 children who had given up counting the number of her grandchildren, but I'm sure she has one for every laugh line in her face.  Or the fact that joking about being happy to be divorced is a pretty universal thing.  Or that when I introduced myself I got asked how long I had been in the US as well.

We had children playing in the background, drawing pictures and practicing their English lettering.  Teenagers hanging out on the couch who got so bored that they started looking at the books on our shelves for something to read....I'm sure that the rape recovery handbooks weren't the type of reading they were looking for.  We even had communal prayer-time.  I had prepared a back room area for that, but when it came time we just gathered all of the blankets in the office and spread them out on the floor....three rows of women all bowing towards Mecca.

I learned that the terms "boyfriend and girlfriend" apply to plural marriage relationships beyond the first wife.  All food is equally shared with the elders being given the food first and then the children....and there are never leftovers. And return to Somalia because they can't handle not having the absolute control over their wives that they did in their home countries.  I also learned that I severely had underestimated the elder female community leader.  She may get tired after translating for an hour, but she hand-picked the women in that room.  She knows full well what topics they needed to talk about...even with them saying that they had "no problems".  Living in America means no problems in comparison to their past lives in Somalia and in the Kenyan refugee camps.

There is alot of work that I need to complete in the next month.  I need to develop the meeting curriculum, and the entails quite a bit of research.  I also need to research Somalia more.  I can tell you about Rwanda, and the Congo....the histories of Egypt and Northern Africa....but Somalia?  I'm limited to Black Hawk Down and a book called A House in the Sky about a female journalist kidnapped and held hostage there.  Definitely not enough to even begin to understand the historical background of these women's lives.  My heart feels heavy as I begin this research.  In my youth when I spent my time working on the Kurdish cause, I could feel that same heaviness.  The heaviness of pain and regret....the impotence that overcomes you by not being able to do a damn bit about any of it.  Hopefully....this feeling won't last.  This time, I can do something.  I can help shape and improve these women's lives.
I only hope that I am worthy enough for this.