A memoir that is inspiring and brings light to the plight of people in Somalia, especially girls and women
When I first saw this book on Amazon, I knew I really needed to read it. I’m always curious to read about girls’ stories from third world countries and this one truly tugs at your heart strings. What I didn’t realize was that Habibo, our main character, had to become a shepherd at the age of 5. Written in memoir style, the author tells of her difficult start to life. Born to teenaged parents and sent to live with her grandma and uncles, Habibo never receives genuine care or affection.
If she made a mistake or lost any of the animals, she’d be beaten while a job well done was never followed with praise. Imagine being told at 6 years old that it’s your fault a baby goat died. By 8, she was already taking the family’s animals out on her own, risking her life as she worked among crocodiles, hyenas, jackals, and stray men looking to prey on lone females. There’s a saying in Somalia how you never want to touch a woman’s sheep – and this comes from the fact that women shepherds are fierce with wild animals who try to snatch their herds. Habibo fights off a jackal herself when she’s such a little girl. Her one uncle comes to save her a few times, taking pity on how little she is. This is the only connection she really feels with her family, but even then, it’s a very arms length type of relationship. It’s great she did have him looking out for her!
I’ve heard through charities such as Plan International and Because I’m A Girl that young girls literally carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Treated like second class citizens and manual labour slaves in Somalia, they are required to do very laborious tasks with risk of being attacked, raped, and killed. This becomes an issue as Habibo gets older. She describes that she was usually able to fight off one guy alone, but if there were two or three, she didn’t bother. At one point she sleeps with her legs tied tightly together with a rope because of her fear in being raped while sleeping in the wilderness. She witnesses women and girls being raped as well (From older women to girls as young as ten) – screams often echo through the night air.
Despite this harsh, loveless life, there’s unmistakable hope and determination in her to survive. She believes that this hardship made her who she is today and she demonstrates that the hard times make us stronger if we can survive them.
When her country undergoes Civil War, she is forced into a refugee camp. Caged away with nothing to do, she finds this more difficult than her life as a shepherd, because at least then there was a purpose to her day. I think it would have been even harder to be in that situation! One positive is that there was a supplies camp run by a charirt where the people could get food and other supplies. After weeks of applying to come to America, which seems like an almost impossible feat as many people are rejected and forced to stay in the war torn country, Habibo gets accepted. She describes people jumping, screaming, and crying like they’re mad when they become accepted into the country with unimaginable riches.
Never seeing a big city before nor having access to any media – she’s never had access to a TV or magazine – Habibo gets the culture shock of her life when she sets foot in the U.S ! So overwhelmed by all the food in the grocery store, she tells her social worker she only wants carrot cake (She laughs later that of all things, this was her choice). Confused, he asks her if she’d like anything else for her apartment, but she says no, unsure of what else to get. It must have been bizarre going from such a sparse area with little food to suddenly being surrounded by all manner of it. It took her and the other immigrants from Somalia a lot of time to adjust.
Sadly, Habibo shared an apartment with two girls who were from another clan so they hated her and treated her badly – not helping her when she came down with a serious illness. At last, a social worker found her in bed with a fever and got her to the hospital for proper care. Through all this she’s still just a young girl of 16! As she put it, going to America didn’t make her life any easier – while it was safer as a girl, the work was only just beginning. She worked three times as hard as an American who was born there to go to school, learn English, pay bills, and work. I’m so glad she was able to have the opportunity to better her life.
It was fascinating reading about Habibo’s adjustment to working at a hotel and slowly settling in with the help of other immigrants. She meets her husband there and has a baby, but then goes to college for nursing. She says that as a young girl she never imagined she would have an education or a paid job, but she does not hesitate to continue to better her situation. She has a passion to help other girls from poor, war torn countries and she’s very loving and caring with her own daughters now after never receiving this when she was little.
Later in her book, she says that she believes England, America, Russia, and Italy have an obligation to help Somalia as they’ve used it for their resources. I agree with her that much needs to be done to end the ignorance that leads to war and other violent practices in the area.
It’s no doubt that Habibo will go even further in life with her amazing dedication and passion. Her goal is to be even more active in helping girls as a nurse by the time she’s 54. I am so inspired and moved by her story.
This was an amazing book everyone should read! You can purchase this story on Amazon. You can also check out the author’s list of titles on Goodreads. It doesn’t look like she’s active there, but I was sure to give her a follow anyway. 🙂