Coming (back) to America

Coming (back) to America

So I had been gone from this so-called promised land, this American wonderland, for almost 4 years to the date. As my old Dugsi teacher recently told me: I just went on an extended vacation of sorts. When I was last in America, the first black president was in his second term in office. 7-11 sold frozen, pre-cooked pizzas for $5 on EBT, then they’d heat it up for you in their high powered microwave ovens. The government was, in effect, subsidizing a hot-and-ready alternative to Lil’ Caesars famous offering of the same ilk for hood niggas in the struggle. I remember standing in long lines for meager payouts: DSHS; too sick to care, too tired to do anything but shuffle one foot in front of the other; medicated.

In 2013, I was a wildly different person and America was a wildly different place. When I left that Seattle-Tacoma airport, when the Emirates airline began its rapid ascent to cruising altitude and I began my descent into self-reflection, into trepidation, into barely controlled madness of the introverted kind. Maybach Music Volume II blasted in my iPhone headphones, from my iPhone 3GS that I had bought for $20 off of a tweaker late one night in those perpetually rainy city streets. That was the first iPhone I ever owned, and it was no small accomplishment to me: purchasing an outdated iPhone off the street with dirty money. With guilty money, more soaked in filth than the conscience that kept me up ’till sunrise every night: festering in its own self-pity, in remorse at a life that could have been and never was, eating away at me. To fall so far from grace, to sink so low after such lofty expectations were placed on me: cognitive dissonance, at best.

I wandered through those grimy downtown alleyways with not a hint of fear in my heart, shoulder to shoulder with the rats and wine-bums and heroin-junkies and crack-heads and the resolute dabblers of all vices at once. I sought the most dangerous of situations because life was too sterile and pre-determined to an acute degree of safety in America. I shrugged my shoulders, careful not to dislodge that chip on the left as I skated away into the foreground, skin drenched in fluorescent streetlights and bathed in acrid rain.

I left trails of dissatisfied hearts in my wake, I left nothing to chance. I fulfilled not a single obligation, or commitment; I vacillated as a pendulum with a broken metronome attached. I was broken inside, shattered outside. My knees, my elbows: raw, freshly scabbed. My palms, my wrists: shredded like a 3-cheese Mexican blend. I had no friends, though I was surrounded by hordes of indifferent passers-by at any given time. I slept in parking garages from time to time, when the night called for it, having only my skateboard as a pillow and my box of swisher sweets clutched tightly to my chest; praying to wake up in a different reality. Wiping the discontent off my eyes before the homies saw the real me; plastering that goofy-stance of a smile onto my face, my eyes telling another story entirely.

I bled from the tear ducts, my saline solution long since having been spent. I lived my life on the edge of the gutter, on the precipice of utter humiliation. Still, somehow, I had the audacity to walk around with arrogance. What a coping mechanism that was: feigned indifference. I was broken then and I’m still struggling to collect the pieces to this day. It’s only by the grace of Allah that I never crossed that line into oblivion, that I was able to somehow find my way back to daylight. It’s only by the grace found only by the Indian Ocean in Mogadishu that this internal longing for recompense found some small measure of satisfaction.

So that iPhone 3GS got stolen from me by some Canadian Dhaqan Celis (Return to Culture) kid in Galkacayo, city of my ancestors. I ended up getting Malaria that same night, what an introduction to the concept of Qadr (Allah’s Divine Decree). Things happen as they were meant to, and it’s only a matter of how fast you come to terms with it that you can really begin to understand this thing called life. I lay on that 3-inch thick twin-sized Styrofoam bed-mat in my mother’s house (I hesitate to call it a mattress, it was literally some sponge material on the floor) for no less than 6 days. She saved for 10 years, one penny at a time, to have that house built for our future in Somalia; forever indebted to her as I am, I was grateful that no one was coming to collect rent, ever. I shivered and I shook. I sweated and I froze. I released my bowels and my stomach; I could barely lift my head off that pillow (the used one, the hand me down one that my younger brother had already worn a nice groove into over the last year or more before I got there).

The only thing that kept repeating throughout my mind, lost in a hazy fever-dream that had no beginning or end, was the picture of that Canadian kid walking off into the distance of the alleyway as he pretended to be making a phone call. “Yes, Uncle. I’m good. Did you get the money? I’m really broke and could use a 50 or two. No, I can’t hear you, hold on.” He turned to me and gave me the “give me a second” finger, walking into the alleyway and pointing as if there was a magical spot halfway down the block that had perfect cell reception. How could you let yourself get played like that, Said? You came to Africa with no money, with a suitcase full of clothes that your dad bought for you at a second-hand store. You couldn’t even pay for your own clothes before you were kicked out of America, poverty clause. What kind of an excuse for a grown man are you? You’re supposed to be so smart, how could you not even pay your own bills?

What kind of an excuse are you?

It didn’t matter. All I could do was wonder if I would survive this incident, my first time getting ACTUALLY sick in Somalia. If I did live to tell the tale, would I continue to be the coward I was known to be in Seattle or would I track this dude down and get my phone back by any means? Never mind that I couldn’t fight, and that word on the street was that homeboy had bodies on his record, which is how he ended up exiled to Somalia; it was a matter of principle. You can’t let people see that your weak in Somalia; even if everyone knows how weak you are, you hide it until they come to carry you to your grave; die brave, even if it means an early grave, right?


I lived to tell this tale, so clearly I never showed my bravery. At least, not to him. He ate that phone, and he ate well for several days. The money from the sale of my phone on the street was probably spent before I even recovered from my bought with malaria. I think there’s a funny kind of irony in that whole scenario: I bought a phone on the street, most likely hotter than the devil’s sundress collection, and that phone made it all the way down to Somalia with me ( a place that’s even hotter than the devil’s drawers, underneath that very same sundress collection on a Spike Lee day in Brooklyn).

That phone ended up getting stolen from me, which is funny because the guy I bought it from most likely stole it from someone else; drug addicts have habits and habits are not very discerning when it comes to your previous sense of morality before they took hold of your life.


The phone that I bought on the street, was taken from me, and sold on another street. A street that wasn’t even a street, more potholes than dirt. No pavement to be seen, the ground so uneven that you struggled not to fall face first on any given walk to town.

Anyway, no matter.

I never got the phone back, nor did I get any compensation, or just desserts, or revenge, or anything of that sort. I learned that you can’t trust people just because they share similar life experiences with you in a foreign land that you once called home. I learned that Allah gives and Allah takes away, and you don’t have a say in the matter. I learned that you can huff and puff your chest all you want, but that Wiley Wolf was only a fable character and most likely never even made eye contact with those pigs: he was scared like you were scared. He is you, but you run away from him still.

Running man.

Game Speed

Game Speed

What would it take to make a living as a writer? Listen, man. This putting word to screen stuff is just much a mystery to me today as it was 10 years ago. I have no idea how I write, or how the words fall into place the way they do when I’m in the zone, as it were. It’s not a matter of willing myself into a state of inspiration these days so much as it is managing my moods and emotions to help facilitate the process of producing decent work. I don’t care how many times someone tells me that they’re a fan of my writing, or that they see areas for improvement; I’ll never be satisfied with what comes out of these fingertips.  That’s what drives me to keep digging, to keep picking at each sentence like a neurotic child with a perpetually unhealed scab.

I type maybe 95 words per minute on average, in a clinical setting with controlled variables and a stopwatch attached next to my on-screen prompt. When I played football back in high school, I distinctly remember Coach LeLe Te’o always bringing up the concept of track speed vs game speed. The ultimate measure of a football player’s worth, to most self proclaimed experts, can be summed up in the time it takes them to run a 40 yard dash in controlled settings. This is what they call track speed. Some of the fastest timed players should, according to this logic, end up being superstars out under those hallowed Friday Night Lights, the crisp autumn air causing steam to condensate on the inside of players’ reflective helmet visors. To borrow a phrase from Lee Corso, the much heralded college football analyst and play-by-play color commentator, “not so fast, my friend!”

Grantedspeed isn’t something you can teach to a prospective football player, but at the same time, it doesn’t make up for a lack of intangible skills that make the difference between a fast person who happens to be on a football field and an outstanding football player. So that’s when the concept of game speed comes into play. Simply put, it defines how fast a player reacts to specific, in-game situations and how their natural ability to remain cool in high-pressure situations translates into a knack for making big plays. Someone with game speed will look a lot faster on game footage than they will on a timed track. The difference is obvious, and to the uninitiated observer, almost inexplicable.

I never had speed, either in-game or on the track, but I was always blessed with the ability to observe and internalize my surroundings, almost to a fault. I liken my understanding of game speed to a do-or-die scenario: say when you’re late for a critical day at work and your car broke down and the bus you need to catch to be on time is about to leave the station, but you’re about 3 blocks away. You run like your life depended on it, because your livelihood just might if you don’t catch the bus in time.

I’ve always been slow, and to that I will be the first to admit, but I recall times where I’ve been so motivated to catch a bus that I could have broken Olympic records (at least in my mind). That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s no stretch of the imagination to picture someone demanding more of their body than you would think physically possible in normal circumstances. To my understanding, that comes down to a matter of mind over matter.

The human body is weak, temporal. The human spirit, the mind, is something that existed before the body and will continue to do so after this physical form has long since decayed beneath  6-9 feet of terra firm. The body wants nothing more than to convince the mind and spirit, that they are one: that as soon as the body ceases to be, so too shall the spirit. It wants to convince you that your lifespan is limited to its own lifespan, purely out of selfishness. Since when have you heard of a flower vessel dictating the terms of service to a flower that happens to be lying within it? That’s like a hermit crab being told of its own limitations by the current shell that it happens to inhabit. It’s asinine as hell, but hell’s gotta make a living too, right?

If you ask me, I’d say that the trick to game speed is merely a realization that, when motivated, the human consciousness is capable of pushing its body to accomplish tremendous feats on command. The fingertips that spit out this garbled jargon between these pre-measured indentations are nothing else if not an extension of that same human body. It shouldn’t be that difficult to picture a future for myself wherein I command these here appendages, all ten of them in a perfectly coordinated dance of dialect, to provide for not only myself but the family whom I wish to be held responsible for.

When you get past all the creeping self-doubts that every writer or artist goes through in relation to the quality of their work, writing is a source of peace for me. To write means to get a literal grasp of my thoughts, sift them through palms like Barbados hot white sands and ultimately release them into the 7 winds like the ashes of Neanderthalian campfires long since extinguished.

When all else fails and nothing feels right in my life, writing is the mental equivalent of a bottle of 7-Up in any black household: it’s a cure-all for any ailment, from broken pinky toe to existential crisis. Nothing salves my heart quite like two things in this world: listening to/reciting the Holy Quran and writing about anything and everything. Running comes in as a close third to these two natural suppressors of negative emotions, but running is not a luxury that one can always afford to partake in. So what does it all mean, where is it all leading to? I wish I could tell you, but I do know that imma keep trusting my instincts and live my life one ink blot at a time. Yeah, irregardless is a word if I want it to be, red squiggly lines be damned. You should write about that, my guy. Let it out in 4/4 time. Clock a 4.4 at the combine.

Dhulkayaga // Our Land

Dhulkayaga // Our Land

Our country, we have failed thee. Shattered to the core, we’ve trampled on your still beating heart more times than we’d care to admit, but surely you must have the tally etched onto every vein and ventricle in that tender organ. Somalia, we don’t deserve to utter your name when we describe ourselves to the foreigners who we now treat more like family than our own siblings.

Today is Mother’s Day, but Hooyo Somalia, we’ve become the worst offspring a mother could ever hope to have. Hope may not be the best word for it, since there is so little of it left in your torn and tattered heart; hope for us to make good on our claims of Somalinimo, of walaaltinimo, of midnimo. We promised to die defending your honor, sweet Mother, but when push came to shove, all we did was turn on each other. We promised to never leave your side, to bear every hardship with patience and resilience, for the sake of the greater good. We did no such thing, Hooyo Somalia, we just turned tail and ran.

We turned to the sea, to the desert; to sit listlessly under orange tarp covers flapping atop brittle and battered acacia trees struggling to hold the weight of make-shift lean-tos, the sides emblazoned with bright blue acronyms that resemble your favorite color more than we’d like to admit. We convinced each other that there was no home for hope here, that our mother was dying and we had to save ourselves before the darkness closed in on us. The darkness we spoke of came from no foreign influence, it came from no moonless nights, it merely came from the darkest recesses of our own souls.

We were the problem all along, Hooyo Somalia, through no fault of your own. We were the only children you had but we acted as if we didn’t owe you anything. We took shelter under that sky-blue UN sign, the one with white borders that so closely resembles your favorite colors, Hooyo. Have you ever heard of such a thing, Hooyo Macaan, of ungrateful offspring rushing off to take shelter in a new home, with a new mother of their choosing, simply because they destroyed the home that their birth mother provided for them? We gave ourselves up for adoption, Hooyo Somalia, and pretended that we didn’t know who exactly gave birth to us.

They say that the sand that covers you now is bright red, brighter than a thousand dying suns, because of how much of our own blood we’ve spilled on your sacred body. They say that we were never meant for freedom, that we are a perpetually failed state, a flawed people’s that weren’t born with the capacity to govern themselves. They tell us that so that we forget what we did to you, Dearest Mother Somalia, so that we forget the thousands of generations of proud history that shaped us. They want us to play the victim role, to believe that we could somehow be the victims of crimes that we perpetrated against you. I wish I could apologize for the rest of my countrymen, I wish that I could make them take back every bullet casing that they carelessly shed onto your barely breathing form, hunched over in pain as one warlord after the next attempted to step into the power vacuum caused by a people who had shed more of their humanity with each falling assault rifle shell casing.

I wish you could speak, Hooyo Somalia, I wish I could hear the pain in your voice. I wish the tears in your eyes could help the crops grow again, but I know that salted earth bears no fruit and that dead trees couldn’t provide shelter even if they tried. All I’ve known, since the second we left Mogadishu all those years ago, is exclusion. We’ve been excommunicated from our own homeland, we’ve been forced to grow tall in unforgiving terrains, to shovel snow from our mother’s driveway with one hand as we tried to keep the blunt lit with the other hand. To hide our shame of not knowing our own roots, to mask it, to cover that incessantly buzzing void with untold intoxicants and fabricated personas, hoping that the all those buzzing noises would cancel each other out. We were forced to recreate the violence that we were born into in our new Western lives; we recreate the violence that we were born fleeing from, while being incubated to maturation in our mother’s distended bellies as they huddled low in undersized shipping boats, watching the shores of Kismayo slowly disappear into the distance, hoping beyond hope that they didn’t become malnourished to the point of miscarrying us.

Did your mother ever tell you how you came to be, my young Somali? Did she tell you how many people had to die for you to have this chance that you take for granted every day in the west? Did she tell you that for every 1 family who made it to Australia, to Sweden, to Brazil, 3 more were left for dead on the side of the road in Beled Hawo, in Afgooye, in Goldogob. Did she tell you that some of her childhood friends didn’t even get the luxury of an Islamic burial? Did she tell you how your family tried to stay when the war broke out, when Somalia’s heart suffered a massive infarction that it has yet to recover from, that your father volunteered to drive a dump truck that deposited mountains of lifeless bodies into the mass graveyards, hoping that it would help stop the bloodshed in some way?

We have failed as a people, we have failed our oath to our Motherland, and we somehow have the audacity to wave blue and white flags in the comforts of countries unravished by the touch of heartlessness. Or, maybe they were, but that heartlessness was directed outside of their own borders so as to secure a prosperous future filled with turning blind eyes and offering aid shipments to the recipients of that same heartlessness. A people divided can never hope to call themselves a people at all. Similarly, a mother can never be happy so long as she harbors resentment for her offspring.

Somalia is dying from heartbreak, but her children won’t let her die. Somalia can’t die until every last one of us bleaches our skin to the brink of Anglo Saxonism, until we reprimand our own children for daring to speak that forbidden Somali tongue. So long as you choose to ride that fence between performative Somalinimo and actually doing something, anything, for the sake of your country, Somalia is unable to die.

You have to make a choice, oh favored reader. You can live in the West and pretend that Somalia is beyond your help, thereby renouncing all ties with your birth Mother. Alternatively, you can help me pick up these bits and pieces of Somalia and superglue them back together. It really doesn’t matter how you do it, you just have to commit to making amends to Hooyo Somalia.

Dhulkayaga wuu noo baahanyahay, adnah gaari cad iyo qabri qabow baad daba ordeesaa. Filin aan bislaan baa kuu saaran sxb…

808s and Heartbreak

I’ve learned how to overcome addiction, how to navigate the
intersections of the criminal justice and mental health systems as a
black man in America, I’ve learned to be self-reliant for my mental
health and the importance of having a strong support network. I’ve
moved to an entirely new state to get away from the demons that chased
me, only to find that no matter where I went, there I was. I struggled
to find acceptance within my various demographic communities and
realized that until I found acceptance within myself, I could never
gain it from external sources.

I volunteered extensively at the
Ballard food bank for several years on and off, I saw how people
became humbled when the capitalism they were so in favor of a few
months ago turned around to bite them in the rump. I was in awe of how
coming to a food bank forced people to swallow their egos in order to
feed their families. That the food they were taking for free was
donated by grocery stores who were ready to throw it out, because it
was so close to expiration.

It made me realize a lot about how
capitalism is an inherently heartless system, about how bottom lines
are always valued before the very lives of people. America is a cold,
heartless place; even more so if you don’t control the means of

I read Bukowski, Vonnegut, Bradbury. I read Heinlein and
Silverstein. I began writing, poetry, profusely. I performed at open
mics and poetry slams for almost four years, and developed some
invaluable friendships that lasted well after I grew to hate
performance poetry.

I moved back home to Somalia and learned to speak
fluent Somali for the first time since my childhood. I learned to read
it and write it and translate documents from English to Somali with
ease. I understood what the cultural context of my Somali background
truly meant to me, how it unwittingly gave me the backbone of my

Even though I was unware of any real sense of self within
me, it existed, but buried beneath countless layers of assimilation
and adaptation. I learned that I could grow to absolutely hate
writing, and not write a single word for years at a time. I also
learned that it was a part of me, and that I would always come back to
it. Like an old friend who you haven’t seen in years, and pick up
right where you left off as if they never left.

I learned that I was
of a lot greater value to my Country than I had imagined. I met and
saw people who barely finished high school overseas helping to
actively change the narrative in Somalia. I realized that being a
bilingual, creative and determined young diaspora returnee gave me a
lot of advantages that I would have never had if we hadn’t fled
Somalia during the civil war.

I realized that trauma, deep seated
childhood trauma, never really leaves you. I learned that some wounds
can be scarred over but completely tender underneath the epidermis. I
learned that old psychological wounds can be easily reopened once you
walk the same scorched earth that you did as a child. I learned that
pain can never be avoided, and that the longer you try to sweep it
under the rug, the more it will hurt when that dam eventually ends up

I learned that love waits for no man, or woman, and that
those who get hurt end up trying to hurt the next partner they come
across. They think that lashing out at someone else will somehow help
them feel better about what the last person did to them. There is too
much backlash and side splash in this world.

There is little, if any,
true love to be seen.

I learned to protect my heart, by any means

I learned that words, no matter how seemingly heartfelt,
are little more than lip service. I learned that trust shouldn’t be so
easily given to people for the content of their words, because even a
snake charmer can lead a python to its demise with the sweet lilt of
his flute.

I learned that I have to move on, somehow, and that my
future is based on doing everything within my power to help save my
people from themselves. To help build Somalia, to pick up the
scattered remnants of rubble and painstakingly stitch them back

Just like this little heart of mine, I’m gone let it shine… Let it shine,

Let it shine,


Let it shine.

Demons like Dreams

The thing about having demons in your closet is that you have to let them out from time to time. They need to be given attention, otherwise they’ll break out of the prison you’ve crafted for them and consume you whole. You have to talk to your demons, you have to feed them and give them sustenance. Some demons can be abandoned altogether, but most linger indefinitely.

The thing about letting your demons out of their 4×5 cell to go for a walk, to get some fresh air is.. once they taste a little bit of freedom, they remember just how oppressive that dark space you created for their confinement really is. They become reckless, high from the sudden loosening of their leash and unable to keep their desires hidden from you.

The thing about having demons is, we don’t always choose to carry them with us, but we have to acknowledge them just the same.

The thing about demons within our core being is, the more you try to avoid them, the more power they have over you. The more you tell yourself that everything is fine, the more the demons smirk with a reddish tint in their eyes; chuckling softly from an increasingly large corner of your very psyche.

The thing about these demons is, they are just as much a part of you as the face that stares back in the mirror every morning.

The thing is, these demons.. they’re actually the parts of yourself that you refuse to accept.

Embrace your demons, don’t shut us out. You’ll only hurt us in the long run, you’re only punishing yourself.

Proletariat meets Plebeian, blackout

I remember working at a temporary labor staffing agency, back in 2008, just to make ends meet after I dropped out from the UW. My main assignment came in the form of a graveyard shift, sweeping away peanut shells and detritus using a gas-powered leaf blower at Safeco field after Mariners games in Seattle.

The work was terribly underpaid and mind numbingly simple, but it gave me peace. It got my family off my back because suffering from existential depression wasn’t an excuse to not work. It let me stay awake all night, which I did anyway, which was by design because I avoided seeing people at all costs. Seeing people smiling and going about their days, which could only remind me of how little desire I had to do anything with my life other than avoid people, avoid conversations about my past and my present, my future and my fall from grace.

The sound of dozens of leaf blowers running simultaneously as we crawled down the bleachers of the stadium one section at a time, blowing away the discarded remains of capitalism and American privilege. We were all poor folks, black and brown folks, mostly. The wide-open spaces, the repetitive motion of the leaf blower nozzle being moved side to side, the vibrations of the engine forcing you to keep your jaws wired shut for fear of losing any fillings. The crisp night time air, the chilly fog that only the pacific northwest produces so consistently. The smell of the Puget sound enveloping you as the high tide washes back in to shore a few hundred meters away.

Poor folks, cleaning up the mess of rich folks at a stadium that we couldn’t afford a ticket to enter during daylight hours. Working ten hours in the dead of night and getting paid the price of admission for one person, not including food or beverages. Catching the metro route 120 home as the sun rises over the horizon, heating up leftover hamburger helper for dinner at breakfast time. Letting the sounds of the projects rising to tackle another day drift you off to sleep.

It was the absolute bare minimum for a working age adult in the United States of America, but it was more than I could ever ask for at the time. It met my needs, it let me walk the night without a care in the world. The Talib Kweli and Styles P albums playing on repeat inside my earbuds, underneath my ear protectors. Outside of that, the incessant whine of 10,000 leaf blowers competing to drown each other out. Just past that, the city of Seattle was asleep. The crackheads jostling and finessing each other for hits, the heroin junkies leaning, strung out on the corner of 3rd & Pine like some overpriced art installation pieces. Like weeping willow trees, overburdened with hundreds of years of strange fruit, until they could no longer stand straight.

In the Land of the Heartless, Black is Love

I got PTSD from America, but I was blessed enough to have a way out. Even if that way out was a war torn country that hadn’t seen peace in a quarter century, it was still a way out. I never forget the fact that so many of my black cousins, born and bred in that hellish place, don’t have such a luxury.

I’ll never stop being thankful to my black brethren who took me in from jump, especially when my own people saw me as too unorthodox to associate with. I’ll never stop fighting for the liberation of all black people, everywhere, but especially in places where they don’t have a way out. Black America, you helped shape me into the man I am today. Even when I was lost, I always had an anchor. An unspoken acceptance, a seat at the table regardless of how I expressed or repressed my blackness.

In coming to America, I adopted the black struggle as my own, because it became my reality. I don’t know what generational trauma feels like, but I know that trauma has more parallels than it does differences across cultural lines. I see myself as black, I saw my ethnicity stripped away from us as soon as we landed at JFK all those years after having escaped the very real trauma of a country scattered.

I saw myself staring at those 5 options whenever I helped my parents fill out a public housing application in elementary school: White/Caucasian, Hispanic/Non Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black/African American. In between asking my teachers at school what the hell a spouse was so I could finish these applications and get that section 8, I was asking myself if there was a difference between Black and African American.

Was there a difference between Somali and African? What did that make me, an African in America? What box did I check? And why did the white female teachers treat me differently then my African American counterparts? Was it merely smugness, that their ego was being stroked by my presence? That they felt responsible for saving my family from a sad, unfortunate fate in despicable, destitute Africa?

Was my very presence in their classrooms a physical assuaging of their white guilt? Why, then, did I feel guilty for this special treatment? Why did I shy away from their praise and try to keep my thoughts to myself, my mouth shut in the back of the classroom?

How did this help me grow a triple consciousness, trying to navigate through it all as a third culture kid? What does it all mean, how can I reconcile all of this shit within me?