Stranger in a Strange Land, Pt. 1

It’s not easy being me. I think we can all relate to that sentiment, but some of us more so than others. It’s not easy acclimating to a foreign culture, forcing yourself to integrate into the confines of this newfound paradigm by shedding everything that you once held to be self-evident.

We all know that life itself is a journey, that we’re condemned to a continual fact-finding mission comprised of navigating our own psyches like the star ship Enterprise. What a lot of us take for granted, however, is the role that childhood stability plays in our self discovery processes.

Almost every conversation I have with a new acquaintance inevitably leads to their feeling unaccomplished for having a supposedly routine upbringing. They were born and raised in the same city that their parents were. They finished school there, got married there, and currently work in that same damn city.

They feel as if they’ve lost out on some mystical adventures, on tales of daring do and debauchery. They take that precious stability for granted, forgetting the old adage of the grass always being greener on the other side.

While they stare enviously at my tumultuous upbringing, I find myself doing the same for their run of the mill life story. I find myself wondering what it would have been like to live in one city for more than a full school year at a time, to have friends in my life today that I began bonding with in elementary school.

While they ask me what it was like fleeing the Somali civil war with my family at the tender age of 3, I ask them what it’s like having had one address for their entire adolescence.

People always ask me what it was like living in a refugee camp for 3 years, of having vividly violent memories that most action movies couldn’t replicate. They ask me what it was like the first time I stepped foot in an American classroom, aged 7, not speaking one lick of English.

They ask me what it was like to be called a nigger for the first time and not know what it meant. They ask me how I was able to retain my culture, my language, my heritage and my sanity despite being constantly uprooted like a common tumbleweed.

They ask me as if I actually survived those experiences, when in all actuality I came crashing to a screeching halt before I even got out of the starting blocks. I never quite know how to respond to these endlessly repetitive questions, so I usually don’t even bother.

How can one put into words a lifetime of  emotions and experiences so intricately intertwined that they may as well be viscera?

I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try to paint that picture for you as best as I can over the course of the next several weeks. Maybe you’ll get a little bit of insight into what makes me tick. Maybe you’ll learn to appreciate what you’ve been blessed with this entire time. Stay tuned, gang.


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