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The Cost of Culture Shock and State of Traditional Family
“It takes a whole village to raise a child” (Age-old African proverb)
If the popular perception among Somalis in Diasporas is anything to go by, traditional nucleus family life is in state of distress, if not already endangered species, and while some trends are in-evitable as community matures and strives to integrate into the newly adopted mainstream social mores, many other injuries are still self-induced and pre-mature. This presumptuous short piece deals with the latter case -- the self-induced failure aspect. It is based on casual observation and/or experience rather than scientific account, which is sadly missing at this moment. No doubt, it is a depressing story that many Somali expatriates could relate in way or another.
There is no shortage of blame for the negative trend. Lots of culprits have to be poked at will: an alien condition of religious, economic and socio-political culture, a failure of parental role or the abysmal nature of intra-communal cohesion factor and so on. However, it appears that the core of the issue is partly due to an ill-destined, rigid cultural drag of immigrant family, clannish or otherwise, and in partly due to other general fatalistic attitude of parental influence. If still unsure of what I mean, picture the following potential scenario.
There he was setting on a cushy swivel chair moving his full weight right and left in a spacious modern office complete with modern amenities. His white vehicle, a state provided white luxus genre, was parked at VIP spot just behind the building. The big wig, better known as Osman Contro, also owned two more small private cars. These vehicles were always loaded with fuel and without cost -- the nanny state provided it all. Family also managed to own a private bungalow rented for extra follow of cash while still living in an aging apartment subsidized by the state. Future of the kids seemed bright in terms of education and status.
Given the privileged status, one would assume that Contro must be leading grateful, happy family life but he was not. As matter of fact, he was bitter man in every sense for some obscure, selfish reasons. Despite being at the pinnacle of secure rewarding public career and modest economic success that this little impoverished can offer, he still resented and loathed profusely in every passing minute against imaginary injustice. The man felt that, somehow, his kinfolks were wronged by what he called “an overbearing and blind system.” Note that his clan held more than its share of prestigious ministerial and ambassadorial posts plus countless other important government offices or that he benefited from free and fair public education up-to post-secondary level, but these facts would not affect his vindictive, crude obsession with victim hood card.
Among earliest causalities of the revenge were a little people who were misfortunate enough to deal with his office and happen to be “others” by default, be they lower staffs or customers. In those few working hours in the office, if showed up at all, Contro constantly cursed and hardly a single memo passes through without subversion and hurdle. In other words, he was a heartless bureaucratic killer in every sense.
On the Romance, Contro was not romantic inclined creature except occasional qarami from the golden era. However, he had incredible passion for the war-like poetry of land here pedigree stuff. Nothing made happier than hearing old lines of ancestral counter-punches of gabay against purported rivals over camel raids and other inter-clan skirmish events. His father once dismissively warned against the decadence of singing and hand clapping things: they do not belong to the arts of high-minded man but to realm of opposite soft gender was told. Patriotic tunes had no place in his heart either. He once came across lyrics of hantiyey macaanwaa midaan…by M. Timojilic and then flabbergasted and turned off the radio. “Must be pathetic jokes or so”, he fumed by dismissing the whole notion as just another sinister patriotic ploy, but little did he know those words will haunt him forever.
After the collapse of the system he so tirelessly despised and conspired against while benefiting so much from, Contro, along with the family, was vegetating in the midst of vibrant western metropolis. He was lucky to be alive at least as many of his ilk were awaited grim fate including macabre death, disease and destitution in the ensuing sectarian warfare. The notable ex-official now collects state hand-outs with enduring humiliation and scorn at the hand of social workers such as to declare of his personal income situation often or why he separated from his 50 plus years old spouse or why he was unable to get steady odd job. Personal experience and education were no longer relevant at this juncture, much less status of clan lineage. More years passed without change and hope.
By now, he was an aging man with full-blown grey beard at crossroads in terms of status and personal health. A cocktail of life threatening ailments inflicted upon: diabetes, heart disease, psychosis, mid-life crisis and most important, Multiple and Impulsive of Clannish Sentiment Syndrome or MICSS. Just like country of origin, the family fabric was also falling apart under his watch and though Contro partaken in those events leading to the current state of abyss he was still remorseless. Albeit all the suffering and bleak future, the man would not let go that reductionist and intoxicating passion of clannish supremacy views or other rigid and defective interpersonal skills.
Take the family crisis, for instance, which started with trivial mistakes of poor judgment and lack of sensibility. First error related to process of asylum papers at the immigration office where the birth dates of the family members were required. Unable to recall exact records of the wife and his as both were born under acacia tree (maternity was unheard back then), he decided to pick up random dates of similar years for convenience. Besides he never close paid attention on the old Somali passports or other faked birth certificates. It was misstep according to some grumpy old stock Somali experts on gender relations. If you want to have lasting relation with your partner, be sensitive by keeping your age steps ahead of hers in public arena even if the reverse is true goes the dubious maxim and Contro gives some credit to it now.
Other incidents ensued including the one in supermarket where Kaydo, the wife, tempted to buy a trendy red lipstick on the counter and Contro dismissively said “gadahan miyaa huuriyo lagu noqon.” Again, one more at the doctor’s office in regarding to Kaydo’s perennial complain about general delirium. Asked what is wrong by the Dr., she vaguely responded “Niman ga gaaban uunba habeenkii dubbo ila dhaca” or I feel extensive pain all over my body during the night. Surprised by the intruders armed with hammers, Dr. then asked “Thieves! Who are they?” But as context became obvious, the doctor referred to further diagnosis and everything turned out negative. ”Awal baanad khayr lahayn” she would argue later suspecting of her spouse’s translation role.
Then followed another major faux pas related to a new gym facility in the neighborhood run by stocky and villain looking man with feigning smile named Jeffrey. Noting his Middle Eastern looking features and accent, Contro would say “he must be Jacfer, who he is trying to full.” Further, the most alarming thing about Jeffrey was the savvy, cut-throat marketing technique including an offer of free membership for-women-only of all ages in the grand opening event, along with a package of sports gear accessories (including shorts, t-shirts, etc.) from superstore chain with lower discount.
Mindful of her health and the doctor’s suggestion, Kaydo was among the first to take advantage of the deal but her estranged partner was not impressed at all and said ‘bal eeg cimriga qalaama rogmad lugaha loo xaytay.” And all this happened in the heels of yet one more disturbing incident of next neighbor, reer Dirie, where elder Derie was almost slit with samurai sword by his ill-tempered and martial arts grad daughter after heated argument. Contro had enough of it and withdrawn from family’s intimate sphere while devoting all efforts on promoting and fund raising activities for the favourite clan warlord. Cafeteria became ideal spot for the campaign arguing endlessly with like-minded of cranky and kaput heads unless he was out for endless and mysterious gathering in obscure places.
Such dysfunctional, poor of parental relations were not taking in vacuum but within the confines of the family’s routine. Things have taken heavy toll on the children’s welfare in particular. Situation was not only depriving them in terms of education and discipline, but it was affecting other formative aspects of the old culture versus the new one. Hardly were an efforts and energy vested in this regard. By now, most of them grew up and drop outs, except one daughter in college. Some have unsteady Mcjobs while others implicated gang related activities.
With limited formal education, Kaydo was always unsure how to deal with situation, but given the choice she would have preferred positive, full integration of her family in the host culture. On the other hand, Contro used to daydream moving back and kept the family on the edge. He wasted the precious time, resources and energy on endless and farce clan gathering now and then. He incessantly talked about better times ahead in far distance places. Kayd, the youngest kid still in school, was the last person to pay any scarce attention to the hollow promises. Kayd was a big fan of popular music and sports, and asked him once about the sorts of music or sports played there; father replied to walansaqa and falaad (archery) and added our close relatives of Ilma Waranle are the best Champions ever. Kayd wondered the dear father's state of mind afterward.
This scenario seems bit unusual but it is not necessarily that far-fetched experience altogether as many expatriates will readily cite other parallels. Just like any other ethnic immigrants in the west, traditional Somali family is under serious pressure from all fronts. But what makes Somalis unique or even sadder is the lack of parental commitment. The impact of perennial vicious cycle of violence at home and poor rapport between parents in expat life, in addition to outdated cultural drag, seem the main factors of the debacle. Paternal sides in particular, who failed not only once but twice of inciting civil war back home and negligence in Diaspora, must bear the burden of the failings, and it is absurd to expect from such cohorts to redeem themselves ever again.
* Contro an Italian word for antigonitic or opposite which Somali use as a nickname.