I grew up in a system where there is no government.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Hared Mah
  • Age at interview - 23
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 06.03.2004
  • Men on a truck, Somalia.  Photo courtesy Abdisalam Adam.

    Education, Somali, War

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    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Politics & Government: How are other systems of government different than the U.S. government?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Throughout the last century Somalia has experienced a lot of political instability. The central government collapsed in 1991 and there has been ongoing fighting between different factions ever since.  Local warlords and militias began recruiting young men to join the gangs. The young soldiers commonly use khat, a stimulant drug that leads to ecstasy. The more addicted they get to the drug the more brutal and violent they become. Somali citizens are constantly in danger of coming into the cross-fire between warring groups.  Many Somalis have fled to the nearby countries of Kenya and Ethiopia. Kenya has experienced its own political troubles in the last 50 years, but has remained fairly stable.

    To learn more about Somali history and culture, visit our Somali Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Hared Mah 1
    4:37 Minutes | 4.43Mb


    Narrator: Hared Mah (HM)

    Interviewer: Andy Wilhide (AW)

    HM:  After 1991, there was no government. I was young. I grew up in a system where there is no government. There is no police. Everything is in chaos. In America maybe someone who was my age maybe had access to the outside world, but I did not have. There was no television then. Maybe the radio people listened, but I wasn’t paying attention to the radio. I didn’t know what was going on. Even the neighboring countries…I heard of Ethiopia, Kenya, but I didn't know. I thought the whole system was that way: the militiamen running in the streets, killing. You don't know what will happen. You just have to stay there. Sometimes there are clashes between two groups. They’re using these big gangs. It's very hard.

    When I came to Kenya, I was kind of thinking, oh, things are different in Kenya than in Somalia, because there’s a government. Even though the police were doing something wrong to the Somalis, it was different. There was a system of government in Kenya. It was good for me to come to Kenya before I came here, because it would still be a very hard transition, you know, if I had come here through Somalia. Because I didn’t know about police, but when I came here, I knew there was police. The first time I was in Kenya, that was when I saw police and I was kind of scared. I didn’t know whether they would shoot you, or they will help you out. I didn't know about it. I was kind of scared. Also, the different faces the people were, different language. It was very hard.

    AW:  Tell me a little bit about where you grew up in Somalia.

    HM:  I grew up in a small town in Somalia. I came to Mogadishu later on, but when I was young, I grew up in a small town.

    AW:  Where?

    HM:  It’s called Afgooye. It’s close to Mogadishu, not too far from Mogadishu. I grew up there. It was a nice to be with the neighborhood, first time. I wasn’t worried about whether there was government or not. I was not worried about it; my parents were, because they had to face all the challenges. They had to feed me, feed all the children, and they had to feed themselves. At the same time, they had to be safe and try to make us safe, too. It was not easy.

    Then when I came to Mogadishu, the town I was, there's no big problems. Sometimes, yes, the militia comes and they make problems. You see all this stuff, but when you compare with the big city, where all these young people, the teenagers, who can have the gangs, they just do what they want. They have no conscience. They don’t care whether they die. They chew what they call khat. That’s what they fight for. If they think they will get maybe less than a cent, to get it from you they will kill you. They don’t care. If you wear good clothes, and maybe you are in the jungle, there's all these big buildings that are destroyed, so you have to watch out where you are going. You have to stay on the street where people can see you so you can call for help. My parents were trying very hard to keep us at home. There was no education. I didn’t go to school because my father did not let us go outside like other kids used to. We were like, “Why? Why are you keeping us?” He goes, “No. I don’t care.” It was about safety not education. There was no such thing. If you could keep yourself in a safe place, that was the priority.

    AW:  So the priority was to…

    HM:  To be safe, yes. It was to be safe, not to get education.

    AW:  Did you go to school at all? Did you have any kind of schooling?

    HM:  In Somalia, no. I came to Kenya, then I had just a little bit. There were guys who graduated from high school. They used to help me write the alphabet, all that stuff. Not a very big thing, not very much, maybe two words of English. Like I would say, “How are you, how are you doing?” Or “girl”, “boy”, just basic things. I learned a little bit how to read Somali when I came to Kenya, because there were newspapers that people used to read. I could read slowly, can't look at the paper and just read quick. You have to go slow, have to spell out every…Because it was my language, it was a little bit easier.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  A state of disorder or confusion.


    Noun:  The moral sense of right and wrong, mainly as it affects one's own behavior.

    khat (qat)

    Noun:  A plant native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula that may be chewed as a mild stimulant; it is illegal in the United States.

    Listen to this word: 


    Noun:  A private military force, not under government control.


    Noun:  First concern.


    Noun:  A process of change from one form to another.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
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