We had no protection when we were in Kenya and we just had to survive.: Becoming Minnesotan

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

    Education, Politics, Somali

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    Essential Question

    Coming to America: What did coming to America symbolize for this person?

    Push & Pull Factors: Why did this person come to the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    When civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991 many Somalis fled to neighboring countries of Kenya and Ethiopia to escape the fighting.  However, Somalis were not completely safe in Kenya either, since they often were in the country illegally and had to deal with a corrupt police system and government.  They also faced a language barrier, because Somalis speak the Somali language, but Swahili and English are the main languages in Kenya.

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

    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2

    Download Hared Mah 2
    2:7 Minutes | 2.04Mb


    Narrator: Hared Mah (HM)

    Interviewer: Andy Wilhide (AW)

    AW:  Tell me a little bit about when you came here. It was in 2000?

    HM:  2001.

    AW:  Where were you before that?

    HM:  I was in Kenya for two years, I think.  I was in Kenya.  It was a difficult time when I was in Kenya, the police and everything. We had no protection when we were in Kenya and we just had to survive. You have to pay a price to their police.

    AW:  What kind?

    HM:  They were asking you if you have any identification to stay in the country. We were in the country illegally, you know. We just came in and many Somalis stay there. There’s an ID for you if you are planning on staying. Otherwise, you have to show something telling why you’re here. The police will just ask. They need money, so we have to give them some and then they will let you go. When you give money to one policeman, another policeman may catch you later on, and then they will take you to jail. You will not go to court. You will just stay there. If they take you to the jail, then you will meet bigger officers that need more money. Like maybe if you have to give two thousand Kenyan shillings to the police officers on the street, when you go to the jail, then you will meet this big boss and then you have to give him ten thousand Kenyan shillings.

    AW:  How many dollars would that be?

    HM:  One thousand would be twenty dollars.

    AW:  So if you had to pay two thousand, that would be forty dollars.

    HM:  And it’s big money. One thousand dollars in Kenya, you can buy T-shirt, everything, pants. It’s a lot of money. You can give dinners for twenty people for ten thousand dollars in Kenya. It's big money but the police were getting greedier and greedier. One thousand dollars became nothing. It was hard.

    Continues in Chapter 2

    Download Hared Mah 3
    1:49 Minutes | 1.75Mb


    Narrator: Hared Mah (HM)

    Interviewer: Andy Wilhide (AW)

    AW:  Where did you live in Kenya?

    HM:  I was in Nairobi.

    AW:  Did you live in a neighborhood?

    HM:  Yes, there was a neighborhood called Eastleigh where Somalis live. It’s like Mogadishu, but the police are different. You don’t need to know Swahili to stay in that neighborhood. Also, Somalis who came from Somalia have big businesses out there. The police were just difficult. But in other ways, it was similar to Somalia.

    AW:  In what way?

    HM:  In terms of the language. You don’t have to speak other languages. You see your people, and you see the customs, the food also. It’s almost the same, no big difference.

    AW:  Were there any other problems besides the police?

    HM:  We were refugees. That was also a problem. When you’re not in your home, you’re not the same as a citizen. You’re kind of isolated. Maybe you want to go to school, but you cannot go there.

    AW:  In the neighborhood were there schools that Somali kids could go to?

    HM:  Yes, they go to the schools, but, you have to pay money, and it’s very expensive. You have to pay for the high school. When I was there you had to pay maybe fifteen thousand Kenyan shillings, which is like one $150, every year. Many people cannot afford that. Maybe one family will get two hundred dollars for one month, for their bills and house. So life still was hard. You cannot get the basics sometimes.

    AW:  You were there for two years?

    HM:  Yes, almost two years.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  Things that are seen as necessary to life, such as food, clothing, and shelter.


    Noun:  1. A person that is a legally recognized as a member of a state or country, with associated rights and obligations.  2. A person that is a legally recognized resident of a city or town.  3. A resident of any particular place to which the subject feels to belong.


    Noun:  1. The habitual practices of doing or living; traditions.  2. The government department or agency that is authorised to collect the taxes imposed on imported goods.


    Verb:  To set apart or cut off from others.  (isolates, isolating, isolated)


    Noun:  A person forced to leave his or her own country and seek refuge in a foreign country out of fear of persecution or violence or because of poverty or natural disaster.


    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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