[i] Hello, good day.

[r] Good day. What is your full name?

[r] My first name is [name] and my last name is [name] .

[i] Welcome [name] . Where did you originally come from?

[r] I am from Somalia.

[i] Can you tell us where somewhere in Somalia?

[r] Fortunately I was born in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. I grew up in the countryside. That was in another district called Misra. That’s where I grew up in Somalia.

[i] You lived with your parents?

[r] Yes, I lived with my parents.

[i] Who are they, can you tell me more about them?

[r] I can say that they are the two most beautiful angels in the world. They are the best parents I’ve ever seen.

[i] That’s beautiful.

[r] They are happy, friendly, and caring. What were they doing in Somalia? What was their profession?

[r] In the old days, when we still had a government, my father worked with… How should I put it? For uniqueness and that sort of thing.  When the civil war broke out and we moved to Misra, we had as normal a life as possible. And you do everything you can for your family. Things like having your own shop, working in transport.

[i] So that’s what he did before the fall of the government?

[r] Before the fall of the government my father worked at unicef.

[i] So how did you make money after the fall of the government?

[r] We were lucky to have a shop there. My father also worked with foreigners, which sustained us.

[i] And your mother?

[r] She was the shopkeeper.

[i] How many brothers and sisters do you have?

[r] There are ten of us in the family, five boys and five girls. There were eleven of us, but now there are only ten of us.

[i] By five-five you mean five boys and five girls?

[r] Yes.

[i] Do they all still live at home, or also here?

[r] There are nine of us here, actually eight of us. One sister died, and we told another sister to come here, but we haven’t seen her yet.

[i] Are you still looking for her?

[r] Yes. Is she your older sister?

[r] No, she is my youngest sister.

[i] How long have you been out of contact with her?

[r] For a long time, I can’t remember exactly, but for a few years now.

[i] Years?

[r] That we are trying to find her, yes. Did you go to school in Somalia?

[r] Yes, I finished my primary and secondary school there.

[i] Did you work there too?

[r] Yes, I taught at the school where I have been myself. I worked there as a science teacher, and also as an administrative assistant.

[i] So you were a teacher?

[r] Yes. That was only for six months.

[i] You said you moved from Mogadishu to another district in Somalia. Was that far from Mogadishu?

[r] Yes very far

[i] How many hours drive?

[r] I’m not sure, but it usually takes a day. That’s because of the state of the roads.  They are not good, so it takes a long time.

[i] If the people of Mogadishu travel to the place where you lived, do they do so by car or by plane?

[r] There is no possibility to travel by plane, so it is by car.

[i] How is life in that district?

[r] Very different from life here in Belgium. It really is the country’s countryside. As they call it in Dutch: village.

[i] Is it greener there, with more trees?

[r] Yes, more green, more trees.

More nature?

[r] Yes. Was there a war there?

[r] We were able to live there in peace, even after the fall of the government. From the year 2007 till now there have been several terrorist attacks. But before that we lived a healthier and happier life there.

[i] What was the name of the terrorist group that came there? You probably had a different name for that group of people who were called terrorists? They are called Al Shabaab.  Those are the terrorists we have there. They come by to convince people to join them. To force them to do the things they want to do. They force people to give their possessions. Or forcing the women to take them with them.

[i] Are they still in power?  Or is the Somali government trying to stop them? So they don’t have control over that district anymore. Do you know what the situation there is at the moment?

[r] Yes, I hear about it now and then.  The government is doing its best to regain power. But the process is still going on.

[i] Is that where your parents were born?  Because if I’m right, you said you were born in Mogadishu. But then you moved to another district. Are your parents originally from that district or also from Mogadishu?

[r] It’s funny that you should ask, because in my country it’s not customary for people to ask where or when your parents were born. My mother was born in the district where we grew up. I think my father was born in Mogadishu. But in our country that’s a strange question to ask. You’ll hear about it, but it’s not an interesting subject.

[i] So it’s strange to ask that question, I don’t quite understand it. Is it because everyone was born in a different city? Can you tell us why that is a bizarre question in Somalia?

[r] It’s just not an interesting subject that people ask when they see you.

[i] So it’s a normal thing, the country belongs to everyone and it doesn’t matter where you come from?

[r] Yes.

[i] How long have you been to school?

[r] For a period of ten years I think.

[i] Do you have a good relationship with your family in your home country? Not just with your parents, I mean. But the family of your father’s – or mother’s – side? Do you have a good relationship with that?

Yes there is a strong bond, I miss them every minute that passes. There’s a good bond because we lived next to each other.

[i] So your whole family lived nearby?

[r] Yes. Is it customary in Somalia for a whole family to live together?

[r] Usually, it is obvious that they are your neighbors.

[i] So your neighbours are your family members?

[r] Yes, probably.

[i] Do you have a strong traditional…  Somali traditions that there are that you also do? Can you tell us about the Somali traditions? What are the habits? Like in the household for example.

[r] First of all… Traditions…  For me, everything I see is related to my family. I can’t immediately call it a tradition. Eating on the ground is.  Always eating together is also a tradition. From the same plate I mean. And maybe drinking milk.

[i] Drinking milk, what kind of milk?

[r] I mean milk that looks like yoghurt, salty milk.

[i] So a kind of thick milk?

[r] Yes. So it is very important to eat together from the same plate?

[r] Yes.

Okay, that’s a nice tradition.

[i] Was community life in Somalia important to you?

[r] Yes, it was.

[i] What did you do within the community there?

[r] I have always had the passion to try to bring people back together. I was always the man who was contacted when people wanted to talk to each other.  More among friends, when there were problems. Even if I had a problem of my own, I went to ask for help and information from the elderly.  Someone who is old is even older after a year. That’s why it’s important to me.

[i] The community also organised various activities?

[r] Yes.

[i] For the people who lived in the neighborhood?

[i] Or is it more that you could go to problems with it? Is there any other way they teach people to…

Yes, we met with everyone every Friday. On Fridays, we have a special prayer. After that, families come together to eat, and they ask how things are going. What the news is, and how they can help each other. These are the activities I remember.

[i] Tell us about your childhood in Somalia.

[r] That’s a long story.  I was born in Mogadishu and raised in Misra. I had beautiful moments, but also difficult ones, when the terrorists came along.  I was a typical student, someone who likes to study. Having fun, taking walks of a few hours. Walking from one city to another. That was three hours of walking, half an hour of rest and another three hours of walking. I have never been afraid of wild animals. Not really ever scared, but it was travelling in the dark. I have experienced brave moments, which I do miss now. And also nice moments with my family, growing up with my brothers and sisters. There were beautiful moments.  But then the terrorists came along.  Those were dark times for all the young people who lived in Misra. Being afraid to get out.  Every day you were forced to join them, or else you risked being shot for no reason. Dark times, but we are still alive.

[i] Can you tell us the most beautiful memory you have ever remembered?

[r] A special memory? Yes. I remember travelling with my big brother, who is quite stubborn. We traveled together from Misra to another district. Not really a district, but I’m not sure how to put it. A place a little further from where we lived. The funny thing was that we trusted the earth to feed us. We had no water or nothing with us.  We were sure we would find it. And then it got very hot and we got thirsty. What we did was, We tried to take some water from, I hardly dare say, two old people who were also traveling. At first we asked nicely, and they said no. Then we tried to take it under duress, but one of them taught us a wise lesson: “There will come a time when you will experience the same thing, and your reaction will be just like mine. That made us think about it.  We put ourselves in their situation, and that was difficult. So we kindly asked again and got some water. Then we continued together, we took the same route. When we got there, they fed us. It was a nice, scary but also stupid thing we did.

[i] Where did you and your brother go?

[r] We travelled from Misra to another district called Dinsoor.

For what reason?

[r] No reason, just being young. Did your parents know about that trip?

[r] I don’t think so.  We explained it more or less, but not the way we were going to do it. Those are two different things.

They must have been worried?

Yes, they were, but yes.

[i] How did they find out you were in the other city?

[r] We didn’t really get all the way to Dinsoor. Somewhere along the way we met someone from our family and were brought back home. We learned our lessons and were punished.

[i] So it was quite a journey, or adventure?

Yes, an adventure.

Did you have many friends there?

Yes, I had many friends with whom I grew up.

[i] Where are they now? Still in Somalia?

Yes, all of them.

[i] They’re all still in your homeland? And do you still have contact with them?

[r] Yes, now life is of course different with internet but we keep in touch.

[i] What is their situation there, their life?

[r] Same thing I think, not much has changed.

[i] Tell us what your house looked like where you used to live.

[r] It was mainly made of, how can I put it. We call it jinget, it’s a piece of metal. I forgot the English word for that. Iron.

[i] It’s like iron, that’s how they make some houses. I understand, from iron.

[r] It’s also covered with leaves, so it doesn’t get too hot.

To cool it down.

[r] Yes. Was it big enough for the whole family?

[r] Yes, it was…  It had enough space, we slept together with all the boys. In a big room, the girls also had a big room. The parents and the newborns also slept together in a room.

[i] Did you have water, electricity?  Was there an internet connection?  Was there light, were there lamps? Electric, I mean.

[r] No, there was no electricity. The only light we had came from the sun. We had light during the day, but at night we had something like a torch, which consisted of the lamp itself and batteries that were tied together. We had that, and sometimes fire.

[i] Was there any street lighting, or was it dark?

[r] No, there was no electricity nearby.

[i] Why did you run away from your homeland?

[r] That’s a difficult question that reminds me of many things I’ve been through. I have been kidnapped by Al Shabaab.  In the process of me trying to make it work for them, with which I disagreed.  I was sentenced to death.  I was told I would die if I didn’t join them. We were in prison and what I remember, a few nights before my sentence, was that they took one of the boys from the cell. We were all taken outside with him, where he was taken out in front of us. Just to give you an example.  They killed him in front of us, without caring or treating him like a human being. Just like a goat.  I remember fainting.  And after a while, I woke up again.  The boy’s head was kept in our room, and his body was taken away, just as a reminder to us. Then I decided that I could either die with a bullet in my head, or survive to live a free life. I chose the latter, and we ran away as we were being shot at. Luckily, I wasn’t touched.  My family planned my journey, so that’s how I fled and ended up here.

[i] So you could escape from the kidnapping?

[r] Yes. How could your parents arrange for you to flee? Where did they get the money and find the places to go? How did they arrange that?

[r] I walked out of there and could go into hiding somewhere nearby. And then, luckily, I ended up on the road where the buses were driving out of the city. There I met a man I knew. He was a people smuggler, so I talked to him. In the hope that he could take me away from Misra. To another district or something, I never had the imagination to come all the way here and live a free life. He came to talk to my family, and they talked to my uncle again. They got some money from my uncle. The people smuggler got some money in advance and brought me to Nairobi. Nairobi Kenya, and so on to Istanbul.  Then I went to Greece and so on here. Here I could meet my grandmother, who lives in Belgium.

[i] Your grandmother, where did she live?

[r] Then she lived in Verviers, Belgium.

[i] Ah Verviers, and you went to see your grandmother?

Yes, he took me all the way to my grandmother.

[i] So you travelled alone?

[r] Yes. Did you have the chance to say goodbye to your parents?

[r] No.  Because at that time I was someone who didn’t exist. Because I was sentenced to death.

[i] Were you able to say goodbye on the phone? They only talked to that man. I did talk to them, but I really don’t remember what I said then.

[i] How much did it cost to come to Europe? How much did your parents pay?

[r] I don’t know the exact amount of money, they told me it cost around 8000 to 9000 US Dollars.

[i] How long have you been on the road?  When you fled from Somalia and went all the way to Turkey.

[i] How long did the journey take?

[r] About four to five months I think.

[i] So you had to stay in Nairobi for a few months?

[r] No a few days, but I did stay in Greece for a long time.


[r] Greece Where is that?

[r] You probably call it Greece here. And how long did you stay there? One month?

[r] October, November, December, about three months.

[i] But it took five months to come to Belgium?

[r] Yes.

[i] So you knew you were on your way to Belgium?

[r] No, no idea at all. I never knew. All I knew was that Europe was Europe. He told me that I would meet my grandmother. Then he said it might be in Belgium.

[i] Did you keep in touch with your family during that time? How did you do that?

[r] Over the phone. What was your first impression when you arrived in Europe? What was your first impression?

[r] That was something completely different. I arrived in the winter. It was cold, it was snowing.  It was different, a different experience.  I felt freedom.  I felt that I was in a place where I could start my life again. And where I could live the life I could and wanted to. It is something positive, a new experience.

[i] You were happy because of the safety?

[r] Yes. But the weather was not…

[r] No, the weather was not good.

[r] It was too cold for me. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a coat as thick as it was then. When you arrived in Europe, what was the first thing you did? How did you apply for asylum?

[r] The smuggler left me at the train station. I don’t know, but I wasn’t the only one there. Everyone was treated that way.  They take everyone all the way to the station. The train station, I mean. Then they get you something to eat. And from then on they are ghosts, you never see them again. I stood there and asked what to do. I was told to wait at that door. Until then you are new. New as what?  They said: You’re new in this country and you have to apply for your safety. I understood that. I went there and waited in front of the door until 8am. Inside I was welcomed.  Then my happy life could begin.

[i] Was there a long queue in Brussels?  To apply for asylum?

[r] Yes, it was a long queue.

[i] How long did you wait there?

[i] Because I hear from some people that they have waited a long time, but it depends on it.

[r] When I arrived there weren’t too many people who came to apply for asylum. I only had to wait 15 minutes or even less. There were less than 30 of us in total.

[i] So from day one you got help?

[r] Yes, I got help.

[i] From there, where did you go?

[r] I got an address and a ticket from a center. An asylum center not far from my grandmother. I was helped by people. I am from Somalia, and people from my country always help each other. Someone came all the way there, bought himself a ticket. And took me all the way to where I needed to be. He called a number, and a transport taxi came from the asylum centre. I was taken there.  I got a cup, a fork and a spoon. And a towel.  Four slices of bread with jam, a hairbrush, shampoo and a key.

[i] On the day you arrived?

[r] Yes. At what time of the day did you arrive?

[r] I arrived there at 5:38 p.m. I think it was.

So in the late afternoon.

[r] Yes in the late afternoon, or actually evening because it was winter.

There was no food, just some bread?

[r] Yes some slices of bread.

[i] What time did they eat at the shelter?

[r] They eat at 6 pm.  But when I arrived I wasn’t registered yet, and I got off the train at 5:35 p.m., so it wasn’t until 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. that I arrived at the center. We had to wait for the taxi.

[i] So you arrived there, did you have to share a room or did you have your own room?

[r] No, from there I was transferred by one of the staff there. He took me somewhere else where I had to share the room with two guys. No, one boy, the other was his friend. His name was Mohammed Hussein, I think.  I was assigned a bed, and an ‘armoire’, a closet. I opened my suitcase, put my things down and there my life started.

[i] How were your first months in Belgium?  How did it go? Tell us, your first three months.

[r] It was funny, uncomfortable and surprising. It’s something new, new people, a new culture. Eating with a spoon and fork was something that we… One in 300 people in our city might have eaten with a spoon and fork.  If someone does it, they might do it because they really want to. The first thing that surprised me was that I had to go somewhere at 9 am, no at 7 am to stand in line, then you give the number of your badge, they register you and then you can eat. So I got there at 7:00 in the morning, stood in line with all those other people. There I was waiting.  They asked me my badge number, but I didn’t speak French. So I asked ‘Sorry?’  Bath number, ah okay! Then I gave it in English It had to be in French, but I said no. I don’t have any knowledge of French. Then the man said that it was okay in English as well. Then he spoke Arabic with me, which I speak a bit. I said I was new, and he said okay. With time you’ll learn,’ he said. I got another four slices of bread and a cup of milk. And jam, I think.  I was surprised that there were so many people who ate the same thing. Busy with everything.  I wondered who was going to wash it all up. Luckily there were two boys from Somalia in my shelter. They came to me and said: ‘Okay, you’re new here, welcome’. They explained to me how everything was done there. That way I could participate in the centre.  Then life came outside the walls.  I went outside, to the bus stop Van where we were, in Fraipont, there was only one bus that could take us to Liège. I was on the bus for a long ride, an hour I think. In the centre I had read that Liège was a big and beautiful city. People everywhere, cars, lots of noise. Where I lived there was not much noise. So many people, people wearing coats, very bizarre. It is beautiful and interesting.

[i] What did you feel, the day you saw your grandmother again?

[r] I felt great.  I don’t know.  It was unimaginable, beautiful, I was happy. Surprising, and also the thought that from then on you can live freely and happily. That is something else.

[i] How long did it take you to see your grandmother again?

[r] Long, very long.

[i] How old were you when you last saw her?

[r] I was under ten years old.  So it was a long time ago.

[i] Did you have a hard time adapting to the culture here? No, no, because I was always open-minded. It went well with me.

[i] Where do you live now?

[r] At the moment I live in Antwerp, Deurne. I live near the house of the mayor of Antwerp.

[i] Have you seen him yet?

[r] The man is a ghost, no, I’ve seen him once before. I saw him once, but otherwise he is like a ghost.

[i] Did you greet him when you saw him?

[r] I was at the side of the road and he was in a chariot, so no. He was already past his fence, past the entrance to his first door. I couldn’t cross there anymore.

[i] What are you doing today?

[r] I’m currently working as an electrician.

[i] And you work full-time?

Yes, I work full-time. How is your Dutch?

[r] That’s a good question, not fluent, but I could use it already.

[i] Was it difficult for you to learn a new language?

[r] No.

[i] Because you already speak English well.

[r] Yes, it went well with me.

[i] How long have you been here in Belgium?

[r] I arrived in December 2014, so almost five years.

[i] Five years?

[r] But I lived in Wallonia for two and a half years, the French part.

[i] For the rest, did you live here?

[r] In Antwerp, yes. What are your plans for the future?

[r] I have many plans, but my goal is to work as a film actor. I also want to work as an ICT developer in the near future.

[i] Did you study that at school?

[r] I learned the basics through self-study.  Maybe in the future I will be able to follow a training course about it.

[i] You said you live in Deurne, what’s it like there? How are your neighbours? Do you feel welcome there?

[r] Yes, Antwerp is an open-minded city because so many foreigners already live there. Most of my neighbours are also foreigners. So I feel welcome and no different from the rest.

[i] Do you think you get enough opportunities here in Belgium?

[r] Yes.  Not everything I want, but everything that is possible.

[i] What kind of opportunities would you like to have? So that it is easier for you to have.

[r] What I want in my life.  Nothing has come in my direction…  Nothing has worked against my goals here. There is no specific opportunity I’m looking for right now.

[i] Have you ever been confronted with racism? Any form of racism, at work or at school?

[r] Yes, yes.

[i] Can you tell us more about that?

[r] First of all, I don’t believe that racism is something normal. I think it’s probably something mental. Sometimes someone has a bad day and then regrets it, or it’s someone who has a mental illness. So I was at the train station in Bruges. I wanted to buy a ticket there, and said good afternoon. The man told me to keep my mouth shut. I said ‘What’s happening’ and he told me ‘Don’t talk to me, go to the other counter’. I asked him if I had said something wrong, if he had a problem and if he knew me from somewhere. He told me ‘No, just leave’.  Okay, but at least tell me what I did wrong. He told me, “Shut up and go”. So I wished him a good day. And I left.

[i] How did you feel at that moment?  To be honest, that was the first time I felt anger, my body was trembling. Then I realized that not all Belgians are like that. Hours before that, I had met an old lady, who was very kind to me. We talked, laughed. It was just very strange that the incident happened only a few hours later. I just let it pass.  Maybe he had a bad day, or he doesn’t like foreigners coming to his country. And does he think that we take all the chances? I didn’t care and left it with him.

[i] So you let it go?

[r] Yes. Can you describe your circle of friends?

[r] That’s simple, he’s very small.

[i] Don’t you have many friends?

[r] Because I try to achieve many goals. I do have friends, but on different levels. So I have good friends, but not many.

Are your friends only Somali, or is it a mixture of different countries?

[r] It’s a mix.

[i] Do you still experience the culture of your country here?

[r] Sometimes yes.  If we have a meeting or something, yes. Or if there are special months, if something happens in our country too. Like Independence Day or any other special holiday.

[i] So you still follow certain traditions or celebrations here? Those that come from your culture, such as the fact that you are still celebrating Independence Day. What other traditions are there with the Somalis, which you also celebrate?

[r] Independence Day and a few other months like… I can’t think of it now, it’s so many questions. Many things, I can’t remember them, especially Independence Day. It stays in my head, so the party!

[i] Yes, that was July 1, wasn’t it?

[r] Yes. And before that it was Ramadan.

Yes, Ramadan is rather religious.

[i] In what way has everything you’ve been through, made you the person you are today?

[r] What does not kill you makes you stronger.  Some have taught me lessons that I have experienced. Everything that has happened has made me a better and stronger person.

[i] Do you often think back to your flight?

Yes, almost always.  It was a terrible moment.  Luckily I don’t have PTSD.  But it often occurs to me.

[i] How could you give that experience a place? What you’ve been through.

[r] It’s just a dark story in the book that is my life. It’s just there, I didn’t give it a place but it did take a place of my heart.

[i] Are you married, or are you single?

[r] Yes, I am married and blessed with a son.

A son, and how old is he?

[r] He is exactly one year, one month and twelve days today.

[i] You count it exactly, that’s good.  What values do you want to pass on to your child?

[r] The best I think he can do…

[i] What are the values you would like to see established with your son when he grows up?

[r] To be responsible.  To be someone who likes to learn, to be innovative and creative. These are the values that I find important, but there are others.

Are you homesick?

[r] There used to be a lot, but since almost all of my family lives here, Belgium is almost starting to feel like home.

[i] What are your dreams for the future?

[r] To see that the people of my country can come together in peace. And so be able to live a peaceful and happy life.

[i] Do you want to stay in Belgium, for the rest of your life? Or do you want to move on? Or do you one day hope to return to your country of origin?

It feels like home now, but who knows what the future holds. It could take me to another country, back home, or I could stay here for the rest of my life. But in my future plans I will stay here for the time being.

[i] I don’t have any more questions, do you want to say something?

[r] Yes, I just want to say that people who leave their country don’t just bring themselves. They are bringing something.  Just like Albert Einstein, who was also a foreigner like me. He traveled from Germany to America. Now we know all his rules from physics and things he has contributed to the world. We leave something big behind, but we also take something with us. We are always positive, hopefully. Thank you.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.