The Somali diaspora are everywhere. They run government offices, they have restaurants and petrol stations, and they're the lifelines of many NGOs. While the team and I were in the coastal town of Eyl in northern Somalia working on a story, I met 24 year old Sadia Farah. Born and raised in Canada, she moved to Garowe in Somalia's Puntland region in January to work as an intern at The African Future, or TAF. The programme she works for encourages girls to stay in school.
Sadia Farah lives with three other interns of Somali origin who have come from Kenya, the UK, and the US. Although they met in Somalia, Sadia says their work together has "created a bond of a lifetime with likeminded girls who have had very similar upbringings, despite living in different countries."
What struck me when I met Sadia was her deep attachment to Somalia even though she was born and raised overseas. I had filmed with 43-year old Faaduma Nuur a few days earlier, and their two stories couldn't have been more different. While both have come back to help Somalia get back on its feet, Somali-born and raised Faaduma visibly bore the scars of her country's tumultuous history. Sadia on the other hand, was brimming with an infectious youthful energy. Speaking to Sadia I got the feeling that Somalia's war belong to a past generation.
I didn't get a chance to see Sadia again because of our heavy filming schedule but I wanted to hear more about her experience so I wrote to her. She was kind enough to write and share her story. She told me she decided to move to Somalia after visiting the country in the summer of 2012 when she was still a university student. She returned to Canada with every intention of coming back after her studies.
"That 2012 trip opened my eyes to how much potential Somalia has to be the great country it once was," she explains.
And return she did.
She says her mother, who hadn't been back to Somalia since 1990, is very supportive of her move.
"She's encouraged me to document my trip and send her photos during my stay here so that she could live vicariously through me."
Other family members, however, have been puzzled by her choice.
"They ask me why would I travel to Somalia and risk my safety when there are so many opportunities in Canada? I let them know that I want to work in my country.
Sadia says she loved growing up in Toronto.
"What I loved the most was the multiculturalism. I grew up with friends from every walk of life. I love the freedom we have to express ourselves."
But it was also in Canada where she first experienced what it means to be a Somali in the diaspora.
"I noticed that even though Canada is a developed nation, the issues that minority groups [deal with] are the same issues the majority of Somalis deal with. As a visible minority, I've also experienced my fair share of racism and discrimination."
Her return to Somalia hasn't been all smooth.
"It's been an adjustment getting used to my new lifestyle in Somalia. Sometimes I notice the locals staring at me trying to figure out where I came from since I look different dressed in a long hijab, bold sunglasses and white Converses. Occasionally I hear locals passing by whispering 'look at this diaspora' in Somali thinking I don't understand the language."
Still, her homecoming is worth it, despite any culture shock or tension with non-diaspora Somalis, because she finally found a long lost piece of herself.
"I am falling in love with hearing my mother's tongue being spoken everywhere," she says.
"The rhythmic flow and the musical undertones of everyday conversations. Even the graceful body language when telling stories is simply spellbinding."
Author: Zeina Awad