Relationships in Flux (Part 3): Somali Stories
This is part three of a series on true stories of some Somalis in America and their relationships. The series is part of a book the writer is finishing titled, “Courtship and Marriage: The Somali Experience in America.” The author has interviewed three dozen people whose names and locations have been changed for privacy reasons. Each person tells his or her own story.
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Romance ruined by a clash of clans
Six years ago, I was checking a Somali dating site and stumbled on an interesting profile of a Somali woman. I immediately contacted her. Her reply was swift and stern: “How did you get my contact information?” she demanded. Apparently, she thought she had deleted her account with the website. Confused, I introduced myself briefly and she did the same. We realized we lived in the same city, Nashville, and agreed to meet at a café. When I saw her, I was stunned by her extraordinary beauty and amiable personality. We talked for an hour, and eventually the conversation turned to the slippery subject of clan affiliation. The woman — I’ll call her “Hufan” — wanted to know my clan. She told me, in the manner of a teacher explaining an elementary concept to a new student, that life was already complicated, and she did not want to add a new wrinkle to it. “Just tell me your clan before things get out of hand,” she commanded.
“Tunni,” I said.
“What? Tuna. What did you say? I never heard that name,” she muttered.
Hufan was from a region hundreds of miles north of Mogadishu and belonged to a bigger tribe than mine. She paused thoughtfully, then continued: “I am sorry, but I can’t date someone from an obscure clan.” I felt a knot in my stomach and had difficulty understanding why a Somali woman would disqualify me from a potential courtship just because I belonged to a clan which she derisively called it “obscure.” “Let me say this,” I told her, “people from the south care less about one’s clan. Besides, many people know who the Tunni are.” Moreover, I asked her why my clan had to define me as a man.
Eventually, Hufan and I went our separate ways. I got married and had a child. Over the years, our brief encounter became a distant memory. Then, one day, we ran into each other at an ethnic grocery shop. My daughter, 3, was with me. Hufan was gracious; she greeted us warmly and talked to my daughter teasingly. She seemed to be in an ebullient mood.
“So, you got married?”
“Yes, to a Somali woman from Galkacayo.”
“Congratulations,” Hufan smiled.
“From your people?”
“My people are not from Galkacayo.”
I then asked her whether she had married.
“Actually, I am getting married this spring to a man from Ghana.”
“What is his clan?”
“Hello! What is wrong with you? He is not from Somalia.”
“Ok, but don’t they have tribes in Ghana?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
“Any way, you are invited to my wedding.”
I did not know whether to be vindictive or supportive. On the one hand, I was glad Hufan was finally getting married. On the other hand, I was seething with resentment. I was acting like a jilted Somali man dumped in favor of a Ghanaian. If Hufan had married a Somali man from one of the so-called “big” clans, my reaction would have been muted; in fact, I would have given her credit for at least being consistent in her twisted belief and deeds. However, matters of the heart are difficult to gauge; when you fall in love you fall in love.
I have decided not to go to Hufan’s wedding. I am taking a stand, not because she once humiliated me, but because I am boycotting her clannish worldview. Her bias against me reflected the paralysis that has settled over the issue of clans in our communities. The core paradox of a clannish person is: There is one standard for Somalis and another for the rest of mankind.
Hassan M. Abukar is a freelance writer, Sahan Journal contributor, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.