By Jamila Osman


when ayeeyo first came to the states she didn’t sleep. she always said her exile was voluntary, but voluntary or not exile is fundamentally about loss.

she couldn’t wrap her mind around the waste. ayaan who is three years younger than me would scrape her leftovers into the trashcan after each meal when my mother wasn’t looking. ayeeyo said the fact that we had never known hunger was the best and worst thing that could have ever happened to us.

she said in somalia when awoowe died they struggled. she said she would feed her kids full and sleep hungry with a piece of cloth wrapped around her stomach. she would tighten it when she started to feel hunger stabbing her sides. she learned this from her own mother. she says war is cruel but hunger is crueler.

in america she would collect leftovers all day long. in the evening she would slip into the backyard and dump them underneath the bushes. by dawn there would be birds, neighborhood cats, and raccoons feasting under the morning sun. 

my grandmother has always fed those who came to her hungry, she greets everyone with the white of her palms. she is a continuous offering.

in hargeisa this summer she taught me to pile the peels from the potatoes and onions on a plate after i was done cooking. when i swept the kitchen floor i separated the garbage from the grains and sugar cubes. in the evening i would dump the food outside our house and the neighborhood dogs and goats would feast at my feet.

there are birds that roost on the roof of the house my grandmother moved into after her exile became too painful. whenever she goes to the market she buys a kilo of haruur to feed them. she stands in the middle of the foyer and tosses them into the air and over the roof. imagine a scattering of seeds landing on a tin roof, it sounds like rain. rain is a bounty, my grandmother speaks of the dry seasons often. when it rains she stands in it and mouths alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah. 

my grandmother is molting; she is giving herself away. she has spent her entire life giving herself away. when she returned to her mother’s house after many years away she said “i want to give you what i have robbed you.”

i want to build a shrine out of her falling feathers. i am daughter of this household, daughter of these many women. at night i sleep with my belly full of their sacrifices.