The day after I graduated from college, I boarded a plane to Northern Somalia. The move was not anticipated, but rather accepted, as if I simply traded one country for another. I teach geography to children. Pointing to a globe, I say “Hello, I’m A——-, and I’m from Minnesota. America.” I trace the ocean with my finger: I was there; now I’m here. “Minnesota has a lot of lakes.” I don’t pretend to be more than I am.
A shopkeeper tells me, “You children from the diaspora are quiet, timid even. I want a girl like you.” Winking, he overcharges me ten dollars.
The school sits atop a mountain. I live alone in an apartment; there’s a pomegranate tree in front of my door. It rains in the afternoon, when the generator shuts down. My yellow curtains allow a stream of soft light into the bare bedroom. It’s been a month; I have yet to fully unpack.
On a Thursday afternoon, when the campus is silent, I walk by the kitchen. Four girls are sitting on the stone fence. They’re young, but old enough to have a glint in their eyes, that look of quiet rebellion. They’re serious when they stop me; one chews a wooden stick as she motions with her free hand. Miss, tell us about yourself. Where in America? You wear too many diracs—dress up more, for the men. Oh, there are men here! The teachers, the guards—hey, who’s your favorite male teacher? No, you have to have a favorite. No, seriously—do you want to know ours? Fine—what’s your clan? Fine—do you believe in jinn? How about the Illuminati? Obviously we know about the Illuminati—we learn more than just books here. We teach ourselves, Miss. Your Somali is precious. You’re funny, but please dress up more.
They laugh, climbing the large water tank behind the fence. They clean it with rags as they joke with one another. I stand there, unsure, envious of something beyond the moment. The scene is sweet, of companionship and youth untouched by that slow hardening of adulthood. I think back to last summer, when I laid flat against the driveway of an old house my friends and I rented. The gravel scratched our legs; our hands were sticky from syrupy drinks. We felt disjointed from our bodies. It was only our laughter and the sound of an occasional car on this rural Minnesotan road.