The path that Abdishukri Abdi followed from a war-torn village in Somalia to a refugee camp in Kenya to an apartment in Nashville to receiving his U.S. citizenship has been a long, grueling journey. Uprooted from his home due to violent civil war and forced to live in a refugee camp for 18 years, Abdi said he often struggled to figure out where he fit in, wondering, "Am I going to be a refugee forever?"
Abdi, who was resettled in Nashville by Catholic Charities of Tennessee in 2009 and now works for Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services as a housing specialist, said during that long time in the limbo of a refugee camp, "I felt like I lost my identity....You don't know where you belong."
Since he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in November, Abdi finally feels like he is "now home." Home for Abdi and his family of nine, these days, is a three-bedroom apartment in South Nashville. It's modest, cozy, and a far, far cry from living in a wind- and sand-battered tent with his wife and five children in the refugee camp.
Abdi arrived at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya when he was 12 years old and eventually met and married his wife Kadijo Mohamed there. She gave birth to five of the couple's seven children there; they have had two more children since arriving in the United States. Abdi's wife is not yet a U.S. citizen, but is preparing to take the test.
While working and struggling to provide for his growing family in the camp, Abdi began to wonder, "Will my children suffer as I suffered?" Now that his family is settled in Nashville, "I am sure they have a bright future." The school-aged children are making good grades and the younger ones are eager to follow in their footsteps.
Abdi is optimistic about the future. He hopes to move out of the cramped apartment and into a house with a yard someday. "America is tough if you have several kids and do not own a house," he said. He enjoys his position at Catholic Charities, but dreams of becoming a professional diplomat or human rights activist one day. "I can't be president or vice president, but there are some more things I can do," he says with a laugh, almost giddy with excitement over his new status as a U.S. citizen.
Abdi just missed being able to vote for the first time in his life in the Nov. 4 statewide election, but is looking forward to casting his first ballot the next opportunity he has. For now, he is just thankful to be here, and relishing the freedom that comes with being a U.S. citizen. "My dreams became true and I got resettlement opportunity to USA, Nashville through Catholic Charities of Tennessee," he said. "I am just feeling I am at home."
This story is excerpted from an article titled, "New U.S. Citizen Balances Old and New Cultures," by Theresa Laurence for The Tennessee Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. Reprinted with permission. ~ Photo Courtesy of Catholic Charities of Tennessee