By Enrique Tessieri
This is the third of four short biographies that were published in an English reader called Why did you come here? The book, which was published in 1994 by WSOY, was authored by Russell Snyder and myself. Omar Hussein is the first Somali friend I had in Finland. I met him in the early 1990s, when Mikkeli opened up its first refugee center.
Back then, I wrote a big feature for Apu magazine about the refugees that had been located in Mikkeli. Thanks to that story, I got death threats over the phone from angry readers who warned me that I’d be killed if I didn’t stop writing about refugees.
It was the first time had received death threats as a journalist.
When I read Hussein’s story today after sixteen years I am stopped by one sentence: “After so much death, Finland seems like a heaven to me. There is no killing and people are not persecuted for their ideas.”
True, but… people like himself are persecuted in a different way because of their ethnic background.
…I was forced to leave my country for political reasons back in 1986. Before the civil war, Somalia was a one-party state with a ruthless dictator called Siad Barre. It was not uncommon for Barre’s army to kill, rape and steal when carrying out routine house checks searching for enemies of the state. I was one of these so-called “enemies.”
Most of Burao’s 50,000 inhabitants (in Somaliland) were farmers. I can still recall the buildings of my hometown and those dusty streets. The civil war, however, has destroyed everything, the homes, the farms, the streets of my childhood.
I have eleven brothers and twenty-five sisters and belong to the Isaf clan. Our clan has around 600,000 members. We are all close and distant relatives. My father has six wives. I think I was my father’s twentieth son.
My father gave me his name, Omar. He is a very religious man, a staunch Muslim who has never liked politics. Today, at the age of eighty-seven, he continues to be very faithful to his religion and family. My father and his sixth wife are expecting a new child shortly.
Life used to be very nice in Burao. I used to have many friends. Families were very united and we were always surrounded by many good people.
I was eventually forced to leave my country and move to Egypt. After that, I lived in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and finally Iraq before coming to Finland. Jordan was the most enjoyable country, because the people were the friendliest.
I have seen too much death and suffering. In Beirut, I was on the street and saw someone die from a sniper’s bullet. I also saw a person blown apart by a bomb exploding inside a car. It was a ghastly sight to see this person’s limbs and blood scattered on the shattered car and sidewalk.
In Baghdad I saw a man stabbed to death by two strangers. The poor man was yelling for help on an abandoned street. No one came. I watched the killing from the top of a roof where we were sleeping because of the heat. What could I have done? If I had tried to save this man’s life, I’m sure I would have ended up dead.
After so much death, Finland seems like a heaven to me. There is no killing and people are not persecuted for their ideas.
Finnish culture and the cold weather still shock me. I don’t always feel at home in Finland. People are sometimes very racist. They come up to me and ask what I’m doing in this country. Why don’t I go back to Somalia?
The silent habits of Finnish culture amaze me. Finnish people can be driving in a car for hours and not say a word to each other. If two people who know each other do not say a word for a long time in my country, it means that they are angry with each other.
For a Muslim like me, Finland creates cultural conflicts. I am sure that if I returned to Somalia, my people would ask me where I have learned all these new habits. At this moment I am at a cultural crossroad – one road leads to Finland and the other back to Somalia.
In my opinion, I have assimilated well into Finnish culture. Speaking Finnish is no longer a problem. Some of my countrymen are not as fortunate. They are very bitter. You can’t blame them. Many of us are hated in Finland and Somalia. Our countrymen living in Somalia consider us cowards because we left the country.
What are my future goals? I would like to study electronics and get a job. If I get married, I will follow the customs and laws of Finland and marry only one woman. Unlike my father, I can only afford to have one wife.
Polygamous marriages are different from monogamous marriages. There is a log of jealousy between the co-wives. There is also jealousy among the children of the different wives.
I would naturally like to get married to a Muslim woman. If Finland becomes my permanent home, I am perfectly aware that my children will suffer because Somali and Finnish cultures are so different.
All in all, I feel good in this country. I’m especially happy that Finland is a peacrful place to live, with no wars or killings.
I have longed for peace all my life and now I have found it.