Hargeisa Literary Magazine brings together some of the strongest elements in my life right now: creative writing and Somali culture. I’m fortunate to have convinced a good friend to squander her free time on the same, and we’re full-speed-ahead towards the publication of an inaugural issue on 1 April. The magic is in the mission of this apparently niche endeavor: to provide a platform for the diverse and cosmopolitan array of Somali voices worldwide.
The year also brought a whittling of the self, especially a recognition of my limits. Time expands beyond the moment to the far reaches of age where, if I’m lucky, I’ll look back fondly on slow walks down the stairs, on the lines of schoolgirls in long, bright yellow hijabs like flocks of canaries, on the hot stacks of loxoox in the kitchen each morning, on the frigid hop from bed to closet on winter mornings. I think about my aged years as though I’m already there, ruminating over a life well lived or not, observing wrinkled, spotted hands, remembering when they were smoother, tighter, and when I took them for granted. I feel fullness, and a gentle longing, and fullness again.
What matters are the earnest embraces of greetings and farewells, the unique infusion of scents that accompany the people you love, the sparks of energy that scatter with their laughter, the loving gaze of those who know your story and bear witness to the triumphant and crushing steps on your upward spiral. While living overseas amplifies the magic of those moments it also rarefies them, detaching you even when you most need them.
Over time we’ve lost, relievedly, the quest for illusory perfection as individuals and in partnership. We’re flawed; we wear old glasses. The functional old is as good as the shiny new; as long as you can see that clearly (as well as, you know, oncoming traffic), you’re in good shape. We’ve learned to rely on what works. Marrying is typically appreciated as a process of gain: joint commitment; two lives indefinitely summed; the amalgamation of homesteads and accumulation of material trappings. Yet, there is loss. It’s inherent to gain and equally an element of relationships, albeit less advertised.
Been back in Hargeisa for a few weeks and, uh… I’m still unpacking. Anyone else slow to unpack? It takes me weeks, actually using each item in my suitcase one by one until they’re empty. Otherwise, I put toiletries in the bathroom and throw laundry in the hamper and leave the rest to marinate for ages. Oh, the unexpected luxuries of adulting! I used to get sick when I traveled, usually 7 to 8 days after arrival, and usually a dastardly flu that would linger for ages. This time around, I was gettin’ hitched on Day 7 and couldn’t afford to be under the weather. I did mountains of research, and here’s what brought miraculous success…
I’ll admit pomegranate scones seem incongruous, like a peacock in the bathtub, but with some zest from oranges and mandarins (provenance: desert oases in Awdal Region of Somaliland) the tart pomegranate works. Did you know that winter is pomegranate season? (You probably did, you smarty-pants). At least in the northern hemisphere, that’s the case. The gems around our home had been looking awfully plump and crimson on their branches lately, despite dry and chilly weather. I just assumed they were in a good mood for whatever reason, but it turns out they, like me, get rosy cheeks from the brisk air!
One of my closest friends talks to me about “upward spirals” of life lessons: Our baggage is ours, our faults and failings won’t leave us, and they come around again with cyclical persistence. But we face each approach differently, with a higher level of understanding. Each time, it’s a newer, better, stronger us that takes on those tired challenges. This is how you manage to accept the stuff that haunts you: it’s never the same you, even if it’s the same stuff.
Are you familiar with fernweh? A German friend mentioned it to me the other night over pizza. It’s all the nostalgia and longing of homesickness, but not for home–for somewhere far away. In the dry, dusty capital city of Bamako, at the edge of the vast Sahara desert, I cried over stunning loss and dreamed of the lush greenery of Ireland. In fact, I longed for it, I felt fernweh for Ireland, though I’d never been. In my gut it was a place I had to see, a place of my ancestry, and an antidote to the sand pit (literal and figurative) in which I found myself. Years later, after I’d moved on to work in the Horn of Africa, the Addis Ababa to Washington D.C. flight route was rearranged to include a fueling stop in Dublin. Embracing serendipity, I extended my layover on the Emerald Isle, my first trip as a solo traveler. It was, indeed, the tonic I’d sought, albeit delayed…