Introduction
A Visit, 2011
Jama and I arrive for a visit at Abdiya’s new apartment in the public housing
complex on the edge of town, where she has recently relocated from her hor-
rible downtown tenement, with its screaming tenants in the apartment above
her, domestic violence incidents next door, and racist hostilities from other
neighbors. Abdiya couldn’t wait to qualify for the public housing complex.
At her front door we are met by one, no, two, no, three, no . . . four little kids
running into the entry from the adjacent room. No adults in sight. As we call
for Abdiya, we hear footsteps on the second floor, then the stairs, and finally
thirteen- year-old Nur appears. He has been left home with all the little kids,
who we can now see number seven. Abdiya is on her way home from running
errands with her husband and grown daughter, Nunnay, so while we wait I
ask Nur about school. He tells me he loves En glish and has been working on
expository writing and persuasive essays, and track, admitting, with a sheepish
smile, “I’m slow.” “Well, you’re only a freshman,” I offer. “Yes,” he grins. I tell
him I’ll look for him next year at the track and maybe he’ll even recognize
me, referencing our interaction this past spring at a track meet when he was
flustered by my greeting, unable to recognize me in the unexpected context.
Nur is one of the most soft- spoken boys I know. I recall his reaction when I
gave him photographs of his father, whom he does not remember, and grand-
father, whom he never knew. As he studied the photographs, he gently ran his
fingers over his ears, forehead, eyes, nose, and chin, tracing his facial contours
while comparing his features with theirs. His grandfather died in 1988 during
our stay in the village; his father went crazy in the refugee camp and never
made it to America.
Nur’s middle school years were punctuated by suspensions for a variety of
supposed infractions, some so unlikely that at one point an exasperated social
worker intervened with school authorities on his behalf. Abdiya had returned
over and over again to the school to advocate for her son, finally throwing up
her hands and telling me, “I can’t wait to get him out of there!” I noted with
relief that he seemed to be adjusting well to high school.
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