Abdi Abukar, an elder of the Somali Bantu community in Pittsburgh, is sitting in an armchair in North Side home, but his mind is in a place thousands of miles from here. He wants to share the story of his life, and of his people, their struggles and their triumphs — in a dignified way. As one of the oldest members of the community, he has decades of experiences as a refugee to draw from.
Abdi’s teenage daughter interrupts his train of thought when she comes into the room and hands him a smartphone. A smile spreads across Abdi’s face as he takes the phone. On the screen is a woman who bears a resemblance to him. She chatters excitedly in Kizigua, and he laughs as he responds to her. His wife, Dahabo Ali, whispers that it is Abdi’s sister. She is nearly 8,000 miles away in Somalia, and they have not seen each other face to face in 25 years. Live video chatting is miraculous to both of them as they catch up. His sister asks Abdi for advice on decisions about her day-to-day life in Somalia. Questions about her children’s education or about employment fall to her brother. Since their eldest brother died recently, Abdi is now the head of their family.
Abdi has lived in the United States for 13 years. He has called the North Side of Pittsburgh home since 2004, aside from three years spent in Columbus helping his extended family become settled there.. His wife, Dahabo, came with him in 2004. They do not remember when they got married, but chuckle as they say, “A very long time.”
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