(This interview was conducted through a translator named Abdulkadir Chirambo, who is the president of the United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh. Quotes are, therefore, how he translated Fatuma’s words to the reporter.)
In the days leading up to Jan. 27, 2017, Fatuma Sharif was anxious yet hopeful. Her granddaughter, whom she had not seen in years, was due to arrive in the United States from the Jijiga-Āwuberē refugee camp in Ethiopia. The scattered pieces of her family puzzle were being put back into place. When she talks about her granddaughter, Fatuma punctuates her sentences with hand gestures to emphasize her point. The emotion speeds up the cadence and urgency in Fatuma’s voice. The translator pauses as he considers how best to translate the outburst.
Fatuma’s teenage granddaughter was at the airport that day preparing for travel. Her mother, Fatuma’s daughter, was with her and recounted what happened. With an arduous two-year vetting process completed, the teenager had her visa in hand. It was the day all refugees wait for and cling to during the long years in the camps. Suddenly, they got word that the flight was canceled. President Donald Trump’s first executive order on immigration had been issued, and the U.S.-bound flight was subject to the ban. Fatuma’s granddaughter could not foresee the legal battles the executive order would face; in that moment she only felt fear for the future. She fled from the airport in distress, so upset at having the hope of America dangled before her and then taken away. No one has heard from Fatuma’s granddaughter since that day in January.
Fatuma’s own journey to Pittsburgh has been long and filled with heartbreak. She arrived to Pittsburgh in January 2016. Her family’s struggle is not over as she continues to fight for her adult children and grandchildren to join her.