BLOOMFIELD — In late April, a family of six Somali-Bantu refugees finally escaped from the oppression and fear they’d known for more than a decade.
Mohamed Mohamed, 24, arrived in the Finger Lakes region on April 29 with his brothers, 17-year-old Abukar and 11-year-old Omar; his sister, 21-year-old Fatuma; his mother, 42-year old Binto Abdulle; and his niece, 10-year-old Halima Hassan.
Mohamed’s family was resettled in Bloomfield with the help of Catholic Family Center and a team of volunteers from St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield and other local churches. Prior to coming to the United States, Mohamed and his family spent 12 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, where they fled when civil war broke out in Somalia in the early 1990s.
Omar and Halima were born in the camp, and Mohamed and Abukar attended school and learned English there. But their lives were anything but stable — armed bandits roamed the camp, where the Somali Bantus were considered a minority.
“It was very terrible. There wasn’t as much security as here; it wasn’t as stable. The police weren’t 100 percent in control of the situation,” Mohamed said.
Before they were allowed to leave the refugee camp for the United States, Mohamed and his family had to go through screenings, examinations and medical check-ups before they were deemed eligible for resettlement. This process took years, Mohamed said.
Now that the family is settled in Bloomfield, “it looks like it’s safe. It’s safer than the camps,” Mohamed said.
Since they’ve been in Bloomfield, Mohamed’s family has been busy adjusting to the American way of life. The light switches and indoor plumbing that Americans take for granted were new experiences for the family, Mohamed said. Fatuma, who does most of the cooking, needed to learn how to use the stove before she could begin preparing the family’s meals, which often include chicken, beef, pasta and rice.
Mohamed’s family had never seen salad or ice cream before, and the first time Mohamed saw pizza, “I thought it could be very bad, but when I tasted it, it turned out to be good.”
Abukar completed his sophomore year of high school in June, plays on a local soccer team and has a part-time job working at the local Big-M grocery store, where he is a cashier and stock boy. Omar and Halima are taking part in a local summer recreation program and will return to school in the fall, where Omar will be in fourth grade and Halima will be in third. Binto and Fatuma are learning English through daily tutoring sessions, and Fatuma is looking forward to getting a part-time job in the future. On July 7, Mohamed began his job working at a Pactiv Advanced Packaging Solutions factory.
The local library is within walking distance of the family’s house, and each member has a library card. The family received a computer from a local community member, and Mohamed used it to set up a free e-mail account. He also enjoys listening to the British Broadcasting Corp. and keeping up with politics and world news.
The family seems to have gotten the hang of American life fairly quickly, said Sister of St. Joseph Diane Dennie, pastoral administrator of St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish and a member of the resettlement committee.
“They’re a pretty smart bunch,” she added.
Mohamed said there are some parts of the American way of life that he doesn’t hope to pick up. When he sees people eating in their car and not having enough time to sit down and visit with their families, he thinks that Americans are too busy. Someone once suggested to him that maybe someday he would be that busy, too.
“I say, ‘Oh, that’s really terrible.’ If I don’t have time to speak with my own people at home, then what kind of life is that?” he asked.
Although the family is grateful to finally be in America, Mohamed is a little concerned that it might be difficult to hold on to their traditions and customs now that they are surrounded by such a different culture.
“Now in Bloomfield we are the only Somali-Bantu family. It’s very difficult to maintain our culture. It is slowly by slowly changing,” Mohamed said. “It might be that we shall not lose the culture, but as long as we remain here alone I think that will (happen).”
Meg Huff, a St. Bridget/St. Joseph parishioner and coordinator of Bloomfield’s resettlement team, said the team occasionally brings the Mohameds to visit other Somali-Bantu families in Honeoye Falls and the Rochester region.
Huff and Sister Dennie said helping the Mohameds adjust to America has helped them become more open-minded about their own lives.
“We’re seeing our culture through another lens,” Huff said.
Huff added that she has enjoyed watching the community’s reaction to and welcome of the Mohamed family.
“I feel like our community of Bloomfield has really come together in a beautiful way. It’s been great; it’s been exciting. I think we could all agree that it’s been very rewarding and fun,” she said.
Sister Dennie said she enjoys seeing Fatuma, Omar and Halima walking the streets of Bloomfield without the fear of being harmed, a feeling they constantly had while living in the Kenyan refugee camp. To her, she said, that makes all the hard work to bring the family to America worthwhile.
For Huff, the satisfaction of helping the family comes “when I hear Mohamed say America is the land of opportunity, where you have an opportunity to learn, to work. That’s what I find rewarding; that we’re giving his family that chance,” she said.