Sunday, December 16, 2018
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Eastleigh: Somalis’ new home in Kenya

By Umayma Goth

Somalia’s collapse into anarchy three decades ago had caused many Somalis to seek refuge in the other parts of the world. A large number of refugees fled into the neighboring countries. Somalis by nature are nomadic and the plague of the civil war had made them an international nomads. Those Somali immigrants that fled into the different places of world did not only flee with themselves, but they also carried the Somali culture and Somali-ness with them and the countries that had hosted them did not only host Somali asylums but a Somalis with their culture, thus this Somali expatriate has conveyed a lot about Somali culture to the other respective communities they settled. Because of homogeneity among Somalis, it becomes more interesting to tell about Somalis and Somaliness when Somalis join our communities.

Eastleigh in Nairobi

Kenya, Southwest of Somalia, has received many Somali immigrants. Loads of both the Somali immigrants — from all regions of the Horn, and the indigenous Kenyan Somalis occupied Nairobi and mostly congregated into the Eastleigh part of the city— though Somalis nowadays reside every part of the city. Eastleigh is a commercial suburb of Nairobi; it creates much wealth for the country. Its prodigious economic transformation has enhanced and sustained Somalis in the domain for most of its malls and businesses are owned by Somalis, whichas well-prodded wider economic growth in the country.

Traditionally there is nomadicity in Somalis, which still defines the Somali culture. It’s from the semi-arid plateaus, dry valleys and the prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall that most of Somali traditions spring, forming the substratum of the Somali society with the rich cultural heritage of the camel herding and the pastoral life. Then later after the chaos in Somalia, that lifestyle has made easier for Somalis to live amicably in virtually every city in East Africa and beyond. You will find them more dispersed than any other ethnic group; and despite the harsh differences in their own origins, their willingness to live anywhere in the world where destiny and struggle forced to live, have made them reap the benefits of being away from home.

Thus, we understand why Eastleigh, a place of commerce is dubbed as ‘’The little Mogadishu’’. The choice of Somalis to assemble in the area has a lot to say about Somalis as a community and as individuals. Somalis are very successful entrepreneurs and generated massive wealth which tells that a Somali will work hard and will make use of every opportunity to create wealth, which is in many times as equal as making a family. The struggle in Eastleigh also reveals the great role of Somali women in the money-making society as they managed to carve for themselves a position in this economic transformation and, in the process, this has helped them relatively stabilize their families in a context different from home.

The current way of Somali occupancy in the estate shows that Somali refugees, once they settle down, begin converting their rooms into small shops, then those shops morphed into today’s big stores and malls. I remember in my third visit to Eastleigh, Najma, a cousin of mine, could fell from the stairs laughing as I asked her why all those clothes that were being sold looked ragged and frayed, “Is that all ‘a whoodied’ (second-hand ) ?”  That was apartments occupied by Somali families drying their washed clothes in the sunny balconies on a top of vast stores in the big buildings next to the Dhahabshil Bank in Eastleigh.  It was more like Xamar-Weyne in Mogadishu, where you happen to do shopping from the stores in the ground while a lady will be washing and drying clothes in the second and the top floor. Just more like a nomadic herder will always settle the family close to where there’s pasture.

Somalis barely mix easily with other ethnicities and for cultural reasons, they don’t automatically get along with other Africans neither are they open for other groups to mingle with them; that’s maybe because of the conservativeness in Somali culture. In Eastleigh, as a Somali, you’ll feel the sense of belongingness and intimacy with the company of the loved ones. Somalis there are either are relative or friends; when you are Somali you know that every Somali lady is —“Walaal’ or ‘Eedo’ (Sister or Aunt) and all the Somali old men are —‘Walaal’ or “Adeer” (Brother or Uncle). Although there’s large number of rich Somalis in the region, still by average Somalis are bread winners yet you’ll always find them delighted in helping each other. I was told about that if it happens that penury throws a Somali fellow into Eastleigh his sub-clan members will raise funds to help him carve out small business that later set him financially stable. Unlike many other ethnic groups in the region, Somalis are endowed with geniality and generosity among themselves, at least in the diaspora.

While for many other Kenyans, Eastleigh may appear to be a centre of illicit trade and insecurity, Somalis feel at home there. After more than a decade, I have reunited with two of my primary classmates here in Nairobi as they pursue master’s degree at the University of Nairobi.  I have visited them in Eastleigh and they told me, despite the distance from the campus, they preferred residing in Eastleigh and feel more secure there.  Eastleigh, a rich cultural environment is more homelike for many Somalis in Nairobi, and it is a place in which many feel comfortable and content, despite its throng, traffic jam and dirtiness.

A friend who just moved from Eastleigh after six years has told me it was the Somali food that kept him in the place. I asked him several times before he moved why Eastleigh, despite the other cool areas of the city.  “I don’t like cooking,” he told me. Or, maybe he doesn’t know how to cook, like a typical Somali men!

Another friend who works and resides in the town has told me he comes to Eastleigh in every weekend. For what reasons, I asked him. He told me, what else would I need when I’m boosting my Somali-ness, enjoy the familiar sight and sound of Somalis —Shaah and Sheeko—Somali scented tea and the chitchat of vandalized politics of the Somalia. No matter where else in the city you reside, there’s always something in your Somali-ness that will bring you into Eastleigh, let the least of it be craving for the hilib/caano geel (camel milk/meat). Eastleigh is not only the choice for Eid celebration for local Somalis and immigrants, but also for many members of the diaspora. No wonder then why many other Somalis in the region know that there is Islii (Eastleigh) in Nairobi before they even know that Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya.

Nairobi is gorgeous city and has a lot to give, from entertainment to business; it got natural beauty with a large number of wild parks. The city is very green and many parts of its beauty are the trees and colourful followers that are planted around the tall buildings. An old Indian man in the next door to us in South C, had planted more than twenty flowers in the gateway of his house. There’s something in humans that will find peace and beauty in plants more than in tours. Meanwhile, Eastleigh’s majority is eyesore that will remind you the arid we belonged to, an overgrazed land, nonetheless, flowers and trees will be beautiful in a clean environment and Eastleigh’s often filthy and rotting garbage flow through gullies and nasty crowded streets has something else to tell about Somalis since it’s a Somali enclave place. Because pride is important in Somali society, you will find the individual Somali nomad very proud, grace and hygienic but with a messy environment. The Somali houses are cleaned up; similarly, Somali hotels in Eastleigh are fine and their restaurants serve an excellent food, but paradoxically, still around them is a heap of garbage. Perhaps the nomadicity in Somalis has yet to keep pace with the city life and environment conservation.

One of the most serious idiotic actions that a community may commit is to deteriorate their environment, to my fellow Somalis being hygienic and living in clean house still in messy surroundings will always be disgrace to our Somaliness. A clean and healthy environment is part of the quality life we desire for ourselves that we fled from our own country. Eastleigh deserves to be cleaner and greener, and this requires not much than efforts from the different parts of the community. Somali youth and elders must be aware of the importance of sanitation and environment conservation.

Umayma Goth
Email: [email protected]

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