Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Book talks

In the past few days I have given talks on my book to a gathering of Somali students in London and members of the Somali community in Bristol. Both events were well attended, and I was touched and overwhelmed by how many people have read my book.

The group United for Somali Students (USS) invited me to speak at the Africa Centre in London's Covent Garden. They baked delicious cup cakes for the occasion, as well as bringing halwa and soft drinks. I was by far the least articulate member of the panel, outshone by the remarkable Rahma Ahmed of the Somalia Relief and Development Forum and Hanan Bihi of USS. The room was full, the questions were direct, challenging and passionate, and the students raised enough money to sponsor dozens students back home in the Somali territories. They also made the point that the 'world's most dangerous city' of Mogadishu has several universities, and that Mogadishu University has recently been ranked the 25th best university in Africa, out of several thousand on the continent.

Several students told me they had learned a lot from my book, as they had left Somalia as toddlers, and had significant gaps in their knowledge. Some told me their whole families were now reading the book, and debating it round the supper table.

The Bristol book launch was equally inspiring. A large crowd of Somalis and a sprinkling of non-Somalis came to the Somali Resource Centre in Barton Hill Settlement. We had a refreshingly lively debate, with lots of difficult questions, some of them unanswerable. The strong humour and bonds within the group meant things never got nasty, despite deeply diverging opinions.

Although Bristol's Somali community lives thousands of miles from home, and comes from many different parts of Somalia, I got the feeling their minds are never far from their homeland.

In many ways, my book is the work of many people, most of them Somalis. I just act as a scribe, an observer, a filter, and at times an analyst. I am happy that my book is being read, studied and scrutinised by so many Somalis. They are the best judges I could ask for.