By Carla Charter
ST. JOHNSBURY, VT – Abdir Nor Iftin, author, speaker and Somali refugee immigrant, dreamed of America as a child. “When I was a child my nickname was American. I read American books and watched American movies. There was no school, so I was learning English through action movies. I say that America to me was like Mars. When I was a child, America was another planet and I made it there. You can make it too if you dream.”
Iftin’s immigrant story began when he met American Journalist Paul Salodek of the Chicago Tribune on the streets of Somalia. I talked to him and began to write stories of the Chicago Tribune. “That’s how I connected and began working for NPR. They called me a war correspondent. I didn’t see myself as a journalist I saw myself as a storyteller.” As a result of his writings he became a target, “It became extremely dangerous,” he said.
Iftin left Somalia in March 2011. “Kenya had closed their borders to Somalia so I got a flight from Mogadishu to Uganda. When I went to Uganda I paid someone to smuggle me in to Kenya. I went into Kenya illegally and then registered as a refugee the next day. I stayed in Kenya for the next four years trying everything I could to come to the U.S.”
“I did everything I could think of to come to America. The refugee process to come to America can take 20 years. My student visa was denied. Then I won the Visa Lottery It was a very lucky win.”
In 2013, Somali terrorists attacked a mall in Kenya, so Kenyans did not trust Somalians. “They thought we were terrorists at this time. The president went on television and ordered the police to deport Somalis back to their country.”
“Meanwhile I had won the lottery and was gathering documents. The US embassy needed me to bring a good conduct letter from the Kenyan police. That was like going into the crocodile’s mouth because they wanted to deport me. With tears in my eyes I explained I could not get the document or they may deport me.” The embassy still required the documentation. “I was supported by a wise Canadian friend Pamela Gordon who offered to drive me to the police department and not leave until I was safe. “ Iftin came to the United States on August 11, 2014.
Iftin has written a book about his experiences entitled Call Me American: A Memoir . “ I decided to write a book. I felt my story was captivating and true It is an American Immigrant story, he said. Iftin has not been back to Somalia since he left. “I want to see Somalia peaceful. I don’t want to have to fear for my family there. I want to see safe borders in and out so people can come and leave legally. Never for a minute did I ever feel safe in Somalia. The people need to forgive one another. Our tribal divisions are killing one another. We need to forget what happened in the past and move forward,“ he continued.
As for the immigration debate in the United States he said “It’s a shame on Amerca’s White House to ban specific groups based on nationality, or religion. It’s sad to see the ignorance today.” Bans on specific groups strengthen Isis Al-Shabab, Boko Haram and the Taliban, he said. If people are disappointed it is easier for them to be recruited. We also need to be kinder and more careful in the things we say and do,” he continued.
The current immigration debate partly inspired Iftin’s book although he began writing it before the debate began. “Once this administration arrived, there was hate against refugees and my book was timely. I talk about the travel ban and why there shouldn’t be a ban.”
Iftin is currently working with younger immigrants mentoring them and helping them to tell their stories and write books. Currently he is attending the University of Maine with a Political Science major. After he graduates college he is unsure what he wants to do but is considering possibly working at the U.N. Call Me American: A Memoir, can be found at local bookstores and at Amazon.com.
Iftin also speaks on his experiences. “I realized I was not only a good storyteller, I was a good speaker.” Abdi Nr Iftin will be speaking about his life story and his book at St. Johnsbury School, 267 Western Avenue on November 9, from 7:00-8:30 p.m.