Finding a Balance Between Keepsakes and Dreams

by Sirad Muhumed

The Keepsake
I am from Somalia and I have lived in the United States for one year and two months. When I am asked about the aspects of my culture that I want to keep, I think of Ramadan.

Ramadan, which usually begins around the first of March, is a very important time of the year for Muslims. During Ramadan When I am fasting, I pray. Even when we are not taking part in Ramadan, Muslims pray five times a day. But Ramadan is special. Even though I am fasting for many hours in a row, I do not feel hungry or thirsty because my mind is only on my God. My prayer helps me focus on my faith, and I feel very happy, not distracted by anything.

There are many things that Muslims are not supposed to do during Ramadan. Like, for example, if I saw a handsome man, I must not look at him. If you look at people of the opposite sex in this way during Ramadan, it breaks your connection with Ramadan. Another thing that we're not supposed to do during Ramadan is gossip or say bad things about people behind their backs. This would also be inappropriate during Ramadan.

The end of Ramadan is also a very special time for us. When it is finished each year, every Muslim is very, very happy. Everyone buys a new outfit of clothes. If you are poor and cannot afford new clothes for your whole family, then you at least buy new things to wear for your children. We break our fast with a big feast. Each family slaughters a sheep--sometimes two or three, depending on what the family can afford.

We make lots of sweets to eat, including cookies (but we call them biscuits). When I prepare these cookies, I make them all different colors and arrange them carefully on a plate. I serve the plate to others and say, "Oh happy day, eat!"

Also on that plate would be halwa. Halwa is a kind of sweet that is usually only made by Somalis and Arab Yemenites. It is made with sugar, water, some flour, and a bit of oil. We put the ingredients in a big pot and cook it for an hour and a half, stirring it constantly. When the halwa is ready, we color it bright yellow with saffron. The day that Ramadan is finished everyone must make halwa, even the poor and the millionaires make it!

The Dreams
When I lived in Somalia, I was a housewife. I didn't work or do anything. In Somalia we had a house, two cars, and my husband's job paid enough money to take care of us. When I came here, I discovered that it is not an easy life in the United States. I hope that we can find a way to make enough money in the United States so that we can buy some of the things that we used to be able to afford in Somalia.

Photo of SiradIn Somalia, I only finished middle school. I would like to return to school and learn how to be a hair stylist. My sister had a beauty shop in Somalia. When I was little, I used to go to her shop after school every day. I watched her work, and she could really make her customers' hair look good. That is what I would like to do in the future.

But my religion has a problem with this. In our faith, we call our spiritual advisors shikh. These people are similar to pastors or priests for us. I talked with our shikh about my dreams for the future, because he knows the Koran very well and I believed that he could tell me if becoming a beautician is a good idea. I said, "In the future, I would like to make women beautiful." He said, "If you make a woman's hair beautiful, you must also make her put a scarf over her head when she goes outside. If she takes her scarf off at home, that is no problem. But if you make her hair beautiful and she goes outside without a scarf and is seen by another man, then that is wrong. You are responsible for making sure that the women whose hair you style cover their heads when they leave your shop and go out into the public." When the shikh told me that, it made me have second thoughts. I don't want to do anything that violates my faith.

I have other dreams. I do not want to always be a housewife because staying around the house all day I don't get a chance to think very much. I feel bored staying at home. So in the future I would like to finish school. I believe that when I learn how to read and write, I will be able to finish high school. And after high school, I want to go to the university. I am concerned that by the time I get to the university, I will be very old and I will be in classes with lots of young people. But that is my dream and that is what I want to do.

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Last Updated By Gail Matthews-DeNatale: 10/08/96