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Posts Tagged ‘somali’

Photo: Matt Smith.
Co-owners Vamsi Yaramaka (left) and Raj Alturu stand inside Eat Spice in October 2019, in the truck stop on Route 534 off I-80 in White Haven, Pa. Indian and Mediterranean dishes like theirs can be hard to find on the road.

Whenever I want to share something I read about before Covid, I do a search to see if it is still relevant or if a featured company is still in business. That is how I learned that the truck stop National Public Radio reported on before lockdown — a restaurant that was catering to Sikh and Somali truck drivers — had been discovered by lots of other motorists.

Here’s what Laura Beshoff had to say about the restaurant in January 2020. “Truck driver Aman Singh, 30, must traverse the 660 miles from northeastern Pennsylvania to Louisville, Ky., on an overnight drive. Before he saddles up for the long haul, he settles into a booth at Eat Spice, a truck stop/Indian restaurant off I-80 in Luzerne County, Pa., with a plate of chicken curry and a stack of roti. …

“Eat Spice caters to a unique intersection: where rural America meets an increasingly diverse cadre of truckers looking for a taste of home as they jockey between warehouses and retail outlets.

“Located in White Haven, Pa., population 1,100, the truck stop has a clientele that’s more likely to hail from immigrant enclaves in Ohio and Michigan than the surrounding town, which is 96% white. Here, the cooler of live bait coexists with the carafe of homemade chai. In the fridge, there’s both Red Bull and mango lassi. Your choice.

“Sam Singh, 27, drives between Flint, Mich., and northern New Jersey every other day. He stops at Eat Spice for meals during nearly every 10- to 12-hour trip.

” ‘We like Eat Spice. Everything [is] Indian food,’ says Singh, listing his favorites. ‘Chicken biryani, goat biryani, chicken saag, butter chicken, egg bhurji, paneer something. Everything.’ …

“While the average trucker is a 46-year-old white male, a growing proportion of drivers younger than 35 are women, Latinx or from another country. Immigrants from northern and western India, such as Singh, have flocked to the trucking industry.

“Many of the early adopters follow Sikhism and came in the late 1980s after fleeing ethnic violence in India, according to Gurinder Singh Khalsa, a Sikh community activist in Indiana.

” ‘They came out of the country to save their lives,’ he said, often fleeing before being able to go to college or acquire job skills.

“Devout Sikhs may wear their hair long and wrapped in a turban, a look that was not always welcome on U.S. job sites, according to Khalsa. … So many turned to trucking. …

“Pay is another draw. Somali driver Farhan Warsame says he makes significantly more driving his own rig now than he did in his old job, working warehouses in Kentucky.

” ‘I make a week, the money I used to make before… [in] a whole month,’ he says. ‘I make $1,200.’ …

“Steve Emery, who’s white, is another regular at Eat Spice. The 62-year-old trucker wears a Van Halen T-shirt and stands by the counter. He’s hungry after hauling a load of retail clothing from Akron, Ohio, to New Jersey.

” ‘I kind of had a taste for tuna today, but they didn’t have it, so I went back to the old faithful,’ he says, selecting a meatball sub from the ‘American’ portion of the menu. Emery has tried the biryani and says he liked it, but chose his comfort foods this visit.

“Eat Spice owner Raj Alturu, who lives in Allentown, Pa., says he wants his business to be inclusive of everyone’s appetites. When he and his business partner, Vamsi Yaramaka, bought the restaurant/gas station/snack shop about seven years ago, it served sandwiches. …

” ‘We’re trying to update [the] menu when we get requests from customers,’ says Alturu. ‘Once people hit the road, it can be a day or two before they get home. … At least like once a day or once every two days, you want to have the food you are accustomed to.’

“Take the spaghetti chicken curry. It’s based on a Somali dish that a regular customer asked for. A few minutes later, that regular walks in. Yousuf Dahar, 31, lives in Hopkins, Minn., and was born in Ethiopia to Somali parents. …

“Sean Yazici, who lives in Indiana, is an immigrant who has embraced the classic trucker look. He sports a cowboy hat, boots and a belt buckle the size of a saucer. A first-timer at Eat Spice, he is excited about the shish kebab. ‘I’m from another country, Turkey,’ says Yazici. For him, finding Mediterranean food at a truck stop feels like hitting the lottery.”

More at NPR, here. Some 2021 reviews of the restaurant are here.

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PRI’s The World has an in-depth international focus I don’t find at other radio shows. Although the program is available nationwide, it’s produced at WGBH in Boston, and I listen to it there (weekdays at 3).

Yesterday’s show included some cool research by Duke University’s lemur center, a fascinating place I visited when Suzanne was on her high school tour of colleges.

The story was not about lemurs, however. It was about a rare critter scientists hadn’t seen in 50 years, the Somali sengi, popularly but imprecisely called the “elephant shrew.”

Amanda McGowen reported at The World, “The Somali sengi is a tiny mammal that looks almost like a mouse, but with a long, trunk-like nose, sort of like an aardvark.

“[For] 50 years, a sighting of this sengi had not been recorded by scientists — until now.

“A team of American sengi experts and Djiboutian ecologists rediscovered the elusive Somali sengi after a research expedition to Djibouti in 2019. Their findings were published in the scientific journal PeerJ [Tuesday].

“Houssein Rayaleh, a Djiboutian research ecologist and conservationist on the expedition, said that ‘people living in Djibouti never considered the sengis to be “lost,” ‘ but that ‘the new research brings the Somali sengi back into the scientific community, which is valued,’ according to the BBC.

“ ‘They’re unique in a lot of ways,’ said Steven Heritage, the lead author of the study who is a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina. …

“Sengis, Heritage explained, have flexible noses that they use to pick through leaf litter for food, as well as enormous back legs that allow them to run up to 18 miles per hour or more. They also have a monogamous mating system, where a male and female bond for life.

“Sengis are closely related to aardvarks, elephants and manatees. Though they’re commonly called elephant shrews, Heritage explained that the name has largely fallen out of favor among scientists because sengis are not really shrews or elephants.

“To find this particular species of sengi, the team drew on the knowledge of its local members, including Houssein Rayaleh, a bird expert at Association Djibouti Nature, as well as interviews with people in the areas where they were searching.

‘When we would go to these field sites, we would often interview locals. … They’d say, “Oh yeah, that animal is over there in those rocks, and this mouse animal is over here in this more flat area,” ‘ Heritage said. ‘Incorporating that local knowledge was invaluable.’ …

“The researchers used a combination of oatmeal, peanut butter and Marmite to lure sengis into live box traps so they could be observed.

“ ‘[It’s] this super smelly concoction of bait,’ he said. ‘You can imagine if you’re a small mammal that lives in essentially a desert, rocky environment, you’ve never smelled anything like that before. So you’re going to go check that out and see what’s going on.’ …

“Heritage said generating knowledge about rare or ‘lost’ species helps keep the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species up to date. He called the list a ‘barometer of the health of the biodiversity on our planet.’ “

More at The World, where you can also listen to the radio report.

Photo: Steven Heritage
The rare Somali sengi, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, is a relative of the elephant and the aardvark. 

 

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Photo: Evan Frost/MPR
Mukhtar Ibrahim gives a presentation about Sahan Journal at the Glen Nelson Center in Minneapolis.

When we lived in Minneapolis, we got to know a Somali-American who worked at our apartment building’s front desk and later ran for mayor. He was a friendly, curious man, who enlightened me a good bit about Islam and Africa. As a child in Somalia, he played soccer games interrupted by camels, and he loved to get news from around the world on the radio and then study the map to see where the news was happening.

Today the large immigrant community in his new country has a different way to get news.

Andrew Lapin reports at the Current, “Support from Minnesota Public Radio is enabling a website covering the state’s immigrant communities to expand into a full-time venture for its founder.

Sahan Journal is the brainchild of Mukhtar Ibrahim, who began his career as MPR’s first Somali-American reporter before joining the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. He has returned to MPR as a full-time network employee focusing exclusively on Sahan, with the network also providing a content-sharing agreement and other material support.

“Ibrahim said he wants Sahan to be ‘a one-stop shop for all things immigrant in Minnesota.’ …

“Ibrahim began the project in 2013 as a side venture, two years after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota’s journalism school. The name ‘Sahan’ comes from the Somali word for ‘pioneer’ and traditionally refers to a group of respected men from a community who are chosen by village elders to embark on exploratory expeditions.

“Recruiting other writers of the Somali diaspora, Ibrahim published news and information related to East African politics and culture on the Sahan website. He tapped an influential network of contributors. One of Sahan’s former writers, Mustafa Muhummed Omer, was recently appointed acting interim president of the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia, one of the country’s nine governing regions divided by ethnicity.

“ ‘People were really hungry for that kind of content,’ Ibrahim said, adding that English-language news sources for young professional Somalis were hard to come by.

“As Ibrahim started a family and devoted more time to his day job, Sahan Journal fell by the wayside. … Ibrahim knew he wanted to return to Sahan Journal and broaden its focus to capture more of the state’s immigrant population, including Hmong and Liberian residents. After earning a master’s in journalism at Columbia University with the aid of a leadership fellowship from the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, he redirected his attention to his passion project.

“Ibrahim found a willing partner for Sahan Journal in his former employers at MPR. Reaching the state’s immigrant communities is ‘the number-one priority for me,’ said MPR News Executive Editor Nancy Cassutt. …

“Cassutt said MPR aims to republish five stories a month from Sahan Journal, edited by an MPR News editor. She also said MPR would like to see Sahan Journal cover immigrant communities across the entire state of Minnesota, not just the Twin Cities. …

“Ibrahim also hopes to make mentorship and journalism education a part of his site’s mission. … By encouraging more immigrants to become reporters, Ibrahim said, the community will benefit. ‘We say there’s a lack of diversity in the newsrooms, but in the beginning we don’t even give people a chance,’ he said. ‘So this newsroom will be a place where people can run, can fail, can experiment with journalism.’ ”

More here.

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In an article by the “Cooperative Development News” at Mother Earth News (by way of twitter), I read about a group of Somali Bantu refugees in Maine who started a cooperative farm.

This interests me particularly because when I was at the magazine, I acquired a couple articles about Somali refugees adjusting to life in Lewiston, Maine, through farming.

Here’s the story: “A group of Somali Bantu refugees have started a cooperative farm in Maine … Thousands of miles from Somalia, on 30 acres in Maine’s second-largest city, they’ve begun to feel like they’ve come home.

“New Roots Cooperative Farm, though just recently started by four new Americans, is already a success story. Combine the complexities of farming with the uncertainty of navigating a system that is unfamiliar — and, at times, unfriendly — to newcomers and you’ll understand just a fraction of how far New Roots has already come. They’re inspired to help one another and the community, too.

“ ‘Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business,’ says New Roots farmer Batula Ismail. …

“The group used to farm before being forced from their homes during Somalia’s tumultuous civil war period. … After arriving in Maine, they got back to farming at Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon, Maine. The program empowers New Americans to launch independent farm businesses, to adopt new leadership roles in the community, and to attain increased economic independence for themselves and their families.

“Now, with a decade of experience at Packard-Littlefield backing them up, the group is ready to put their education to the test. When Gendron Farm, a dairy farm in Lewiston was divided into several parcels in 2015, New Roots worked with Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, Cultivating Community, and many others to preserve 30 acres as a working farm.” More here.

I’ve been interested in Somali immigrants since living for three years in Minneapolis, where there is a large population. I was friendly with one man who worked in our apartment building, ran for mayor, and got a job as a community liaison for a US Senator. Very nice guy. I loved his stories about being a child in Somalia, soaking up geography from international radio news, and pausing for a camel to get off the field when he was playing soccer.

Photo: Jenny Nelson/Maine Farmland Trust
Bantu refugees start a cooperative farm in Maine.

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I hardly need to remind readers of this blog that people are people. We are all just living our lives, with more or less the same daily concerns. And the differences are what make things interesting.

Sam Radwany at the radio show Only a Game recently described some youthful experiences in Minneapolis that sound both the same and different. The story is about a group of American Muslim girls who choose to cover themselves in keeping with their kind of Islam but who are also enthusiastic basketball players.

“The Twin Cities are home to one of the largest Somali populations in the world. The community is concentrated in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, where these pre-teen players go to school. … Balancing their cultural and religious standards of modesty with sports can be tricky.

“ ‘Sometimes our hijab, our scarves, got off, and we would have to time out, pause, to fix it,’ Samira said. ‘Our skirts were a problem — they were all the way down to our feet.’ …

“Last season, some of the girls opted to wear long pants instead of dresses. But that still put them at a disadvantage when playing other Minnesota teams. …

“And because the girls’ team didn’t have their own jerseys, they had to share with the boys. Ten-year-old Amal says the experience was unpleasant.

“ ‘Horrible! Very horrible,’ she said. ‘And the boys, their jerseys were all sweaty and yucky and nasty.’ …

“That’s where a local nonprofit dedicated to expanding sports and recreation opportunities for local Muslim girls stepped in. … [They] brought in researchers and designers from the university to help the young athletes find a new solution to the stinky jersey problem.

“Jennifer Weber, the girls’ coach, said the players did most of the work themselves, with guidance from the experts. …

“Chelsey Thul from the university’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport described some features of the new uniforms: ‘And so this sport uniform has black leggings. It’s longer, probably about to the knees …

“ ‘The biggest change to the hijab is that it’s not a pullover, so that instead, it fastens with Velcro at the neck,’ Weber said. ‘So it’s got some give to it, and it’s forgiving, and it moves as they move.’

“And of course, with the young girls’ input, there’s a bit of color. Samira and Amal said the team had a lot of ideas.” Read about their design ideas and their delight in the uniforms here.

Photo: Jim Mone/AP
Somali American girls in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis designed their own uniforms for greater freedom of movement.

 

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I thought you would like this story from the National Deseret News about refugees making a new life for themselves in Arizona.

Lourdes Medrano writes, “In a small field on the outskirts of [a] desert town near the Mexican border, close to 30 women and men stoop over rows of pumpkins, carefully picking the pulpy autumn fruit along with its flowers, stems and leaves.

“The volunteers are part of an innovative program that helps refugees from war-torn countries find work and food. Called the Iskashitaa Refugee Network, the Arizona-based organization consists of a diverse group that harvests donated crops from local farms and people’s backyards to feed displaced populations from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“On this recent fall afternoon, Adam Abubakar, a refugee in his early 30s who came to Arizona two years ago from the conflicted Darfur region of Sudan, quickly clips pumpkin leaves and drops them in a tote bag for later distribution to newcomers who eat them. For Abubakar, picking fruits and vegetables comes second nature. Back in his homeland, he grew most of the food his family consumed …

“The government provides refugees limited resettlement assistance and organizations such as Iskashitaa work to help the newcomers become self-sufficient as they adapt to American society. Refugees working in the pumpkin field not only harvest the fruits and vegetables they eat, but they also distribute crops to fellow newcomers, learn about urban gardening, market what they grow, and participate in cross-cultural food exchanges. …

“The number of incoming refugees has fluctuated over time and reflects shifting world conflicts and heightened security concerns. In 1980, for instance, 207,000 refugees — including many displaced by the Vietnam War — resettled within the country.

“Iskashitaa was founded in 2003 by Barbara Eiswerth, an environmental scientist, with help from Somali Bantu refugee students who began harvesting crops no one was picking to boost their diet. The refugees inspired the name of the fledgling group: ‘working cooperatively together.’ …

“By tapping into the agricultural roots of refugees, Iskashitaa aims not just to provide food, but also to empower those they’re helping.”

More here.

Photo: Lourdes Medrano/National Deseret News

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