Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir
by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$21.95 ISBN 9-780889-776593
Sometimes a single line succinctly underscores the depths of the valley a person’s experienced. Deep into Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali’s memoir, Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir, the Torontonian’s phrase “the first day I was homeless for the second time” leaps off the page, and it’s an example of how this first-time writer both lives, and writes. Changes happen quickly, and the reader finds herself catching her breath.
Ali’s memoir was published as part of the University of Regina Press’s series The Regina Collection. These pocket-sized hardcovers emulate the U of R’s motto, “a voice of many peoples,” and “tell the stories of those who have been caught up in social and political circumstances beyond their control.” Born in Mogadishu in 1985, Ali was removed from his mother’s home at age five to join his father and the man’s new family in Abu Dhabi, then relocated to a refugee camp in the Netherlands (sans Dad). The next move – with his abusive stepmother and her kids – was to Toronto’s “Jane and Finch area,” where in school “The relationships between the white teaching staff and the largely brown and black student body prepared many of [the students] for the cruel reality of a racist society and the undermining of [their] abilities.”
But uprooting, domestic physical abuse, school bullying, poverty, wondering how “to be Somali outside of Somalia,” forced “Islamizing,” and crime are only part of the story: effeminate Ali – nicknamed “ballet girl” – also recognized early in life that he was gay. As one who’d only known violence, the writer’s early sexuality was also fused with pain, and he writes with brutal candour: “I … took to squatting by the highway and pushing thick branches in my ass. I kept going until I bled.”
After a fight in the Netherlands with a classmate compounded Ali’s “diminished sense of self,” he dived “headfirst, into the world of drugs,” and by thirteen was numbing his life with Valium. He writes that by the time he’d moved to Canada, he could only observe other youth playing at a public pool: he “didn’t know how to have healthy fun.”
So many adjustments within such a short timeframe. From leaving the rebel-threatened country of his birth – where he watched wrestling on television while overhearing the screams from his stepsisters’ bedroom as they were being circumcised – to experiencing the backlash of being a black Muslim post 9/11; from attending Ryerson (he was “kicked out” after three years) to a suicide attempt and living in a shelter, where residents had to “Watch out for broken crack pipes on the piss-soaked floors of the bathroom” … it’s not a wonder that the “boy who felt unwanted by the world” grew into a homeless alcoholic.
But he also became a writer, praise be, and his “nomadic journey” would be of a different sort. “Revisionism to cover up our history has been pervasive,” he writes of the immigrant Somali experience. Here’s a story that speaks the truth.
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