Skip to comments.FEATURE-From mud huts to Walmart, Bantus make new life in US
Posted on 12/01/2003 8:25:02 PM PST by Pikamax
25 Nov 2003 12:59:53 GMT FEATURE-From mud huts to Walmart, Bantus make new life in US
By Alan Elsner, National Correspondent
UTICA, New York, Nov 25 (Reuters) - In June, Mohammad Hassan was living in a mud hut in a squalid refugee camp in Kenya, slept on the ground, gathered firewood in the bush for cooking and barely subsisted on U.N. food handouts.
Now, Hassan, 20, and his family live in a four-room apartment in upstate New York. They buy clothes at Wal-Mart and food in a supermarket. Hassan works in a local cosmetics factory. His brothers and sisters attend American schools.
"We have come from hell to heaven. Everyone has their own bed with a real mattress. We don't have backache any more from sleeping on the ground, 10 of us squashed into a space the size of one small bedroom. We don't wake up any more with dust covering our faces. Nobody is hungry any more," Hassan said.
Hassan is a Somali Bantu. His ancestors were torn from their homes in central Africa as slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries and condemned to feudal bondage in Somalia. Even after emancipation, they continued to be treated as second-class citizens and never assimilated into Somali society.
When Somalia collapsed into bloody civil war in the early 1990s, they along with hundreds of thousands of others fled to refugee camps in a desolate border area of Kenya. Even in the camps, the Bantus faced discrimination, hostility and occasional attacks from their fellow refugees.
Now, the United States has agreed to accept all 13,000 Somali Bantus remaining in these camps, and they will be brought over during the next few years.
The operation began in May and so far around 800 Bantus have arrived to be resettled in communities across the nation. Forty-five have received a warm welcome in Utica, a gritty working-class town well used to settling refugees.
"A quarter of the population of Utica is foreign born and 10 to 12 percent are refugees. Since 1970, we have resettled over 10,000 refugees here, including around 4,500 from Bosnia," said Ioana Balint, health services director for the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees.
The Bosnians are revitalizing a formerly run-down part of the city, buying and refurbishing houses and opening dozens of shops, ethnic restaurants and businesses.
RoAnn Destito, a New York assemblywoman from Utica, said: "Refugees and immigrants have been a godsend. They have filled a void in our community, which lost 40 percent of its population when factories and a big military base closed."
Still, the culture gap for the Somalis is huge. Most have never used a modern bathroom or operated an electric appliance. Fatumah Osman, 19, listed some of the new foods they have tasted in the United States -- apples, orange juice, pizza.
Then there is the cultural divide. Some Bantus practice polygamy and many subject their women to female genital mutilation -- both of which are illegal in the United States.
But Balint said their adjustment had been rapid. "When they arrived, the women were wearing beautiful, colorful tribal clothing. They soon got rid of them and bought American clothes," she said.
"We took the women shopping to Wal-Mart. We thought they would be hesitant but they immediately started piling their shopping carts with stuff," she said.
The next lesson was to tell them they only had $100 to spend for each family. If they wanted more, they would have to get jobs and earn money.
Fatumah Osman has already absorbed that lesson. "America gives us the chance to study, to work and to make money. It's the best thing," she said.
During a reporter's visit with the family, the teen-age girls became fascinated with Balint's nylon stockings, which they had never seen before. They plied her with questions: What are they for, what are they made of, how do they stay on, which colors do they come in?
Not everyone is doing equally well. One family, with seven children under the age of 12 and an eighth on the way, is finding life particularly challenging. The mother attends English classes at the refugee center in the morning while her husbands stays home with the three youngest children. Then he goes to work in a factory from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Hassan was working at the same factory for $5.50 an hour but has already found a better job offering more money. In his spare time, he studies for his high school equivalency degree.
"When I get that, I will go to college. I want to be a doctor," he said.
In mid-afternoon, his nine brothers and sisters arrived home from school, laughing and grinning. School was easy, they all said. "Except algebra," added 16-year-old Atica. The 8-year-old twins immediately opened their backpacks and started doing their homework.
"The best thing is we are safe here," said Hassan. "The worst thing? There is no worst thing."
One generation and they'll all be America-haters.
It's the law.
Unfortunately, America also lets you prosper even if you don't want to. If you're here illegally anyway.
In any event, these people seem to want to work hard and put out honest effort to get ahead. Something that makes the welcome in my eyes.
Cut off the clitoris because it is shameful that a woman should enjoy sex! The Black, Asian and Mexican gangs think they are tough characters. When it comes to cold, vicious, hard core killers these animals have everyone in the world beat.
Be sure to thank Sen. Kennedy for having them in your community.
Don't get me started on Kennedy. I'll lose sleep tonight.
Everytime I hear about Somalis, I think of Blackhawk Down. And I don't care if they're Bantu or not.
Mr. Hassan Wal-Mart loves you along with the the millions of the illegal aliens that continue to flood our country..More people, buy more, more people, buy more....LOL!
You know, if we could only bring in 75 million more people, I'm sure the economy would boom. Would could build 40 story pink apartment building on the plains of Texas....YOWZA!
I don't care if he's Bantus or ToyRus, Mexican or African or Iraqi, we are bringing yet 13,000 more illegals and a definite threat to security!!! Send them to Saudi!
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