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Saida Hassan

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Saida Hassan was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1989. She and her family left Somalia in 1991 because of the civil war. She lived with her grandmother in Kenya, Nairobi, for several years. Saida

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Saida Hassan Transcription

My name is Saida Hassan. I was born in 1988 in Mogadishu, Somalia. My family left Somalia in 1991 because of the civil war. I lived in Kenya with my grandmother for many years. I came to Minnesota in 2000. I always dreamed of going back to Somalia because I left when I was very young.

In 2012 this dream came true and for the first time I went back to Mogadishu. I brought a camera with me because I knew I was going to see exciting stuff and I wanted to document everything. I love to take pictures. I went with my mom and we stayed at our grandma’s house, our family’s house. I took a lot of photos of family when I was there. I found our old family photos which we had been missing since we left Somalia.

This was the first time I had been back to Somalia since I was three years old. I didn’t know a lot about Somalia. It was a lot of cultural shock. A lot of feeling uncomfortable with the living situation. For example, the kitchen style was so different. They sometimes used open kitchen and charcoal.

The second time I went to Mogadishu was March 2013 and I was there for a few weeks on vacation. My father came along and it was really special to be there with him. He had left Somalia in 1991 and hadn’t been back since. He introduced me to his family members and places where he used to work. He was so excited to show me all these places. We would be in the car and he would say, “stop, stop, stop, stop.” And “you know this place? I used to walk on this road every day.” He had a youthful excitement to be back in his hometown.

I used my Canon camera on this trip. With this camera, I was able to take epic pictures. I was able to see him step out of the plane and reunite with family members. This photo is of him with his best friend—the first time they have seen each other [in] over twenty years.

When I was there taking photographs, people were upset by it. They would attack me for taking photos but I would have to defend myself taking photos of the landscape. I would say, “I’m not taking a photo of you, I’m taking photos of the streets, buildings.” Now it has changed somewhat with smart phones and iPads. I think taking photographs has become part of our lives in the U.S. and Mogadishu and around the world. Everyone has to take a selfie.

I really wanted to go back again to Somalia again, but this time I wanted a different experience than meeting family members. I wanted to see the working life of Somalia. I got an internship with a research institute in Somalia as part of my graduate program. This truly changed my perception about Somali society. I came across interesting research about Somalia and this gave me a chance to get to know the country better and understand it. On this trip, I used my small pink iPad to take pictures.

All of these pictures are important to me because they gave me a sense of understanding of who I am and where I am going. It gave me memories and gave me a sense of belonging.