When I first saw the tweet about the NourishEd #MotherDaughterSisterWoman community project by Angela Browne (who has created an amazing community spaceNourished Collective where women educators can share their truths and narratives with other women), I thought the universe was trying to tell me something because I recently made a decision to get out of my comfort zone and share my story.
So, my instant reaction was “sure I can do that.”But then that imposter syndrome took over for a second and my thoughts turned to “I can’t do that…why would people want to hear my story?” Thankfully I regained my inner voice and quickly sent a dm to Angie. Once I took that leap of faith and made my decision; I thought about the untold story that I could contribute to the #MotherDaugtherSisterWoman project.
I thought about my journey into teaching and how training with three children under the age of 6 years nearly broke me and how my purpose enabled me to tap into inner strength I didn’t even know I had. I thought about sharing the challenges of being a first-generation immigrant (daughter) and how my sisters and I bonded together over the complexity of processing our new identity. Then I thought about sharing how I rebelled against and defied the labels and expectations put upon me by our society and my own community. I hated the damaging stereotypes of what society thought a Muslim woman should be. However, I quickly realised that any strides I made, any wins I had and all my accomplishments as a woman would not be possible without one particular woman in my life. When people compliment me as a mother, a sister, a daughter and a woman, they are really complimenting my mum and my female lineage. I would like to share with you a moment that turned out to be an incredibly powerful epiphany for me.
It was an ordinary day, I was in my kitchen, making laxoox(Somali pancake) just as I had done hundreds of times before and as I watched my children rush to the stove asking for more and more, I was overwhelmed by a feeling. It was not a sad or happy feeling; it was more familiar and almost transforming. I know it sounds crazy and although I did not transform into something, I was, however, channelling something. Something that took me a minute to figure out.
What was I channelling? I hear you ask…
I was channelling my mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother Khadija (AUN). It was such a surreal moment which was followed by a sudden wave of gratitude and appreciation for my mum and my female lineage.
I am a proud descendant of a long line of strong Somali women, who are the backbone of their families and communities. My mother, Maryam, is a remarkable woman, who birthed eight children naturally and in silence I may add, because that was a measure of a woman’s strength in our culture at that time. My mum owned a successful business selling Diraac (Somali attire) and paved the way for generations of Somali women and girls. She was a highly respected entrepreneur whose choices took people by surprise because they thought that she would become a kept woman once she married a doctor. But my mum would often joke with my dad and say ‘what’s yours is ours and what’s mine is mine’. With all her jokes, my mum strongly advocates for women empowerment, she taught me and my four sisters the importance of being financially independent and unknowingly modelled healthy, wholesome relationships for her children.
My grandmother, Fadumo (AUN), was a phenomenal woman, a matriarch who made such a difference to so many people’s lives including my own. The five hundred people who attended her funeral was a testament to her charitable nature and love for her community. I miss her dearly. She appreciated my stubbornness and gave me permission to be me. I remember watching this headstrong warrior fiercely negotiate with suppliers and contractors. She always had them eating out of her hands. I guess that’s where my mother got her entrepreneurial gene from.
Like so many other Somali mothers, my mum fled to the UK, a foreign land, with eight young children and managed to survive and navigate an alien system in spite of all the challenges she faced. I can only imagine the obstacles she had to overcome. The pain of leaving your home and immigrating to a country that may not always welcome you. But my mum is a warrior, a survivor. I believe that her faith and maternal love gave her super powers and enabled her to keep her family together even when things seemed so impossible. Her stories about how she challenged the system to enable her children to thrive whilst never fully acquiring the tongue of her adopted country are so inspirational.
The sisterhood she built with other Somali mothers who supported, strengthened and championed each other was powerful. This partly influenced my views on sisterhood and gave me a blueprint on how to honour and show up for other women.
Mum fought for us to be safe and brave in our new home. Whenever I faced another person who told me that this was not my country. My mum would remind me that GOD put me here and this is where I am meant to be. I guess that is why I feel I have a right to occupy any space I am in. Education excellence is a big part of my family’s legacy. My mum enlisted every help she could to help us succeed academically. My father’s story of a street boy to a doctor was the catalyst to the value my family placed on education. This motivated me to excel at school and would later partly influence my decision to become an educator and a leader.
My mum, like many of us, happily gives, gives and gives and even though we worried about her burning out, she never saw it that way. In fact, she would often remind us that being there for her children is her purpose. She does this mothering thing so effortlessly and always from a place of love. Although at times it did not seem that way to my younger self.
For generations, the women in my family triumph by sheer determination, tenacity and resilience. And in that airy moment in my kitchen that morning, it hit me, I am my mother’s daughter and although I screamed and epiduraled the hell out of the birth of my first child, I learnt to channel my mother’s love, strength and courage throughout every step of my life.
My determination, my confidence, my sassiness and my courage are all indebted to my hooyo (mum). I am blessed to have been raised by my mum. I named my first born after my hooyo, I hope she grows up to be as remarkable as her namesake.
There is a Somali proverb, which loosely translated, says:
‘You cannot do without mum’ and this is true for me. I am who I am, a courageous, compassionate and remarkable woman, because of my hooyo macaan.