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Waiting For The Prayer Call

 August 19, 2020 at 8:30 AM PDT

Andrew Bracken (00:06): America is a big word, meaning different things to different people. But the reality of it may not be as grandiose as the myth, Faiza Warsame (00:15): People that live in Africa have this huge idea of what America is, but it truly is not the same. When you really come here. Andrew Bracken (00:26): Faiza Warsame came to San Diego at the age of nine from Somalia via Egypt, 14 years after her arrival in the United States, the balancing act between her old world and new one remains ongoing. Faiza's story, when we come back. Andrew Bracken (00:56): Faizaleft her native Somalia for Egypt at a very young age with few memories from her birthplace. Faiza Warsame (01:04): I don't remember much about it. I only remember this one time where we were staying with my uncle and Somalia and me and my brother were playing outside and there was a cow and I don't know what we did to the cow, but it followed us to the house. So that was really weird. But that's the only memory I have about Somalia. When I was young, we moved to Egypt, me and my mother and my brother in Egypt. It was like a really happy memory. I lived with my cousins and my aunts. And so we're a big family living in this one big house. It was like easy for children to go outside and play and go a little bit far and then come back home without parents being worried about you. And everybody was like a family to you. Everybody knew where you were. If your parents had to go out, your neighbor will take care of you. So it was just like a one big family Andrew Bracken (02:04): After spending a few years in Cairo, Faiza learned their family would be moving to San Diego in the United States. Faiza Warsame (02:12): All I knew was we're going to send you go where our uncle was and that was it. Just the name and knowing the uncle was there. That's the only thing that we had in mind. I was okay with what was going to happen to me. I felt like at that moment, when they were telling us they made it seem like it was going to be like couple of years and we're going to come back. I didn't think it was going to be something forever. So I wasn't really worried about anything. So I didn't really have an expectation. It was just like, okay, we're just going to go with the flow and see how things work. There is not imagination of what like America was like and how our life is going to change. It was like, we're going to go to the CU home and new place Since we were young, we just accepted it. And we were okay with it. Faiza Warsame (03:08): We took the plane. It was just me and my mom and brother and at the plane, we were able to meet another family that were coming and they also were coming from Cairo. She was also a single mom and she had, um, three kids with her. The girl was same age as me. So we were same age. We got to know each other in the airplane. And we found out that we were going to San Diego too. So I remember like changing seat for us to play games to just kill time. Cause it was like a really long flight. So I remember us moving seats so we can be next to each other and playing like a card game. Faiza Warsame (03:52): And I remember our uncle picking us up and we were driving to our apartment. Our first house was in city Heights. So by 50th street area. And when we first entered that permit, there was already like a couple of ladies waiting for us in our culture. Just like when a person is arriving soon, you know, a couple of the neighbors will come together just to welcome them. I remember it feeling lonely since we were so used to big family and just trying to adjust to being us three was kind of really hard. And I remember how small it was. And like my mom had to sleep on the couch, coming to the apartment that we lived in. It was only one bedroom. We were so used to living into four bedroom apartment with like aunts and uncles and cousins. So I feel like when people say America, like they give it this big name and to see the apartment that we're living in or just like, it didn't really make sense to me. I remember seeing my mom like clean the house obsessively like a lot, just to make sure that, you know, um, the house was clean, especially like there was cockroaches and stuff. She will clean like too much just to make sure it was clean and it wasn't getting into our food and everything. So I would see her waking up early, early in the morning just to have food for us and just to make sure that we were ready for school. Faiza Warsame (05:24): She's doing her best for us. Faiza Warsame (05:42): The culture was so different. I was, I was very confused of where I was when we lived in Egypt, our apartment next to it was a mosque as Muslims. We pray five times a day. And for each prayer, there's a prayer call to it. Since we lived right close to the mosque, we'll hear the prayer call for all the five prayers. That was something I was used to since I kind of grew up with it. So when I first came to America and they were telling us this time to pray, I was waiting for the prayer call and there was nothing. So I was very confused later. They explained to me that like here in San Diego, the prayer call, you won't hear it out loud. You will only hear it with inside the mosque. But like back in Egypt, they will do it really loud where everybody that's like outside, come here. It was different scene. Um, the people around me, I was used to seeing a lot of Somali people and like a lot of odd hubs and the like majority of the autopsy dressed similar to us. So it was, it was really a shock to me, the different culture and the way people dress differently than us. So that was something that I had to get used to and adjust to it. Andrew Bracken (06:55): One welcome site, on her first day of school amidst, all the changes she was experiencing was seeing the girl she met on the plane from Egypt, who is now her classmate and would go on to be a lifelong friend. Andrew Bracken (07:07): Faiza came towards the end of fourth grade, but it was her fifth grade teacher that would have a lasting impact on her. Faiza Warsame (07:14): I feel like when I first came here and didn't understand the material and didn't, you know, having a teacher to motivate you and push you and to kind of tell you, like you did this wrong, but you know, next time you will do it better and you can do this and kind of encouraging you. I think that's something that really helped me, not every day, but every other day she would talk to my mom and she will explain to my mom my progress right in front of me. So she will tell me like, yeah, she didn't do well on this quiz, but like, you know, she's smart. She got this and you know, um, she really did well on this. And so she would encourage me and like, you know, tell me what, what's my positive, almost my negative. So I think that encouragement and that push and seeing that someone was there to believe in me. I think that really helped me just seeing how much, like she cared for her students that really impacted me. Faiza Warsame (08:12): And that really like kind of made that year, really like amazing year for me. And yeah, I still can't forget that year. Andrew Bracken (08:28): When we come back, Faiza walks the tightrope between Somalia and America. Faiza Warsame (08:28): I would say like the hardest years for me was middle school and towards the end of high school. And that was really hard because I was the only Somali hijabi, um, student there in elementary. It was diverse. And people that just arrived recently are people that been here a couple of years. So even though it wasn't only Somali, like I was able to connect with other students because we've been here only a couple of years and we kind of understood the struggles together, but for the middle school, it would just like, you know, a lot of students that have been here or were born here and it would just like a struggle because they didn't understand. So it was just really hard understanding and trying to fit in. Faiza Warsame (09:10): I know that middle school, since I was the only one that was covering my hair, you know, kids will make fun of me and say like, Oh, are you bold? Is that why you're wearing it? Do you not have a hair? You know, just like a struggle since it wasn't like more diverse, I think it would just like, it made it much more hard. And like, in my opinion, I feel like the teachers didn't go out of their way to try to try to understand my culture and my religion. I mean, there was good teachers, but like some of them did not even try to like, you know, get to know me for who I am and just like, you know, it was just like, well, this is the rules and you just have to follow it. And that's it Andrew Bracken (09:46): Fitting in can be hard for a lot of kids. But Faiza felt the added pressure to stay true to her Somalian culture, while at the same time existing in a much different American landscape, Faiza Warsame (09:56): For some reason, I didn't want it to fit in. Like, I wasn't really crazy about like trying to be like Americanized or anything. I had this fear of like, if I try to be Americanized, I might lose my culture and I might lose who I am. So I would just watch from farm. So I would always be that weird kid that would just watch and act like, you know, I'm not American, I'm Somali Andrew Bracken (10:22): Now. So many years after she first came Faiza looks back on what America has come to mean to her. Faiza Warsame (10:28): It makes me think back and just say like, this is just like any other place, you know, it's just about like working hard and doing your best and trying to survive. And I think later on through the years, I learned that like, you know, people that live in Africa have this huge idea of what America is, but it truly is not the same when you really come here. But since I was young and I didn't really have an expectation now, thinking back, yeah, America is what you were expecting. Like there's an amazing resources. There is a great education system and everything, but at the same time is really not that fantasy that you're thinking it is. People have to work hard to get to where they are. And sometimes it's not easy to get out of the situation that your aunt, Faiza Warsame (11:19): It's beautiful to have your own culture, but at the same time, it's beautiful to have the American culture and try to balance both of it. So for me personally, you have to just get used to, and just, you know, struggle with it. Cause sometimes, you know, like there'll be like some Somali moms and I'll try to translate for them and you'll be like, well you're so maybe it's not perfect, but you're not still good enough. You know? And some of them might joke about something and being like, well, you're kind of American eyes and sometimes looking at American culture and I feel like I'm not American enough. Speaker 4 (11:54): You just have to continue balancing Speaker 5 (12:04): Faiza Warsame is currently in college, working on her degree while also working at a local nonprofit serving East African immigrants in San Diego and the girl she met on the plane her first day went on to become one of her closest friends. Thanks so much for listening. My first day is produced by me, Andrew Bracken, along with help from Melissa Diaz, you can find me at or email. It's my first day or Instagram is at my first day stories. Thanks to Sarah Aldi and Mary Ann Bicester for help with this episode music by Jason Begin additional music by De Lune. Theme music by Chris Curtis for KPBS, Emily jankowski is technical director, Kinsey Moreland's podcast coordinator, Lisa Jane Morrissette is operations manager and John Decker's director of programming. This programming's made possible. And part of the KPBS explore. Thanks again for listening. This is our last episode for now. We'll be back soon with more my first day stores.

A young Faiza Warsame arrives in San Diego and cannot understand why she no longer hears the call to prayer as she once did in Africa. About the show: My First Day is a KPBS Explore series that explores these important days through people who came to San Diego from elsewhere, and now call it home. About the producer: Andrew Bracken is a documentary mediamaker working with audio, video, and interactive media. He is the creator, producer, and host of the KPBS podcast My First Day. Follow the show: Instagram: Contact: