I haven’t kept up with reviewing my fellow Black Bloggers, which I had hoped to do at least once a week. I hereby make a resolution to do so from now on. It’s only fitting that I should start with the blog of someone I actually know.
Author: Sarah Musa
Constant State of Reflection is the blog of Somali Canadian Ottawa Spoken Word Artist, Carleton University Human Rights Program Student, and my neighbour.
I had watched Sarah growing up in my ‘hood for years. But I only got to know her when she began attending the Speaking for Ourselves Project for high school students from immigrant and visible minority communities who were aspiring poets. I created the Project based on the work of projects like Youth Speaks. Sarah was already active in her high school and writing poetry but I think the project helped her take herself seriously as a poet and helped her develop closer connections with key local poets like Hodan Ibrahim. Sarah has gone on to become a leader of the Spoken Word Scene locally, in particular by helping to sustain the Urban Legends Series at Carleton University.
Sarah describes herself as an old soul in a young body.
Sarah Musa shares much of her poetry on her blog. Her poems vary from the personal to those focused on social justice in relation to local and global struggles. Her poem Sand Dunes and Land Mines is a reflection on the deterioration of a childhood friendship whereas Vital Signs is a narrative highlighting issues of poverty in Ottawa.
Sarah likes to share quotations by poets and philosophers that have inspired her to reflect. In the post Importance of Truth, she shares quotes from such diverse thinkers as Kahlil Gibran, Oscar Wilde, and Ghandi.
The blog also includes brief reflections by Sarah on lectures or events she’s attended or books she has read, such as her reflection on a presentation by Romeo Dallaire about the difference between tolerance and mutual respect.
Sarah also posts videos and pics that she feels will inspire others to reflection.
Sarah, who is Muslim, often opens her posts with bismillah, this is the shortened version of a phrase meaning “In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious” used by many Muslims before they begin a speech or piece of writing, in the hope that nothing they say will be offensive to God but will instead be spiritually uplifting for the listeners or readers. Bismillah‘s most famous use in Western Popular Culture is in the song Bohemian Rhapsody by Zanzibari-born British Indian Parsi Rock Star Freddie Mercury (born Farrukh Bulsara).
If you feeling apathetic and need a dose of youthful idealism, check out Constant State of Reflection.
To learn more about Ottawa’s Spoken Word Scene visit the site raiseit.ca
Hamdi Mohamed is currently the Executive Director of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO). She is also a historian, feminist, mother, and “institution” here in the City of Ottawa.
But Hamdi, like so many of her generation, was raised to be a leader within the elite of her homeland of Somalia. At 24, Hamdi had graduated from the Somali National University with an Honours Degree in Education. However, as a refugee in Ottawa, Canada Hamdi had to struggle not only with the trauma of a civil war that tore apart so many extended Somali families as well as the country, she also had to take on rebuilding a sense of community and belonging within the Somali Diaspora in the West. While studying for her Masters Degree in International Diplomacy at the University of Ottawa, Hamdi, along with a group of other hardworking and talented women and men, began the difficult task of helping their fellow Somalis resettle in Canada while contending with a country that had never seen such large numbers of African refugees, particularly Muslim refugees, and a city that was, at the time, not very multicultural.
Hamdi was up for the task. She worked with several local community health centres and organizations and was involved in founding the now defunct Somali Centre for Youth, Women and Development. At the height of this centre’s achievements, Hamdi became a key spokesperson for the Somali community in Ottawa. While Program Manager at the Somali Centre, Hamdi spoke out against the Federal Government’s proposal to stop recognizing the Somali passport as legal identification. In a 1999 Ottawa Citizen interview, Hamdi stated: “From the community perspective, this is a very racist piece of legislation and we think it’s the way of curbing Somalis from coming into the country.”
When Canadian filmmaker Helen Klodawsky, writer and director of the film Family Motel, decided that she wanted to look at the issue of homelessness among Ottawa’s Somali community, she went to Hamdi. According to Klowdawsky:
Hamdi Mohamed was our first contact in the community. She’s a brilliant woman and her contribution has been vital. Hamdi posed a number of key questions. Who owns this story? she wanted to know. And I really appreciated that discussion. It helped to focus the story. She also insisted that our protagonist not be presented as victim, that she be a resilient and resourceful character.
I learned that you are never a victim unless you accept victimization. You always have the power to choose the path for your life. While I have experienced the legacies of colonialism and have been victimized by sexism, racism etc throughout my life, I never thought of myself as a victim.
Hamdi went on to complete her Ph.D in History at the University of Ottawa and lectured on human rights issues at the School of Social Work and the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at Carleton University for five years. She served as the Executive Director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre where she gave priority to developping the organization’s cultural competency.
In 2000, Hamdi became the proud mother of a son, Adam. In a 2009 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Hamdi admitted that although feeling that life was good at the time, she became overwhelmed with saddness a few days after her son’s birth. She said:
I suddenly became consciously aware of the fact that I couldn’t show my son where I had lived, the trees I had climbed, the sand I had played in, the friends I had had. I wanted to share these things with my son and I couldn’t.
This is the plight of the exile who finds herself in a foreign land and who has no choice but to make a new home for her children. Hamdi is committed to making her new home a welcoming place for refugees and immigrants. She is now the Executive Director of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO). In this capacity, she has focused on expanding Ottawa’s oldest newcomer serving agency’s mission. According to the Ottawa Citizen:
…since she took the job four years ago, Mohamed and her team have been crafting an expanded mission, one that reflects what they see every day: building a new life means more than finding a job and getting a roof over your head, it means feeling accepted in a new home while having the freedom to mourn the old.
Hamdi believes that immigrant issues should not be just a concern of the immigration sector but of the entire community. According to Hamdi:
…in Ottawa, the notion of being diverse is still new. We’re generally kind and generous people but when it comes to difference, we hesitate. But now, the numbers are pushing us to ask, ‘Who are we now?’
Profile of Hamdi Mohamed available online
Resistance strategies: Somali women’s struggles to reconstruct their lives in Canada by Hamdi Mohamed (essay available online)
“The Somali refugee women’s experience in Kenyan refugee camps and their plight in Canada.” by Hamdi Mohamed In Mending rips in the sky : options for Somali communities in the 21st centry, ed. by Hussein M. Adam and Richard Ford (1997)
Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization’s Website