Dahir Bedel had been in America for ten days at the time of the interview. The views expressed do not represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner. The interview has been edited to correct grammatical inaccuracies while still preserving the refugee's distinct perspective and voice.
Where are you from? My nationality is Somalian, but I just say I am from Ethiopia. I have been living in Ethiopia for almost 20 years. I traveled from Somalia when I was three years old, in 1991, when the central Somali government had already collapsed. I have been living there since. So I just say I am from Ethiopia. I have been living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
Can you talk about what the refugee camp was like? The refugee camp is located in a very small town…in eastern Ethiopia… near the Somalia border. The life is very difficult there. There are almost more than 18,000 families of refugees. I started my basic life there. I enrolled in school in Ethiopia. Ethiopian schools are very difficult. The curriculum is based on their language called Harari. Also their form of writing is different from Latin…[the Somali language uses a Latin Script]. So in Ethiopia, it’s very difficult to live in a refugee camp.
How did you feel when you first came to America? Were you excited? Very, very excited to come to America because America is a very large country and it is also democratic. So you can live, and you can learn, and everything is better. Very much so.
What is one thing you wished American people knew about refugees? I want to tell them that for refugees, every person when he comes first to America, there is a culture adjustment. He may not be expecting that America is like this. In America all the people are helping you, all the people are smiling, everybody’s happy. Ethiopia is not like this. Very simple, like, “Excuse me, sorry,” – everybody is saying it in America. This is wonderful. You do not see these kind of things in Ethiopia. At least when you see most of the people, you might think that all of them are angry… There are circumstances, most of them based on war, and that is why they came here [to America], for this sentiment.
When you came to America ten days ago, what did you think about the country? Was it what you expected? I’ve been expecting that it’s a very big country, there’s… a diversity of culture, religion, everything. I became happy when I first came. Also in Ethiopia they say there is a diversity of culture and religion, like this, but it’s not like this in Ethiopia….In America I think there is a full democracy, so I am happy.
What would you want to tell other people in your refugee camp about coming to America? They may have a conception about America when they are in the refugee camp. They may think America is like this, like this. There is snow, there are people. There may be some radical idea they believe, especially for Muslims. The Muslims, some have, not all of them, a radical idea about America, that America is chasing Muslim countries and destroying Muslim countries. They do believe such - a small amount of people do believe this. But I am going to tell them that idea is not real… Also, they know the humanity. America is welcoming all refugees, I think. Now, I know many religious people, those from Iraq, Afghanistan, many other countries. So I am going to tell them that there is a democracy in America, so I hope they will be happy when they come. They will see when they arrive.
What idea do people in your country have of America? A number of people in Ethiopia and Somalia are very eager to go to America… A number of people in Ethiopia and in the refugee camp, a number of Somali people are very eager to come to America, especially the youth, because they want to get a basic education. Also a better life. So a number of people are very eager to come.
Are you looking for a job? I have been here for ten days; still I haven’t gotten my social security card. As soon as I get my social security card, I will look for a job.
Did you come here with your family? Almost all of my family was killed in the Somalia civil war in 1998. I was the only one who survived from an attack on our house. My father, brothers, and mother were killed there. So I lived with another family, those were our neighbors… so I have no other family, but they raised me, so they are my family. But they didn’t come yet to America.
Are they going to come? Yes, they are in the process.