Somali poetry in the digital age

“Whenever I had fights with other students in school, or even when we joked with each other, they never missed the opportunity to bring up Somalia in a negative way,” poet Zahra Abdihagi recalls the stereotypes she lived with growing up in Canada.

“There were constant jokes about pirates and poverty which made me feel embarrassed so I decided to take an interest in Somali culture and history and I discovered that we have a rich culture and that poetry is a huge part of the Somali culture, which made me connect with my roots even more.”

Zahra was born in Canada and had never seen the country of her parents until six years ago when she took “the big decision to return”. Her journey to Somalia was inspired by a mission to explore and experience the “Somalia the media never shows you”.

“When I first came to Mogadishu, I was expecting violence and chaos, but I found stories of hope and inspiration,” she said.

And so she decided to change the narrative and share positive stories using poetry. “I always had a passion for poetry but I never shared my poems publicly,” she said.

But her friends and colleagues at work noticed her poetic talent and encouraged her to go public.

In 2019, she wrote a special poem to celebrate women in mine action, which she performed at an international summit on mine action in Geneva. “It was my first poetry performance in front of people,” she said. “They liked my poem and I even had the opportunity to meet the Somali Ambassador to Geneva, who invited me to her office, as well as a government official from Canada. They were both happy for me to be representing Somalia and Canada.”

These are the first few lines from that poem: 

Silenced by one loud bang, she gazed through the desert with eyes full of sand.

Birds were flying and clouds were passing

But at that moment

She felt the earth’s movement stopping

The sun was shining but just not in her direction

Her heart ran faster than her legs

Her body turned cold

She couldn’t comprehend the sound she had just heard.

Currently, Zahra leads a team of 20 young Somali storytellers who were trained by UNDP on digital skills to generate powerful stories about development initiatives in their local communities.

Zahra waxay ku soo kordhisay gabayga Soomalida farsamo casri ah oo ay ku soo gudbsio maansadeeda qaab muuqaal ah oo xambaarsan fariimo muhiim ah. Taasina waxaa tusaale u ah filim ay goordhow soo saartay oo la magac baxay “Dhalinyarada hagaysa mustaqbalka Soomaaliya.”

Ereyadaan ayaa ka mid ah gabay ku jiro filimkaas:

“We are the gems of this nation, diamonds in the rough

Caught up in decades of war, sculpted from hardship

but still beautiful like rose buds.

Shadows tend to follow us around, humming songs of the dead

but they can’t deny us the light of a new dawn and a new day.”

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