Bantu families adapting to U.S.

LEWISTON — Hawa Khamis motions to her throat and says through an interpreter that hunger was a constant problem at the refugee camp in Kenya.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Hawa Khamis with her two grandsons, Hassam Mohamed, 12, left, and Ibrahim Mohamed, 14.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Ambiya Bule

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Jama Warsame

It's where her son still lives, which is why Khamis, 69, is the legal guardian of her grandsons, Ibrahim Mohamed, 14, and Hassam Mohamed, 12. The boys' mother died in Africa. Their father, her son, has been in the refugee camp for 15 years.

“If you can bring him here, that would be great,” she said through an interpreter.

Khamis and her grandsons joined the Somali Bantu Youth Association of Maine to give her guidance adapting to a new culture, and help keep her grandsons on the straight and narrow. The boys help around the house, she said. They do some cooking, dishes and cleaning.

Khamis was born in Somalia and fled to Kenya because of war. She and some of her family went to Atlanta, Ga., then came to Lewiston in 2006.

Life at the camp was bad, she said.

“You never know if you're going to get something to eat tomorrow,” said Jama Warsame, a youth association leader.

Khamis can't read or write. In Somalia, she farmed. She wants more for her grandsons.

“I want them to get an education, to work,” she said. “With the help of God, I want them to be a doctor or teacher.”

Mother of five

Ambiya Bule, 34, is another parent involved in the Bantu Youth Association. She has five children, ages 1 to 14. She was born in Somalia, lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for 13 years, moved to Colorado in 2004, and to Lewiston in 2009.

She smiles broadly when she says she recently became a U.S. citizen.

Bule joined the association so her children could play soccer and keep out of trouble, and she could get help parenting in a new land.

“Here, there is no parenting for us,” she said through an interpreter.

Warsame explained that parents have lost the disciplinary ways they knew in Africa.

“It's different here,” he said. “Back home if they do something bad, we can use the cane or stick. But here, the only punishment we can do is talk to them.”

The look on Bule's face indicated that talking doesn't always work.

Through the association, parents are learning to set household rules and take away privileges, Warsame said. When his daughter misbehaves, he tells her she can't watch television. But the concept of grounding is new; it didn't exist in their old world.

Understanding the culture here is one of the biggest challenges for Somali Bantu families, Rilwan Osman said. Their children are adapting to American ways faster than their parents. Sometimes that's good; other times, it's not.

“The child has one culture; the parent has another,” Osman said. “They both come to the same house. It's like having two cultures in one house.”

Bule wants her children to be educated so they can read and write, "maybe become a professional soccer player, a doctor, and be active in the community.”

She doesn't want her children involved in juvenile crime.

“I don't want my kids to be part of that," she said. "I want them to learn.”

Youth leader

Warsame, 26, and his wife have five children, ages 2 months to 6 years. He works second shift.

He left Somalia in 1992 because of the war. He doesn't remember a lot about Somalia, but he remembers the refugee camp in Kenya, where he lived for 12 years and got some schooling.

For refugees who don't have anyone sending them money, “life is very hard,” he said. “You worry about food, violence. It's close to the border in Somalia. People come attack you because it's close. Every single day people get attacked. There's no police you can call.”

Children in families with money can get schooling; those without money do not, he said.

He's glad that now he doesn't have to worry about his children going to school.

“They have more than what I had,” he said. He hopes his oldest will be ready to graduate from high school 10 years from now. He speaks English well, but says his oldest daughter's English is better than his.

He volunteered to be a soccer coach, youth leader and translator to help others.

“The language barrier keeps the parents down,” Warsame said. “That's why we created the program for parents, to help explain what's going on.”

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.



 's picture


How many drinks have you had tonight? Just asking.


Take a minute

Take a minute to realize a few "hard" truths....the Somali's were brought here by Catholic Charities and left with no resources in this city to handle them. A few years ago the mayor asked for them to stop the influx in order for the city to get a handle on what resources were needed to assist the immigrants in adapting to this new culture and to assist the native population in understanding the Somali culture. He was attacked in the press for his letter just asking for time in order to help make adjustments easier all the way around. Somali parents did not learn the American ways as quickly as their children and in many instances Americans had to rely on the children to interpret for them when communicating with the adults. There was a lack of interpreters and still is to help with the language barrier. In some cases the children didn't interpret accurately (especially if it was because they had done something wrong). This led to many hard feelings between adults of both immigrants and natives. As far as the adults learning English and using it...there are many courses that teach the English language to the Somali population at no charge but there are no courses that I have been able to find to teach the Somali language to Americans. It has appeared over the years that the Somali people have received special consideration in many areas and that has also led to animosity between cultures. There are many Somali adults who would like to succeed in this country and many Americans who would like to see them succeed. I am one person who should be upset with the Somali population being here. My son has been threatened, bullied, attacked, chased, and called names by some of the Somali children. However, my concern isn't how my son was treated, my concern is what is becoming of this nation's children when parents are afraid to discipline their children out of fear of the "system", when the juvenile detention system is so overwhelmed it has to pick and choose who to charge and who to send to another organization for help, when police look at us and say "what do you want us to do about it", and when our schools are so overwhelmed by the numbers of non English speaking students that they can't take the time to actually teach our children what they need to know in order to not be a failing school in this state. Maybe we all need to take a hard look at these things and stop the name calling, the throwing of accusations of racism and bigotry, and maybe we need to find a part of the solution instead of putting the blame on one group of people or another.

 's picture

Huh, I missed that comment to

Huh, I missed that comment to me from good old visine. He must have snuck it in when he figured I had already lost interest lest he receive another spanking from me.

 's picture

It Takes Time

I am no fan of the idea of diversification for the sake of diversification. I wish the Catholic Charities of Maine would have found other ways to spend their time and money, and now I wish they spend more of it to help with the Somali immigrants. But...

How can we blame these Somali immigrants for wanting to make life better for their children and themselves? How can we blame them for fleeing refugee camps when given the opportunity? How can we blame them for fleeing hunger, poverty, and racial oppression? We are the ones with the torch burning in the harbor. The promise of religious and political freedom. The promise of of a better life. The promise of the American dream, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This is, as a nation, what we are all about. This is how and why our nation was founded. This is exactly what makes our nation great.

Let's give these people a chance for Pete's sake. We do not encourage them to assimilate by beating them down. We encourage them to assimilate by teaching them the meaning of the American dream, by showing them what is great about being an American, by showing them what is great about our American culture. We exasperate assimilation problems by being unkind.

Look back at the history of Irish immigrants too America. They were fleeing poverty, famine, and English oppression. They were unwanted, disliked, and cursed by the existing population. Now several generations later, we celebrate their heritage every year and some of our most venerated American families are of Irish descent.

What about the in-flux of French-Canadian immigrants? No jobs in Canada. Not enough fertile, affordable, farmland. They too saw the promise of America and came by the thousands. Many of that first generation still do not speak English, though they have been here for forty or fifty years or more.

Let's not expect more from the Somalis than we got from our own parents and grandparents. Give them a chance. Reach out to them with an open hand don't beat them down with the back of your hand. Peace.

 's picture

To Those Who Disagree...

Please post a response. Rebuff my opinion or defend yours. An intelligent discourse is what is needed. Not unmitigated hatred and bigotry. Let's talk.

 's picture

Send them back

yea send them back until they learn to speak OUR language and get a J.O.B

 's picture

It seems these rascals all

[This comment has been removed by the administrator]

 's picture

You must have a very vivid

You must have a very vivid imagination if anything in that comment was viewed as racist to you. Perhaps you need to seek professional help for your dillusions.

 's picture

moving here?

Let's see Atlanta to Maine Colorado to Maine ???? to Maine We must have the best welfare system.

 's picture

you live in a fantasy world

Don't tell me you are not bigoted. There's not a person on this planet that is not bigoted to some degree. It's been with us since the beginning of our time on this planet. You are to afraid someone may call you a bigot if you are not politically correct. Add years of political and media brainwahing to that. But then liberals live in a fantasy world. I grew up in a segragated world. You think segregation has to do with civil rights? Wrong, it has to do with big money and the real powers that be. They mixed the minorities and the white working class together in the same pot and stirred. They don't deal with or live with minorities, their underlings do. Make your home in the middle of the Samoli neighborhood, or Roxbury, Ma. or the Columbia Point section of Dorchester, Ma. and tell me you are not bigoted after that. You have no idea what real hate and bigotry is until you venture into their neighborhood. If you are not a bigot why do you not move to their neighborhood to do all your good things, instead of bringing them to my neighborhood and forcing them on me. I have dealt with minorities in the workplace for over forty years and have no problem with that. When i am away from the workplace i prefer to segregate. It is my right to do so and see nothing wrong with it. The vast majority of the races segregate away from the workplace. Call me a bigot, i could care less about what you think. PC is for over sensitive little girls. So what do you think of the real world? I challenge the LSJ editor police to not delete this. Or do they not care about both sides of the issue?


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...