By Khadija Abdillahi Sheikh
Anyone who graduated from Amoud University regardless of their major will tell you that along with their academic degree, they earned a degree in Life. Experiencing Amoud, with all the sweet-sour moments, the disappointments and triumphs are far more rich and complex to be justifiably narrowed into a narrative of any sort. And even though I’ve avoided writing about it since my graduation, this piece has been a long time coming. I owe it to many who keep asking “What have you written lately?”
My journey at Amoud was enlightening, to say the least. Coming from a sheltered background behind heavily guarded high walls of a compound in Saudi Arabia, the ‘Iska wax u qabso’ survival of the fittest way of life was new to me. In four years, crisscrossing between extreme emotions; I learned to live, to love, to laugh, and most importantly I learned to learn.
On day one of being a freshman, my brother told me that we had to walk to The Sheikh Ali Jawhar Campus. I knew that this was going to be challenging and turns out that was just the beginning. At that time no public transportation whatsoever was available inside the city. Other than the buses that took us to Amoud some kilometers outside the city, we had to walk everywhere else. In Riyadh, we never walked anywhere unless to experience walking, it was optional, a luxury if you may. I spent the next four years just walking!
There’s an Arabic proverb that says: “Eat what you like, but dress as the people desire’’. I never believed it. Neither did my friends who had also moved to Amoud from Arabian countries. We were ridiculed by locals and some students over our attire, the black Abaaya: “Why are you all dressed like that, is it a uniform?” They’d giggle. My Nikes were also deemed too manly for a girl to wear: “It’s not like you are in the military!” Some would shout. My glasses were a statement on their own. “Are you blind? Why do you wear glasses all the time?” It’s funny though that by my senior year, wearing glasses, Abayas and female running shoes were considered chic.
Then there was the language barrier. I could barely understand the language, let alone speak it. And the issue with Somali people is, if you cannot speak their language fluently, it doesn’t matter that you are a Rocket Scientist, they will identify you as a simpleton. I also had this preconception that Somalis couldn’t speak or understand Arabic. So I’d freely comment on a person standing in front of me believing they had no idea what I was saying and, to my dismay, they did. I could have gotten into a lot of trouble but I justified that I couldn’t comprehend what they were saying about me either so we were even.
I still remember how one of my senior classmates looked at me as I was enthusiastically telling a story to a group of friends and said “You’ve changed so much, you’re no longer that girl from my freshman class with the funny accent”. It was true that on graduation day I was a completely different person and although it wasn’t an easy transition, it was worthwhile.
I was lucky enough to attend a Somali literature course instructed by the Legendary Mohamed Hashi Dhamac (Gaariye), twice. Even though, I was a freshman the first time around and I didn’t understand half of what he was saying, his engagement was captivating. A senior at the time volunteered to translate to my friend and me the entire class, but translated jokes lose their flavor. So, we laughed when everybody else was laughing and joined the abrupt applause devotedly. My senior year, when I took the Somali Literature course I could understand a good 80% of it. My favorite part was when he’d recite a verse from two different poems one in Arabic, the other in Somali, both reflecting the same meaning. Before that, I was exposed to Somali literature in song. A miserable sounding man humming about how his beloved is his liver, lungs and eye lids, I used to cringe at the thought of what sounded like a human anatomy narrative. But Mr. Gaariye taught us how rich our language is, opened our eyes to a different perspective and made us fall in love with Af Soomaliga. I still have my notebook from that class and I truly believe that Mr. Gaariye is a national treasure.
It is true that at Amoud we matured and flourished into our full potential. I believe I speak for many when I say that this marvelous beacon of discipline and hard work helped shape who we are forever. Yet, it wasn’t always Utopia for the knowledge seekers and claiming that it was completely free of corruption would be false. There were difficult times, there were unbearable times. There were times that made me feel like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders; still I prevailed. There had been incidents were one would question the integrity of the people in charge. These conflicts taught me to stand up for my rights, to have a voice of my own and for many others. No one can guarantee that an educational journey will be free of strife and struggle. Still these faults were triggered by the human factor, and it has been said that “To Err is human, to forgive is divine’’. At Amoud we learned to forgive and forget on a daily basis.
Like a beehive Amoud functioned nonstop. Every individual knew what was expected of them and when. Of course with the exception of the occasional slacker, everyone was busy preparing for class or exams. We were either in class or discussing a class, taking an exam or discussing an exam. It was a never ending cycle.
I was amazed by the management’s ability to coordinate some hundred students with so little space and such limited resources and still make it work. The bus schedule for example was like a military decree. If your class was not assigned to that shift, no matter how hard you batted your eyelids or if you hid behind someone in the back chair, you would be asked to get off the bus.
Somaliland as a country can learn a lot from that establishment. At one point we were more than 10 individuals living in one house each from a different background and region in Somaliland and Somalia. We had our disagreements but at the end, we learned to accept each other and treat each other as family, after all we did live under the same roof.
Today, five years later, whenever I run into a seemingly familiar face that calls me with the nickname “Dija” as I realize that it is a fellow Amoudi, I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia. I met many individual during that journey that I’m proud to be associated with. I believe that Amoud has produced extraordinary individuals from politicians to businessmen and most importantly teachers. Amoud contributed to my growth as an individual, those four years of my life were defining. As I listened to the speech of Prof. Sulieman on the launching of The Amoud University Alumni Association, I was very emotional, his words hit home. “We are one tribe” He said. And as he explained to us what it took to run the machine that contributed to structuring the individuals that we are today, I wanted to say “We appreciate it all”.
By Khadija Abdillahi Sheikh