Raaz for MMW: I found Nomad Diaries a wonderful introduction to the lives of Somali women living in the United States. There were times where I was reminded of my own immigrant grandmother and mother as I read about Nadifo’s life. As I mentioned in my review of Nomad Diaries, I am not familiar with stories that portray an African refugee woman’s journey to the United States presented in literature. What inspired you to write your novel?
Yasmeen Maxamuud: Nomad Diaries came out of my desire to tell stories about the Somali diaspora community. I started writing about seven years ago out of a desire to communicate an issue in an article. Then came a plethora of reading about African affairs, and I didn’t like what was out there. Everyone had an opinion on Africans, but the African voice was lacking. At the time, I was reading a lot of gloomy books about Africa. Few that come to mind are King Leopold’s Ghost, about the Congo; and The Graves are Not Full about Rwanda. As I read these books, I began having one-way conversations with myself and I started asking questions. These responses became long accounts of my opinion about certain issues, like poverty, corruption, nepotism, and tribalism in Africa.
As I was grappling with my African identity, 9/11 happened, and my entire world as I knew it changed. As I emerged from my new world as a baffled African Muslim, I looked for books that spoke to me, and there were none. I wanted to read about the Somali diaspora community, I wanted books that were written by people from home and, in particular, I wanted to read books from a Somali woman’s perspective. When I didn’t find “me” in a positive light in books that were in bookstores, I decided to write so that those similar to me with questions may find some answers.
I questioned many endearing parts of my culture. One central question that kept ringing in my mind was “If we have such a beautiful Somali culture as was sold to me as a child, why are my people slaughtering each other?” In a nutshell, it’s the reason I wrote Nomad Diaries: to answer these questions for myself and to contribute to Somali literature from woman’s perspective.
Another reason for writing the book is to share our rich literature with non-Somali readers so that Somali literature is not an isolated literature in the corridors of the Somali community only but one shared by a larger global community. I wanted to give readers a viewpoint of African women they may not have encountered before.
MMW: I am struck by the image of a Somali woman on the cover of the novel: we see her back as she crosses a bridge (Book cover pictured left). Why is this Somali woman on the cover of the book?
YM: The woman on the cover of the book represents Somali women both traditional and modern. She is dressed in a traditional garb called sadex qayd. This is the traditional dress for Somali women in the countryside. My sister designed this particular sadex qayd for her wedding in America.
As for the cover photograph, I wanted to capture the essence of a Somali woman moving forward while looking back into the past. The quintessential Somali woman in the American diaspora is one at the helm of her present life while continuously looking back into what she has lost in the civil war. Likewise, I desired for the cover to capture the past, the traditional, and the present modern Somali woman.