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New American Voices: A Somali Immigrant Makes Columbus His Home

Liban Bule
Liban Bule

Thousands of immigrants call Columbus home.  In conjunction with WOSU-TV’s documentary Columbus Neighborhoods – New Americans, 89.7 is profiling immigrants who have settled here.  In the latest installment of 89.7’s New American Voices series, WOSU's Sam Hendren speaks with a man who came to Columbus from war-torn Somalia.

Columbus is home to the second largest Somali immigrant population in the U.S.   Experts say about 45,000 Somalis call the city home. LibanBule says Columbus’ good reputation fueled the influx.

“Our greeting in the language of the Somali, it’s ‘Give me the news.’  Constantly people are walking around and so whomever you see, the first question you ask is ‘Give me the news,’ that’s our national greeting in the Somali language. And I will tell you nomadic people always want to know where this person has been.  So that if he had been in a better place – a place where the rain dropped – then you can go and move your people to that place,” Bule says.

Bule’s journey to America was sparked by the outbreak of Somalia’s Civil War in 1991. 

“In 1991, I remember it was Sunday morning.  My mother woke me up to go to school.  I couldn’t go to school because there was heavy artillery shelling there.  And my mother decided it’s time to go.  It’s time to leave the city of Mogadishu and go to any other city that’s safer than Mogadishu. 

The violence finally got so bad the family decided to walk into neighboring Kenya – to safety.  But the trip, Bule says had its own dangers.

“You don’t know whether you can see the sun in the morning and when you see the sun in the morning the other question you ask yourself is, ‘Will you see the nightfall tonight?’ Because it’s unknown what will happen to you during your long travel.  There’s a lot of wild animals there; a lot of bandits, people who would rob you and kill you, so, the only thing we had in our mind was to go to a safer place.”

The family made it to Mombasa and for most of the ‘90s, Bule lived in the Utanga Refugee Camp with nearly 100,000 others. In 1998 he headed to the U-S.

“The United States is a place of good opportunity where you can continue your education, where you have security.  The refugee camps were temporary.  We either wanted to go back to our homes, if it became safe, or go to a better place to continue our dreams,” he says.

When he finally reached New York, Bule reached out to relatives and friends about where he should settle.  Columbus was at the top of the list.

“What we do as a community is that we make phone calls.  We call people who we know, some relatives that happen to be here in Columbus so I made a phone call and they said just come on, come to Columbus.”

That was 18 years ago.  Bule says he loves the city for a number of reasons. 

“It’s a very diversified city.  The people are very open; whatever color you belong to, whatever religion you have, it’s an amazing city.  It’s a city where I can say that I haven’t felt homesick since I’ve been here in 1998,” Bule says.

“If I want to go to a Somali restaurant, there are plenty of Somali restaurants.  We have plenty of mosques here, we have plenty of recreation centers so [indistinct] so it’s a good place to live,” he says.

Bule has three children now.  He often tells them how fortunate they are to live in the U.S.

“You have a school bus and come home and you have lights and electricity and running water.  Imagine that you are a student, 11 years old, who lives in a refugee camp.  No shoes.  And the sun is torching them.  It’s like 120 degrees.  And that student goes to school every morning like you because he wants or she wants to become someone like you.”

He also works with other Somali youth in Central Ohio.  He also tells them how lucky they are to be in the U.S.

“I always share with them how lucky they are.  They have the resources.  When I was born, I was born under the tree.  We didn’t have a hospital and all of that.  So I always tell them that you guys are very lucky to be born in America and make sure that you take every advantage you are given because you will make sure that those given opportunities you will contribute back to this great nation,” Bule says. 

Support for New American Voices comes from Ohio Humanities.