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Monday, August 3, 2015

'Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man' by Abdi Aden with Robert Hillman

From the BLURB:

Abdi's world fell apart when he was only fifteen and Somalia's vicious civil war hit Mogadishu. Unable to find his family and effectively an orphan, he fled with some sixty others,heading to Kenya. On the way, death squads hunted them and they daily faced violence, danger and starvation. After almost four months, they arrived in at refugee camps in Kenya - of the group he'd set out with, only five had survived.

All alone in the world and desperate to find his family, Abdi couldn't stay in Kenya, so he turned around and undertook the dangerous journey back to Mogadishu. But the search was fruitless, and eventually Abdi made his way - alone, with no money in his pockets - to Romania, then to Germany, completely dependent on the kindess of strangers. He was just seventeen years old when he arrived in Melbourne. He had no English, no family or friends, no money, no home. Yet, against the odds, he not only survived, he thrived. Abdi went on to complete secondary education and later university. He became a youth worker, was acknowledged with the 2007 Victorian Refugee Recognition Award and was featured in the SBS second series of ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’.

Despite what he has gone through, Abdi is a most inspiring man, who is constantly thankful for his life and what he has. Everything he has endured and achieved is testament to his quiet strength and courage, his resilience and most of all, his warm-hearted, shining and enduring optimism.

Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man’ is the biography of Abdi Aden, written with Robert Hillman.

Abdi Aden’s story begins like any other – he’s a happy kid from a loving family, living in soccer-mad Somalia. Then in 1991 civil war breaks out in Mogadishu, and Abdi’s world falls apart.

What follows next is Abdi’s harrowing story of survival when, at just 15-years-old, he’s forced to flee the violence and death squads and make his way to Kenya.

I am lonely, I am exhausted. But for the fact that I desperately want to remain alive, I would be happy to die.

From there the journey takes a sickening twist, as the refugee camp turns out to be as dangerous as what Abdi has been fleeing from. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees sets up the camp in north-east Kenya, and it becomes the world’s biggest refugee camp; an indication of the scale of violence breaking out across Somalia. The camp was too dangerous for UNHCR and so abandoned, which left the refugees effectively looking at starvation and slow death – so Abdi fled again.

What follows is both an incredible story, and an incredible reminder of why stories like Abdi’s and those portrayed on SBS shows like ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’ are so important. Abdi’s story highlights the breakdown of the “system” when people get caught up in wars and violence – then the imaginary “queue” goes out the window, and the absolute breakdown of organisations designed to help refugees and asylum seekers buckles under the pressure and people are forced to survive any way they can.

Abdi’s survival story sees him searching for his family by making his way back to the Mogadishu he had run from – on the slim chance that he has not been left alone in this world. The story then tracks all over the globe – from Europe to Australia, where Abdi eventually settles into an extraordinary life and he makes the inspiring most of his freedom.

This is a remarkable story and a gripping read. I began reading, knowing the happy ending that awaits Abdi in Austraila (as he’s been doing a fantastic media turn, promoting his book) I still found myself riveted to the page, desperate to know what happened next in the chapters of his life …

The book also has quietly powerful moments of reflection, like when Abdi sees Frankfurt airport for the first time and is struck by the sheer wealth and hope in such a display of prosperity, in stark contrast to his Somalia;

Sure, I knew that Big Europe was rich, but this rich? No, no. When can Somalia be as rich as this? In a thousand years? That’s what’s so scary. Right now, our main industry is murder. Or maybe I’m too pessimistic. A few decades ago, Germany’s main industry was murder, to – more murders than in Somalia, many, many, many more. And the whole country was smashed to pieces, like Somalia. Maybe there’s hope for us.
And it’s probably a reflection of how much time Abdi spent in transit as a refugee, that one of his most powerful reflections upon arriving in Australia also happens at Melbourne airport, when he encounters racism for the first time and is made to feel like a criminal for the colour of his skin;

I’m going to learn in the years ahead that the whole of this continent of Australia once belonged to people whose skin colour was much darker than my own, and that they were considered (for the most part) to be of no importance to the white people who took their ancestral lands from them. And I will learn, too, of what was known as the ‘White Australia Policy’ and slogans such as ‘Australia for the white man’. But I come from a country where everyone is black or brown, coffee-coloured, chocolate-coloured, some blacker than boot leather. There is no discrimination in Somalia, not against dark-skinned people or fair-skinned people.

I appreciated that fact that Abdi spoke about his troubles in Australia – he was missing home and his family and this country wasn’t always welcoming. His side of the story rings so true, and makes those calls of “If you don’t like it – go back to where you came from!” all the more infuriating, because they fail to acknowledge how racist (sometimes even subversively so) Australia is, that those fleeing from extremely multi-cultural and diverse countries are made to always feel like outsiders in this country which should be their safe haven.

I’ve been saying ever since I finished this book that I’d like to see it on reading lists in high schools all over Australia. It’s such a powerful story – harrowing, of course – but also brimming with hope and celebration and important reflections on contemporary Australia culture.

Then I look around me at this big country I’ve come to, and I’m okay. I’m happy. I’m Nuurow, the Shining One. Parties, music, good food to eat, of course I’m happy. The last time I even glimpsed a soldier was in Bucharest. Where are the Australian soldiers? Haven’t seen one.

I loved this book, I cannot recommend it highly enough – it’s one of those books I want to get up on a soapbox about!


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