Short Story: The Ladies That Became My Grandmas

Growing up, we were the only members of our family that lived in the States. The ONLY ones. We would travel a lot to see our relatives, so we created a community and family amongst our neighbours. We didn’t have a huge Somali community around us, but at least we had one. My favorite habo lived across the ocean, in the same city as her habo and people always said we all resembled each other in many ways. At the age of nine, there wasn’t much I thought was similar but I appreciated the connection to these strong women.

I always turned to literature for connection and validation when I didn’t have people around me that could make me feel those things. In my early 20’s, I read a lot of Warsan Shire (then again, who didn’t?). Warsan had the courage to share a lot of things we Somali girls were too scared or pained to say out loud. As a Somali girl growing up in the late ’90s, we were controlled by xishood and therefore Warsan’s boldness made her our hero. I remember sending her tweets to a fellow ‘say wallahi’ youth and we were so thrilled that she understood us so well. She understood where we came from and where we were trying to go (autonomy and the perfect balance between say wallahi and you cool, yeah).

A couple years later, at my edo’s house, I would watch the Somali play titled “Hablayahow Hadmaad Guursan Doontaan” ( Females, When Will You Get Married) as my family insistently asked me when I’d get married. My edo was a part of the post-civil war jilbaab flow, so watching these ladies gloriously dance about the stage joyfully as their clothes swayed and gold shimmered was a sight to see.

Mogadishu in the 1980s would forever be a vibe and mood my generation would never be able to witness. But I replayed the track of the ladies singing about their dookh (their male preference) over and over until I understood every word.

Seeing the happiness on Saado’s face as she wore a sick pink jumpsuit and expressed how marriage was trash still gives me LIFE. Sis was living her best life, and who knew Somali women could live their best life. We were always stuck between family expectations and societal rules. Qamar Harawo was beautifully draped in gold with a shimmery dress that was as breezy as the values she expressed. She was here for a good time, not a long time and any man who had the pleasure of being around her better pay up, time was money. Feynuus Sh. Dahir, the alpha woman in charge of the liberated women proudly urged them on as she danced about the stage. Hibo Nuura’s subdued persona was a damper to their party but she exuded a confident strength. She sang, from the bottom of her belly that we must remember our culture and traditions. She was not here for the modernity Koolaid these women were drunk off of and urged them to remember their place as Somali women.

And this sentiment continued throughout the diaspora. Regardless of where you lived and or worked, you were a Somali woman and that came with an arsenal of expectations and rules. So, who could even imagine Warsan, the same Warsan that was lamenting over dating woes in the modern area, isolation and never feeling worthy, was on Beyonce’s Lemonade. The woman who gave us “For women who are difficult to love” was on THE Beyonce’s album, making her pain and our shame available to a mainstream audience. Queen Bey skillfully exposed all “her” skeletons while appreciating and highlighting the cultural norms of African diasporic societies and celebrating black women, reaffirming that only black women could bear out our pain and bring ourselves back to life.  

And while Saado, Qamar and Hibo Nuura reflected a positive vibe, Sahra Ahmed and Khadra Dahir always sang about the pains of love. Sahra Ahmed always felt like who my grandma would be, even though she and my father are contemporaries. They grew up in the same neighbourhood and I loved that we had one degree of separation. She always looked mean, yet so regal but that’s what I always liked so much about her. I love that she wore a gold crown when she performed and she always wore long dresses or dashikis and looked like an Afrocentric Queen.  

As much as Somalis love societal control, music about love and heartbreak allows us all to be as expressive as possible and feel a bit more human. Sahra and Khadra’s music and stories are a perfect way to show that the most beautiful things can come from the most painful experiences. The fact that both her and Khadra became so popular proves the necessity for this expression and vulnerability in our society. 

I was named after my great-grandmother but I never met my ayeeyo until I was 25. I went to Hargeisa trying to have some adventure and finally met the woman and people who were of the same blood as my mother. My ayeeyo and I have the same face, smile and have a striking balance of being compassionate but demanding. My grandmother would come from the village to come see me in the city, and every time we would meet, we’d hug for a long time and she’d pray over me.

Ayeeyo and I never listened to music together but anytime we were together we would gossip and laugh, and this was the easiest relationship I had to manage in this city.


Amina Isir Musa is a first-generation American-Somali who is committed to elevating and celebrating Somali culture and people. Her digital home is Isirka.com. She can be found chronologizing her love for Somali music at instagram.com/heesahasoomaaliyeed.

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