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Abdi Nor Iftin

Visiting Writer 2019

About Abdi Nor Iftin

When the civil war in Somalia began, Abdi Nor Iftin was five; he and his brother became the sole providers for the family while they also attended a madrassa. Amidst the daily shelling and the famine, Abdi had one escape: American movies and music. At neighborhood showings of RamboCommando, and The Terminator, Abdi learned of America, and taught himself English, and began to dream of a life in the United States.  

In Call Me American, Iftin recounts his harrowing, extraordinary, and uplifting story. His love of western culture and music earned him the name “Abdi American.” This became a liability when Islamic extremism took hold of Somalia. Evading conscription by al-Shabaab while secretly filing stories for NPR under penalty of death, he stayed in Somalia until he had no choice but to flee. He smuggled himself into Kenya, where a different but grinding life of hopelessness awaited. He spent days hiding silently in an apartment from raids by Kenyan police, once passing time reading The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump. And then, a stroke of incredible luck: he won the Diversity Visa Lottery.  

Now a proud and legal resident of Maine and on the path to citizenship this year, Abdi is attending a university in Maine, and working on a film about his book. He volunteers with his immigrant community in Maine, he translates for people with limited English.

Today’s America and the travel/immigration ban worry Abdi, a Muslim; as he writes, his brother, still in Kenya, is now often the one comforting him. Abdi’s dramatic, deeply stirring memoir is truly a story for our time: a vivid portrait of the desperation refugees seek to escape and a reminder of why western democracies still beckon to those looking to make a better life.

More About Abdi Nor Iftin

Garcia-Navarro, Lulu. "Somali Refugee Abdi Nor Iftin: 'I Am Here To Make America Great'." NPR, June 10, 2018.

"I was six years old when the civil war started, militias started pouring into the city, and death and killings and torture, and I just cried. The smell of Mogadishu, it was just the smell of gunpowder. And that had been sticking with me forever ... I think this is the most touching memory that I can remember, to have our youngest sister die, and we said, "Good. That is so easy for her," and then I was jealous. I was jealous because that was the time when our feet were swollen, our bellies were empty. It was a feeling that you could die any time ... and I looked at my other sister, and she was just eating sand. And I think that's the stories that people don't hear about."

Amanpour, Christiane. "Fleeing Violence and Chasing the American Dream." CNN.

Back in Somalia, Abdi's love of America earned him the moniker "Abdi the American." He shares the treacherous journey it took to get him to the U.S., chronicled in his book "Call me American."

Constantineau, Jane. "Call Me American: A Memoir." New York Journal of Books, June 19, 2018.

Told simply and well, Iftin’s story explains the incredible bravery and hope necessary to live in the crosshairs of war and to find a way out.

Smith, Frank. "Against tremendous odds, Abdi Nor Iftin made it from war-ravaged Somalia to America." Portland Press Herald, July 18, 2018.

"My parents spent most of their early marriage walking through the bush with their herds, remembering places by the trees. They walked miles every day into no-man’s territory. No one stopped them or asked who they were [ . . . ] In some ways the nomadic life is more like life in America than the way Somalis live in cities. In the bush Somali men and women work together, talk freely with each other, and even play games together.