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 Rambo, Commando, 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.