OPINION: Survivor of Somali Civil War Establishes Love, Work and Home in Seattle

by Maggie Wilson

Fadumo Daud heard a bomb coming, but she could not escape it.

She was a child then, with her younger sister beside her. Those who heard the bomb coming either ran or laid themselves down.

“(When bombs near) people go somewhere they think is safe,” Fadumo said.

Today, Fadumo lives in Seattle’s Columbia City, with her loving husband, Ahmed, and sons, Abdullah, Abdulrahman and Mubashir.

Her middle son is 8 years old — the same age this year as she was in Somalia during the Civil War in 1991.

Fadumo juices carrots in bright mornings for her boys. Over winter, she took them to the Pacific Science Center.

“It’s so beautiful there,” she said. In the Center’s tropical butterfly room, royal blue and red calico butterflies land on cinnamon and cocoa trees, nervous shoulders.

Fadumo said the science center is one of her favorite places in Seattle. She was given tickets from the Seattle Milk Fund, an organization she’s a student with. Through Seattle Milk Fund, she’s able to care for her children while finishing her education.

She’s earning a bachelor’s degree in respiratory care at Seattle Central College.

When we talk about why she studies respiratory therapy, Fadumo says her path to medicine began in 1991 – and she takes us to the day.

Civil war in Somalia

Today, Fadumo is somewhere safe. But her journey to Seattle was treacherous. She believes she arrived because of her faith in God, her family, help from people on her path – and her strength.

When Fadumo was 8 years old, she lived happily with her mother and five younger siblings in Somalia.

Then war came. It seemed inconceivable that a small militia would permanently wipe out the government. But the war worsened; the president of Somalia fled. And suddenly, there was no running water, no regulation, no electricity.

Fadumo’s family could not flee. Around their house, bullets screamed.

Her young mother Sadiyo said, “If I take all these kids, I don’t know how to survive on this road.”

The youngest baby was only months old.

One day, Sadiyo had to search for food.

Fadumo and her 7-year-old sister Faiza left their siblings at home and went out to search for clean water.

Hands full, jugs full of water

Fadumo and Faiza carried plastic jugs.

They embarked to their auntie’s house. Fadumo knew of a well there. Three other girls joined.

They couldn’t walk the streets, where gunfire whined without break. Instead, they walked along a wall. When the girls arrived at their auntie’s, the house was crowded, and they could see only strangers. They left to find water elsewhere.

They passed a mansion under construction. A man was in the doorway, watching.

The watchman called to the girls. He saw the jugs and offered water from a well there.

The girls were full of joy. They lined up and the man filled their jugs with fresh water.

Then, in the air – there was the distinct sound of an incoming bomb.

“We heard the noise. But it was coming to us directly,” Fadumo said. “There was nothing we could have done differently.”

The house was unfinished. They were standing on rugs. When the bomb hit, everything became shrapnel. The rugs crawled up legs, burning them.

The explosion hit the watchman and Faiza.

“They became pieces,” Fadumo said. “My sister and him – their bodies became unknown.”

Fadumo’s leg split in two. She was the first to wake from unconsciousness.

“I opened my eyes,” she said. “All I see is white ash. … I don’t hear anybody screaming, anybody talking. I just hear, ‘eh, eh.’ Somebody is making little noise. I think my sister was dying.”

Fadumo stood and fell. She thought of her family. As the oldest child, she felt responsible for helping them.

On her injured leg, she crawled through small rocks to an outdoor gate. At the gate, she screamed for help. But everyone was running for their lives. Running, passing.

A man eventually helped her.

He put her inside of a wheelbarrow and ran. Everything went blank. Fadumo woke up on a table at the hospital.

Finding Fadumo

The sun was setting when Sadiyo, Fadumo’s mother, returned with food.

She saw neighbors in the yard and asked God, “Help me. Whatever happened to my children. If they all died, give me the strength to bury them. If there are some left for me, please help me through this. I will never cry. Please leave me some.”

Sadiyo learned Faiza died and Fadumo was at a hospital, but no one knew which.

Sadiyo and strong men took the bathroom door off its hinges and stripped the bedsheet off her bed.

She and neighbors walked to the mansion, carrying the bedsheet and door. There, they found Faiza, the watchman and another young girl dead.

Two other girls had survived and lost their hands.

Sadiyo and neighbors buried Faiza and the little girl who died together in the ground.

After the burials, Sadiyo found Fadumo.

“My mom came, and she kissed me from the top,” Fadumo said. “And she said, ‘You’re going to be fine. I’m here. I found you.’”

They had to amputate Fadumo’s left leg.

She remembers braiding her hands together in prayer and promising, “God, if you save my life today, I will help your needy ones.”

Taking refuge in Kenya, then Seattle

Sadiyo soon decided the family needed to flee Somalia. Fadumo was still recovering.

The family had to walk, and they took turns helping Fadumo.

They reached a refugee camp in Kenya and lived there until they were processed as refugees to Seattle.

It was 1996.

“God saved me,” Fadumo said. “Everything comes from God. I think my purpose was to come here (to Seattle) and have a life.”

In Seattle, Fadumo visited a doctor for the first time since her leg was amputated. Doctors at Harborview inspected the wound and found an infection.

They said her leg would have to be re-amputated.

A nurse at Harborview, who lost her leg in a boating accident, came to Fadumo to show her a prosthetic.

“She walked in,” Fadumo remembered. “And she showed me her leg, and she was wearing a sandal. And I was so excited. I said, ‘I could wear that sandal, and I could get that leg, and I could walk again with sandals. Yes, I will do the surgery.’”

In 1997, they re-amputated her leg and gave her a prosthetic.

She has walked ever since.

To this day, she still visits the practitioner who fitted her with her new leg at his home in Gig Harbor.

A desire to help others the way she was helped

“I’ve seen people, coming from left and right helping me through, helping me walk again,” Fadumo said.

It’s why she studies medicine.

After graduating high school in Seattle, she worked for years as a caregiver.

She remembers one night sleeping with her second baby, when he was very little, and musing, “I need to fulfill my promise to God that I will help serve humanity.”

She went back to school. She studied through pregnancy, the birth of a child and her mother-in-law’s breast cancer diagnosis.

“She was having a hard time breathing at the end,” Fadumo said of her mother-in-law. “I see breath – and I see that we take it for granted.”

She reflected both on her mother-in-law’s struggle breathing and her struggle breathing when she was a child in the hospital in Somalia. She was moved to study respiration.

Needing childcare in Seattle to study, reach dreams

While searching for affordable childcare, Fadumo found the Seattle Milk Fund, and quickly saw how their Family Connections Program would make finishing college possible. Her boys would have their own educational opportunities, while she attended classes and did additional clinical work.

She applied to the Seattle Milk Fund and was accepted in 2017.

“I was so happy,” said Fadumo. “It gave me safety and security to continue my education. … I have to work hard and the life I left behind is still imprinted in my mind.”

Fadumo plans to graduate in June this year.

“I want my children to look back and see what I did in my life, and look how far I came,” Fadumo said. “From the war, my education. And take notice of that and say, ‘If my mom did, I can do it, too.’”

In January, she worked with two of her sons, now 8 and 9 years old, on a Heritage Day poster. She is beginning to introduce them to her childhood.

Her son Abdulrahman was asked by his teacher, ‘If you go to Somalia, what do you most want to see?’

And he said, “the monuments” and where his Aunt Faiza is buried.

Fadumo’s future

Fadumo says her drive to serve others could manifest as work with prosthetics, respiration or international war activism. It may also be a melding of medicine and politics.

What’s important to her is that the work makes a positive difference.

Of her friends who survived the bomb and lost their hands, she said in Somalia people with scars of war or similar losses aren’t socially accepted. Disabilities, missing limbs and mental illness cause people to treat you differently, she said.

The two unmarried sisters now live together.

“One is missing the right hand and one is missing the left hand,” Fadumo said. “They wash clothes, cook, and support each other, one hand to another.”

She hopes to work with survivors of war and survivors of trauma, and also to find ways to give back to those in Somalia.

Today, she studies and works hard, raises her sons and thanks God for her blessings.

She, her husband and three sons sit and eat Somali Anjero in their South Seattle home. They pass the sweet bread, one hand to another, around the table.

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Featured Image: Courtesy Photo by Renee Banks.