The author’s journey to make her “Somali side just as strong as my American side” inspired a new educational tool.
by Nura Ahmed
Fadumo Bulale has always been a third-culture kid. Born in the United Arab Emirates in the 1980s, she moved to Somalia when she was very young only to flee the country during the civil war. She moved first to Kampala, Uganda, then to Seattle when she was 13 years old. Having spent her childhood in three separate countries, her sense of identity and belonging felt scrambled because of being “too Somali for the people here and being too American for the people back home,” Bulale said.
Now, Bulale works as an education, equity, and special needs consultant and advocate based in South Seattle. She works with nonprofits, schools, and day cares all over the Seattle area to help them understand the importance of making sure every child is educated effectively. Bulale recently debuted her children’s activity book, My Somali and English Activity Book 1. The book is suitable for anyone wanting to learn Somali, and especially for Somali American children who may long for connection to their heritage.
Given her story, Bulale struggled with feeling like she never truly belonged. Now a mom to four kids, Bulale wanted to make sure her children had a strong identity of their own. She understands both the impacts of uprooting children and the sacrifices made by parents who want to make sure their children have a better life than they had. Bulale knows how vital it is to bring together all parts of you, even those left behind from growing up in a completely different environment from your parents — an environment where certain parts of you are better forgotten than remembered. She protects her children’s well-being and makes sure it is accounted for, especially at times when they are targeted for just being themselves.
In the midst of the pandemic in 2020, Bulale took it upon herself to help remind her children of the importance of remembering what makes them who they are and making sure their education helped them get in touch with parts of themselves they had never known. “Learning about traditions and cultures, storytelling, folklore, myths, and all those things, you know, are important for me to teach my children.” She home-schooled all of her children, creating their curriculum herself. “We opted for a home-schooling route and unschooling in the sense of just decolonizing the way we interact with education and being intentional with what we want our children to learn,” Bulale said. But the real unlearning and reconnection didn’t start until she brought her children to Somalia for 11 months, allowing them to experience and taste every part of their Somali identity. “During COVID, my husband and I were able to take the time … to do a live experience in Somalia for 11 months. It truly was the best experience for my children and for myself, and it was so rewarding,” Bulale said.
Bulale believes that, oftentimes, growing up in a different country means a different experience from your parents’, and often puts you in a position where you have to leave the experience your parents raised you with at the door. Growing up in America was just that for Bulale and her children. But that trip to Somalia was life-changing because it felt like a homecoming. She left Somalia when she was so young, with the country in shambles. To return with her children meant that those parts of her that she had ignored for so long, that had called out to be remembered, will always be answered and tended to. “And a lot of it came from, I think, just the way we left our country. Just in a rush and in a war-torn country, in a refugee way, you know, and it felt like I didn’t properly process, and for me, that was a lot,” Bulale said.
Finally feeling this integration of her Somali identity was profound, and had similar effects for her children in being able to reconcile long-ignored parts of themselves. “I want them to know the Somali part of themselves and feel secure in that part, which is what I’m always trying to create for myself,” Bulale explained.
Due to the heartwarming experience she had in Somalia, Bulale felt called to write an activity book, My Somali and English Activity Book, that people both back home and here will be able to effectively utilize. The workbook helps children learn the Somali language. Language being the one thing that brings us all together, an indication of our culture and who we are, and a tool that can be passed down through generations became her inspiration. She saw how her children learning their native tongue has brought them closer to their Somali identity and has given her the reassurance she needed that that identity has never truly left her. “[Knowing] the language and being able to read has opened a huge thing for me, especially as a very avid reader. I’m always looking for new things and books written in Somali; oh my god, there’s such a plethora of interesting stories and experiences, “ Bulale said.
My Somali and English Activity Book 1 is the first in a three-book series, written in Somali and English. It consists of flashcards and a physical book that can be used by day cares, schools, and homes all over Seattle and the country. Bulale sees the book as a chance for children and anyone like her to connect with their roots, aspects of themselves that have been left behind because they were forced to acclimate to a new country. She believes that through this book and through her efforts in creating culturally responsive education and materials, more and more people will never have to feel like they have let go of something that makes them who they are.
Bulale believes that just as two things can coexist, being a part of the diaspora doesn’t mean that you have to erase your Somali-ness just so you can finally be accepted as an American. Who you are fully means accepting all parts of yourself that have been inside of you. “Me practicing my native tongue and connecting to my roots became an extension for myself,” Bulale said. “I want my Somali side to just be as strong as my American side. I think, as a result, it has given me a sense of confidence and a sense of stability to know that both parts of myself will always be with me.”
Nura Ahmed is an organizer, writer, and artist based in Seattle and South King County.
📸 Featured Image: Fadumo Bulale (left) spent her childhood among three different countries, but it’s through language that she found a way to integrate her identities, without sacrificing the strength and wisdom of any one. Her new activity book helps children learn Somali, something she has firsthand knowledge of within her own family. (Photo courtesy of Fadumo Bulale)
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!