By Farrah Fazal
The bitter Minnesota cold was like Heaven for the last month for three refugees. They came from the largest refugee camp in the world in Kenya. They are celebrating their arrival here.
Hasan, Basra and their son Abdirahman came to reunite with their son Suud a few days before Christmas. They believe they got here just in the nick of time. They were worried President-elect Donald Trump could change immigration policy and prevent Muslims and refugees from entering the U.S.
Their son Suud Olat worried about that too as he drove from St. Cloud to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on a subzero night in the darkest of evenings, in the coldest of December days, before the longest night of the year.
“This was a long journey, long journey,”Suud said. It was the journey of more than 1826 days. “I’ve been waiting for my family five years now,” he said.
Olat, his sister Fatumo, and their relative Nesteho are all refugees from Somalia. They all grew up in the Dadaab, the Kenya refugee camp. Olat was less than a year old when his parents escaped the Somali civil war to go to Kenya.
“We came to Kenya dreaming peace would prevail, that never happened living there for 21 years,” said Olat.
Suud and Fatumo got refugee status and settled in Minneapolis, where the biggest Somali population in the country lives.
“I was hoping my family would join me in a few days me, but the the process is very very difficult for refugees,” said Olat.
A few days, turned into five years. The wishes, hopes and dream of those five years were not just 30 minutes away at the end of an airport hallway where Olat waited for his parents.
“I can’t wait to hug them and kiss them and welcome to the United States,” he said excitedly.
Suud and Fatumo’s brother and parents were going to walk through the doors into a world they’d never experienced. The lights and the sliding doors would be foreign to them. Suud and his sister waited patiently but it seemed the time was just not moving as quickly anymore in the last minutes before their plane was scheduled to arrive.
Olat paced back and forth in front of the sliding doors. It’s easy to be lonely in a crowd. Every time the doors opened and closed, it was a second closer. But something wonderful happened while Olat was waiting.
“Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate,” said a stranger to Olat. “Happy new year, happy new year,” Olat told the stranger, hugging her. She said she came to wish him after she heard him talking about his parents arrival.
“You’re going to make me cry,” she told Olat. Her name was Linda. Maybe there are no strangers, in our sharing and caring. “That makes me feel home, that makes me love Minnesota more than ever,” said Olat of Linda’s selfless gesture.
He went back to pacing in front of the sliding doors. It’s hard to stand still when time doesn’t fly. Suddenly, the arrival board showed Olat’s parents had landed.
“It’s like a dream come true,” he excitedly said. “Only a few seconds, my heart beating my heart beating, cant wait,” he added as he moved closer to the sliding doors. He finally saw them. “Here they come, they are here!”
The wait was over. Olat and his sister and relative hugged his parents and brother tightly. They all stood in a small circle holding each other.
“My dad said regardless it’s winter or cold, finally I met you and I’m extremely happy,”said Olat as he wheeled his parents’ luggage.
His parents left 100-degree days in the Dadaab refugee camp before they landed at MSP. His brother said the last thing he saw in the camp was his aunt, waiving and crying. Olat’s parents and brother were about to walk out to the airport garage. They weren’t prepared for the 20-below zero temperature that awaited them. His brother picked up snow for the first time. “It’s so cold,” he said.
It didn’t matter. The darkest of nights, on the coldest of days before the longest night of the year didn’t matter anymore. The road to remembering and making better days was ahead of them. The Kenya government is shutting down the camp in the next several months. Half a million people, mostly Somalis,will be deported back to Somali after 25 years.