Aden and Madina’s family in Springfield, Massachusetts
Aden has been working for two years as a landscaper and carpenter for Chris Carr Property Management in Springfield. He loves his job, and his co-workers admire him for his buoyant energy and can-do attitude. His employers have given him a small plot of land behind the building where he works, and he now grows tomatoes, melons, squash and beans for the first time since his escape from Somalia in 1991. He is also happy to have found a huge Muslim community in Springfield, as one of his main anxieties in coming to America was that he would not be able to practice his religion.
Aden’s wife, Madina, after struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, now seems to have adjusted to life in America. Two of her brothers and a sister have brought their families to settle in Springfield, providing a sense of community that is enormously helpful to Madina. As odd and confusing as life here seems to her, she is taking it in stride, drawing on her enormous pools of resilience and optimism.
Aden and Madina’s younger children are doing well in school, especially Hassan, now 9, and Hindia, now 6. The teenagers are still having a very difficult time of it. Adey, now 16, and Warsame, now 18, are struggling to stay in school in hopes of receiving their high school diplomas, but it is an uphill battle for them, as they had never gone to school before their arrival in America in 2004. Last year a lawsuit forced the Springfield school system to provide translators and to cluster the Somali Bantu students so that teachers could begin to teach them at their level instead of mainstreaming them into classes, which was a recipe for failure. We are hoping that these requirements will help, but it is too late for some of the students.
Ali, Aden and Madina’s son, dropped out of high school at the end of our filming. He arrived in America at a fifth-grade math level and a second-grade reading level in English, miraculous for a boy who had never been to school. So luminous and hopeful when I met him in Kenya, Ali could not succeed in an American high school that placed him in mainstream algebra, physics and history classes; after a year he finally gave up. A screening of the film raised funds for tutoring Ali for his GED, but by then he had fallen in love and wanted to find a job and get married. He worked for a while in a gas station, then got a job working nights at a Simmons mattress factory. He married last year and now has a tiny child. He was laid off from his job and is now an unemployed father looking for work, living with his wife and child in his family’s apartment.
Arbai and her family in Atlanta, Georgia
Arbai’s sunny personality and indomitable spirit have seen her through difficult times, and she is now a settled and very happy grandmother. She is working as a custodian for the Centers for Disease Control at Emory University, a job she got through her training at Goodwill Industries.
Arbai’s daughter Khadija, who married her sweetheart Abdirahmin at the end of the film, had a baby girl last year. Arbai found a new apartment large enough for the whole family, and they are all living together in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
The forces of tradition and modernity are still at war within Arbai’s daughter Sahara. After her conflict with Arbai over her older boyfriend, Sahara went to live with Arbai’s uncle and his family in Stone Mountain, about fifteen minutes from Arbai’s old apartment and very close to where the family is living now. For a while Sahara calmed down, but her rebellious spirit has erupted again a number of times. We are all just hoping she’ll stay in school until she matures enough to make good decisions.
Arbai is still determined to bring her two older daughters, Ruquia and Hawa, whom she lost during the Somali civil war in 1991, to America. Arbai has gotten her green card, the first step in applying to sponsor them, but with the continuing upheaval in Somalia and no formal relations between it and the U.S., bringing them here is almost impossible. At this point her only hope is for her daughters to escape into Kenya and to begin the long process of gaining refugee status and approval for resettlement in the U.S. Being the force of nature that she is, she still hopes to find a way to, as she says, “see her daughters in this lifetime.”
Perhaps the most surprising development in this story is that Arbai, going against tradition herself, now has a boyfriend and a new baby named Sayeeda. Even though her husband abandoned her, the fact that he is still alive would traditionally require her to remain celibate. Not Arbai!
Since its completion in March 2006, Rain in a Dry Land has been shown in more than 25 festivals around the world, winning Best Documentary or Best Film awards in six of them. The documentary has also been used in outreach events around the country, from Chicago to Charlotte, Tucson to Lincoln, to raise awareness about refugees and to inspire communities to become engaged in resettlement issues. Through the community engagement efforts of Active Voice, the film was shown theatrically in twelve cities across the country in conjunction with local cultural events related to refugee resettlement in those cities. As part of the Working Films Award given to “Rain in a Dry Land” at the Full Frame Film Festival last year, Working Films organized many events in Massachusetts that have had direct impact on the Somali Bantu community. Because of their efforts, the film has become required viewing for all principals and teachers in the Springfield public school system, deepening and widening awareness of the special needs of these refugees. The International Organization for Migration, which sponsors the Cultural Orientation classes and arranges for refugees’ travel and resettlement, is using the film in the cultural orientation classes it sponsors in refugee camps in Africa and around the world. An organization called FilmAid is showing the documentary at outdoor screenings in refugee camps, projecting it onto the sides of trucks it take around to different areas of the camps throughout Africa. A June 19, 2007 POV broadcast was scheduled for the day before World Refugee Day, when hundreds of resettlement agencies and other organizations across America will use the broadcast and other screenings of Rain in a Dry Land in their efforts to educate the public and inspire dialogue about the pressing issues of immigrants and refugees.