How often do you hear about Eid, or Ramadan? Probably not that many times, unless you are reading about it or have a neighbor who celebrates them.

In the six years I have been in the U.S. I can barely remember going through the week without hearing the word Christmas or Easter; they are on the calendar.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

To every immigrant, America presents itself as a nation of enthusiastic planners. For someone like me who had never had a calendar before I moved here, I find the way Americans plan their lives different. Many Americans buy their airline tickets long before they even think of traveling. And when they travel they like to bring souvenirs from countries they visited. Or comfortably try a new dish, or dress in the traditional clothes for pictures to show their families when they return. They get angry when a poor man is riding his donkey to deliver water, or when children on the streets of Asia or Africa are chasing around street dogs. They want to adopt dogs, or even children, when they can. But America also has a hunting culture where you kill a deer and other animals with a rifle.

Their animals, including dogs, cats and chickens, go to the vet for treatment because they don’t want them to die. They even do an autopsy to figure out what has killed the animal. Not to even mention that these animals have names like humans: Tigger, Zeus, Bruno. And everything goes on the calendar: the birth of the child next to the birth of the puppy or kitten.

I do not know when I was born, nor did I even care before I came here. Many former refugees who now live in Maine have the same birthday, Jan. 1. Because they do not know when they were born, but to join the world of documents they had to be given a birth date. It did not take me long before I put one on the calendar to let my friends celebrate.

In Somali, our calendars were filled with somber events such as the death of prophets and their followers. Each year we would sacrifice a cow or a camel to let the entire neighborhood feast. The schools and the businesses would be closed to honor the death of the prophets.


In America, the president and his family come on television pardoning a bird that I never even heard of until I came here six years ago. Turkey is not common in Africa; it is not native to Africa.

But pardoning is definitely not anything I could ever imagine. Growing up there was never enough food for everyone. Many always went home hungry after a feast, there were too many hungry people. I would be lucky If I walked away with a belly full of food.

On Thanksgiving we come to learn the distance between the Americans and the new arrivals, or in the case of Maine, the New Mainers. For the Somalis, of which I am one, we don’t get a day off from work on Ramadan or one of the Eid celebrations. America does not recognize them as holidays yet. It takes so much courage to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas when we know our own traditional celebrations have become unnoticed.

Now Thanksgiving can be given a different meaning. We can be thankful for what we have, for the opportunities and abundance of food, but to the immigrant it has a different feeling as well. With over 1 million children facing acute malnutrition in Somalia and 7 out of 10 Somalis living in poverty, I will celebrate Thanksgiving as a way of praying for those living in malnutrition and food shortage. At the same time I can be thankful for the food, the friends and family I have in Maine.

To the Americans who may not have a family living in poverty, or a child who died from malnutrition, don’t take anything for granted. Invite an immigrant, listen to their stories and ask them to teach games they played back home. If there are leftovers, always ask the neighbor or anyone you know who may need some food so they can save money.

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