Looking back on my nearly nine years of living here, I find myself reflecting on the profound experiences that continue to shape my journey. Settling in Yarmouth, Maine, after fleeing the civil war in Somalia marked a hopeful beginning.

On one of those early days, I wandered through the streets of my new town, my eyes falling upon the water district building, feeling so lucky there was one nearby. Just a short distance away was Andy’s Handy and its significant role in the town’s history. The corner store struck a chord within me, evoking memories of my beloved snack shop in Mogadishu that had vanished in the civil war.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth. He can be contacted at noriftin@gmail.com.

Strolling away from the store, I came upon the town’s first historical society, a captivating repository of Yarmouth’s heritage. I marveled at its stunning collection of antique photographs, some dating back to the 1800s. Each photograph offered a remarkable glimpse into the town’s rich and storied history. Seeing this history feels different when you have lost everything in a war and are on a desperate search for belonging.

Nearby, the Old Meetinghouse is a testament to Yarmouth’s bygone era, its construction dating back to the 1790s. As I stood in awe before it, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Mainers’ love for preserving their past and my own mother’s nostalgia for her nomadic Somali childhood. Here in Maine, I discovered a shared appreciation for safeguarding history, anchoring oneself to the stories and memories that shape who we are.

My mother once said she wished she could transport me back in time to witness the Somalia of the 1970s and ’80s. She described the wilderness with its termite mounds, abundant wildlife, and vast open skies that unveiled a breathtaking starlit spectacle each night accompanied by the symphony of nature’s harmonies. When the harsh droughts robbed her and others of their nomadic lifestyle, they discovered a new existence in Mogadishu, the sprawling metropolis. Classrooms in the city overflowed with students from all over the world. The cathedral echoed with the prayers of Italians attending Sunday services and not far way, the Adhan prayer ran from the 500-year-old Arba’a Rukun mosque. The national theater on Friday nights pulsed with vibrant energy of American and Somali music, and the sun-kissed beaches thrived with vibrant life. This is where my parents married and where I was born. It only took a few years for all to be gone and now available are the bullet-riddled photographs of the half-destroyed cathedral and theater shared online.

On my walk through Yarmouth, the significance of preserving the history and artifacts of a nation became even more apparent to me. As I pieced together the history of my new town, I also wondered, do I truly belong here, is this history not only theirs but also mine?

In the ensuing weeks and months, I embarked on a personal odyssey of learning and self-discovery, grappling with the delicate task of bridging the gap between the old and the new. In Yarmouth, I encountered welcoming individuals who embraced me as one of their own, along with some who, even though their ancestors hail from immigrant families, did not want to include me. We all carry with us stories of the past. Whether your ancestors weathered the potato famine in Ireland or fled to America to escape war, we share a common bond that binds us to this place. Our stories intertwine, and our collective histories converge, affirming our rightful place here.

As a resident of Yarmouth, educated in American universities, and with a career that takes me around the world under the protection of the United States passport, I have firmly rooted myself here. I am here not only to partake in the richness of our shared heritage but also to celebrate the diverse tapestry of history, culture and traditions that enrich our community.

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