The war in Somalia does not produce a lot of good news. But in our new episode of Minnesota Sounds and Voices, we heard some first hand: Abdiaziz Warsame allowed us to listen in as he spoke with his wife Ayan Mohamed in Mogadishu, seven years after they were first separated when gunmen entered their home.
Warsame was able to escape the attack with his young son, and eventually made his way to the United States, and an apartment in Burnsville, five years ago. But he had given up Ayan for dead because of the violence in their homeland. It was only with help from the Red Cross that he was able to track and reconnect with her.
Their story, as translated by Yahye Mohamed, a Red Cross caseworker, provides good news indeed, and the 8,000-mile phone connection from Burnsville to Mogadishu is surprisingly crisp and clear as Ayan says she is safe in Mogadishu — a term that comes with a caveat: The is city roamed by gangs and militias bristling with firearms, where one's condition can change abruptly "any hour, any minute, any day."
The Red Cross says Warsame came to them for help when he learned about the service at the Somali Community Center in Minneapolis. Mark Owens, who reviews thousands of such requests every year for the organization in Washington, D.C., says the Warsame's case was turned over to the International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. The ICRC then passed the request to the Red Crescent in Africa, and a caseworker found Ayan "still living at the same address."
The entire search — the paperwork, the review, handing off the request and then getting the information back to Minnesota — took eight months, due in part to the crush of requests and the chaos in Somalia after two decades of civil war. But once Warsame had a phone number, he immediately began dialing.
Owens says he seldom meets the people involved in tracing family members, but he says the reports that come back of reconnections are deeply satisfying.
"For all of us who work here, that's exciting and drives us to keep doing this," he says.
Immigration rules mean Abdiaziz Warsame and his son's reunification with wife and mother Ayan Mohamed may take several years. So for now, Warsame makes lots of calls to Mogadishu, and his face lights up when he speaks to his wife.
"I love you ... I love you," he tells her across the 8,000 miles.
"Bye bye honey."