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NYTimes.com Article: Africa's Lost Tribe Discovers American Way

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  • ann.popplestone@tri-c.cc.oh.us
    This article from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by ann.popplestone@tri-c.cc.oh.us. Here s an adult enculturation description. Might be fun to use in class
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 10, 2003
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      This article from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by ann.popplestone@....

      Here's an adult enculturation description. Might be fun to use in class


      Africa's Lost Tribe Discovers American Way

      March 10, 2003

      KAKUMA, Kenya - The engines rumbled and the red sand
      swirled as the cargo plane roared onto the dirt airstrip.
      One by one, the dazed and impoverished refugees climbed
      from the belly of the plane into this desolate wind-swept

      They are members of Africa's lost tribe, the Somali Bantu,
      who were stolen from the shores of Mozambique, Malawi and
      Tanzania and carried on Arab slave ships to Somalia two
      centuries ago. They were enslaved and persecuted until
      Somalia's civil war scattered them to refugee camps in the

      Yet on this recent day, the Bantu people were rejoicing as
      they stepped from the plane into the blinding sun. They
      were the last members of the tribe to be transferred from a
      violent camp near the Somali border to this dusty place
      just south of Sudan. They knew their first trip in a flying
      machine was a harbinger of miracles to come.

      Over the next two years, nearly all of the Somali Bantu
      refugees in Kenya - about 12,000 people - are to be flown
      to the United States. This is one of the largest refugee
      groups to receive blanket permission for resettlement since
      the mid-1990's, State Department officials say.

      The refugees will be interviewed by American immigration
      officials in this camp, which is less violent than the camp
      near Somalia. The interview process has been slowed by
      security concerns in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Despite the
      repeated delays, the preparations for the extraordinary
      journey are already under way.

      Every morning, dozens of peasant farmers take their seats
      in classrooms in a simple one-story building with a metal
      roof. They study English, hold their first notebooks and
      pens, and struggle to learn about the place called America.
      It is an enormous task.

      The Bantu, who were often denied access to education and
      jobs in Somalia, are mostly illiterate and almost
      completely untouched by modern life. They measure time by
      watching the sun rise and fall over their green fields and
      mud huts.

      As refugees, they have worked the soil, cooked, cleaned and
      labored in backbreaking construction jobs, filling about 90
      percent of the unskilled jobs in the camp in Dadaab, Kenya,
      where most Bantu people lived until they were transferred
      here last year. But most have never turned on a light
      switch, flushed a toilet or held a lease.

      So the students here study in a classroom equipped with all
      the trappings of modern American life, including a gleaming
      refrigerator, a sink, a toilet and a bathtub. They are
      learning about paper towels and toilet cleanser and peanut
      butter and ice trays, along with English and American

      Refugee officials here fear that the Bantu's battle to
      adjust to a high-tech world will only be complicated by
      American ambivalence about immigrants since the terrorist
      attacks in the United States.

      The Bantu are practicing Muslims. Women cover their hair
      with brightly colored scarves. Families pray five times a
      day. In Somalia, they were in a predominantly Muslim
      country often described as a breeding ground for

      The American government requires refugees from such hot
      spots to undergo a new series of security clearances before
      they can be resettled in the United States. The new system
      has delayed the arrival of thousands of refugees, leaving
      them to languish in camps where children often die of

      But most people here are willing to do what it takes to
      live in a country that outlaws discrimination. While they
      wait, they learn about leases and the separation between
      church and state, and they practice their limited English.

      About 700 Bantu have gone through this cultural
      orientation. By the end of September, State Department
      officials say, 1,500 are expected to be resettled in about
      50 American cities and towns, including Boston; Charlotte,
      N.C.; San Diego; and Erie, Pa.

      In America, the refugees tell each other, the Bantu will be
      considered human beings, not slaves, for the first time.

      "It's scary," said Haw Abass Aden, a peasant farmer still
      trembling as she stepped off her first flight through the
      clouds. She clung tightly to a kerosene lamp with one hand
      and her little girl with the other. But she regained her
      composure as she considered her future.

      "We are coming here to be resettled in the United States,"
      said Ms. Aden, 20, speaking through a translator. "There,
      we will find peace and freedom."

      After centuries of suffering, they are praying that America
      will be the place where they will finally belong. The
      United Nations has been trying to find a home for the Bantu
      for more than a decade because it is painfully clear they
      cannot return to Somalia.

      In Somalia, the lighter-skinned majority rejected the
      Bantu, for their slave origins and dark skin and wide
      features. Even after they were freed from bondage, the
      Bantu were denied meaningful political representation and
      rights to land ownership. During the Somali civil war, they
      were disproportionately victims of rapes and killings.

      The discrimination and violence continues in the barren
      camps today - even here - where the Bantu are often
      attacked and dismissed as Mushungulis, which means slave

      But finding a new home for the Bantu refugees here has not
      been easy. First Tanzania and then Mozambique, the Bantu's
      ancestral homelands, agreed to take the tribe. Both
      impoverished countries ultimately reneged, saying they
      could not afford to resettle the group.

      In 1999, the United States determined that the Somali Bantu
      tribe was a persecuted group eligible for resettlement. The
      number of African refugees approved for admission in the
      United States surged from 3,318 in 1990 to 20,084 a decade
      later as the cold war ended and American officials focused
      on assisting refugees beyond those fleeing Communist

      "I don't think Somalia is my country because we Somali
      Bantus have seen our people treated like donkeys there,"
      said Fatuma Abdekadir, 20, who was waiting for her class to
      start. "I think my country is where I am going.

      "There, there is peace. Nobody can treat you badly. Nobody
      can come into your house and beat you."

      The refugees watch snippets of American life on videos in
      class, and they marvel at the images of supermarkets filled
      with peppers and tomatoes and of tall buildings that reach
      for the clouds. But they know little about racism, poverty,
      the bone-chilling cold or the cities that will be chosen
      for them by refugee resettlement agencies.

      What they know is this flat, parched corner of Africa, a
      place of thorn trees and numbing hunger where water comes
      from wells when it comes at all - a place of fierce heat
      and wind that whips the sand into biting and blinding

      In the classes, the teachers try to prepare the Bantu for a
      modern world. Issack Adan carefully guides his students
      through the lessons, taking questions from older men with
      graying beards, teenage girls with ballpoint pens tucked
      into their head scarves and young mothers with babies tied
      to their backs.

      The lesson of the day: a white flush toilet. "Come close,
      come close," Mr. Adan said as the women approached the
      strange object doubtfully. "Mothers, you sit on it, you
      don't stand on it."

      The women nodded, although they seemed uncertain. Mr. Adan
      showed them how to flush the toilet and how to clean it.
      "You wash with this thing and you will have a good smell,"
      he said.

      "A very nice smell," the students agreed.

      Then Abubakar Saidali, a 30-year-old student, looked
      closely at the odd contraption and asked, "But where does
      that water go?" For an answer, Mr. Adan took the refugees
      outside to show them the pipes that carry the sewage.

      Back in the classroom, the students spent the next few
      hours learning about the refrigerator, ice cubes and
      strawberry jam. They watched eagerly as Mr. Adan washed
      dishes in a sink and admired the bathtub and shower. One
      woman demurred, however, when he invited her to step into
      the tub.

      "It is so clean," she said shyly. "Can I really step in

      Some students grumbled that the American appliances seemed
      more complicated than their ordinary ways of living. Why
      worry about cleaning a toilet, some refugees said aloud,
      when the bushes never need to be cleaned?

      But Mr. Saidali said he was thrilled to learn about modern
      toilets after years of relying on smelly pit latrines.

      "This latrine is inside the house," marveled Mr. Saidali, a
      lean man in tattered sneakers. "It's better than what we
      are now using. It has a seat for sitting and the water goes

      "Even this sink - it's my first time," he said. "This sink
      is for washing. It cleans things very nicely."

      Even with the lessons, some Bantu are worried about how
      they will cope in America. They know that blacks and
      Muslims are minorities there. Will Americans be welcoming?
      Will they learn English quickly enough? Will they find jobs
      and housing and friends? Some officials here worry, too.

      "These people are from rural areas," Mr. Adan said. "They
      don't know much about modern life."

      But the refugees who arrived on the plane here said they
      were eager for the challenge.

      Uncertain of what might be needed in the United States,
      they carried most of their precious possessions - broken
      brooms, chipped mugs, metal plates - as they boarded a
      rattling bus that roared deep into the camp as the sun sank
      beyond the horizon.

      The refugees knew they would be sleeping on the ground
      again and going hungry as they have often done. But they
      also knew that this was only the first phase of an
      incredible journey.

      First stop, Kakuma. Next stop,


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