Hanan Ali’s ambitious quest from her home in Mombasa, Kenya is not only a testimony to her devotion to family values, but also what she calls a generational “leap of faith.” What’s more, this leap continues a tradition of sacrifice and obligation. Last August, she left Kenya, as well as her parents and siblings, to pursue a degree in Bioengineering in the United States at Southwestern College. Over 10,000 miles stands between her and her family, but the connection between them persists and the values ingrained in her since childhood do not waver through time and distance.
A generation before, Ali’s mother made a comparable journey when fleeing from Somalia after the civil war began in the ‘90s.
“Somali people are a patriarchal community so it was pretty significant to me that my mother’s family let her go to another country,” says Hanan. “She didn’t have anything to fall back on. It was a leap of faith that they sent her to go there, and somehow she survived and she thrived from that.”
Upon arriving in Kenya, her mother sought refuge in the homes of family members whom she had never previously met and eventually established a life for herself in Mombasa.
Her mother’s bravery and independence is a quality that Ali used as a precedent for her own life. While both her parents instilled in her the importance of self-reliance and education, Hanan took it upon herself to become a role model for her younger siblings, carrying the weight of a torch passed on from mother to daughter. This, however, came with some drawbacks.
“I feel like I had to mature faster than the people my age so I couldn’t enjoy what people my age were enjoying. I had to think about my life really early,” says Hanan.
Since coming to the United States, Hanan has made contact and spent time with distant relatives living in Ohio and Washington. This has facilitated a sense of family and belonging so far away from her home. She has also developed friendships with peers through the literary and performing arts nonprofit, So Say We All. Through this work, she’s found people with whom she can share her struggles in adjusting to American culture. Although she has never considered writing to be a viable career option, she explains that it has been helpful in processing the cultural differences.
Photo courtesy of Hanan Ali
The Ali family in Mombasa
Hanan periodically contacts her family via phone call or video chat and explains that while being so far from them is difficult, she recognizes her time spent in the United States as a necessary sacrifice for herself and her family.
“Just to hear ‘I’m proud of you’ is something that makes me so happy, even if they’re not here,” says Hanan.
The education she can obtain in the United States will provide more opportunity than a similar program in Kenya and, after receiving her degree, Ali plans to go back to Kenya to begin a career and family of her own.
“I strive to be the best person that I can be so when I do have a family of my own, I can be the one who stands for them; the role model so I don’t have to wait for a man or someone to provide for me,” she says. “So I can provide for myself and them.”