Whether it’s in Adelaide, London, or Minneapolis, a common thing found among the men in the Somali community is their engagement in an activity called ‘Fadhi Ku Dirir.’ This directly translates to ‘fighting while sitting down’ and it involves usually the older generation of men gathering at coffee shops and spending hours upon hours engaged in heated political debates about our home country. At surface level, this activity can appear to be shallow and a waste of time but to truly understand the complex nature of this topic, one would need to examine it from different angles whilst maintaining empathy and an open mind.
Somali people have an oral tradition which means that information which is passed on orally is more effective and powerful than information shared in written format. For instance, traditional stories have been passed down through songs, spoken word poetry known as ‘Gabay’, and of course through conversations. When Somalia was still basking in its glory days, men would gather in the evenings at coffee shops and be engrossed in conversations about a range of topics, not just politics. However, at the brink of the civil war, coffee shops conversations took a shift and went from a casual and traditional form of socializing to a more relentless, weaponized way of discussing politics; Especially with regards to clan-based conflicts and division of power in the government.
In this blog post, I want us to take a closer look at Somali men living in the diaspora who engage in fadhi ku dirir. What causes them to engage in this activity and how that subsequently impacts their role within the family and wider community. Case by case, each family is different, however, fadhi ku dirir is a very common activity among the men in our community. I wanted to write about this topic not to be overly critical towards Somali men but rather to highlight that this issue that is deeply rooted in our community may in fact arise from a place of trauma.
The best place to start would probably be to give you all some background history on how most Somalis ended up migrating to western countries and how this sudden change impacted Somali men in particular.
The Impact of the Civil War And Post Migration Trauma
Somalia has a long history of civil war and dictatorship caused by political turmoil and clan-based violence. During the civil war which began in the early 90s, almost half a million citizens were killed whilst over a million people were displaced and forced to flee to refugee camps in neighboring countries such as Kenya. Many of those people have since settled and found refuge in western countries. For instance, in the early 2000s, Australia experienced a huge surge of migrants from a Somali background settling in the country under Humanitarian visas. I don’t how this process is in other countries but once migrants arrive in Australia, the government connects them with resources and services for a short period of time to help integrate them into Australian society. Unfortunately, oftentimes Somali men are not vocal about needing help to heal from the traumatic events they have witnessed and lived through during the civil war and settlement in refugee camps. Although these services are available to new arrivals, the mental health needs of men generally go unchecked.
Post-migration trauma affects a lot of refugees and Somalis are no exception. The memories of the civil war, abandoning their home, and separating from their families are something they carry around with them. Catastrophic violence and destruction have traumatized countless people by diminishing their health and wellbeing as well as stripping away people’s identity and quality of life. From the little research done on Somali men, it’s evident that some men struggle with PTSD, Depression, and a whole heap of other mental & physical health complications which is left untreated. All of these adversities combined have left some men to feel defeated which is why they turn to fadhi ku dirir as a way of numbing the pain, escaping their daily stressors, and finding a sense of community and familiarity through socializing.
Break down of the Traditional Household Structure and Threat to Manhood
When Somalia was peaceful, the traditional family was in tack. Gender roles were clearly defined in society with men being assigned the role of the breadwinner. Many of them had access to employment and they felt dignified just through having the financial means to provide for their family. From a cultural standpoint, the upbringing of the children was seen as the mother’s responsibility, and aside from financial maintenance, men usually contributed very little to that experience. Some men living in the diaspora still hold on to traditional gender roles and belief that regardless of whether they’re employed or not, it’s not fit for a man to stay at home during the day. Instead, they leave the mother to take care of the children and housekeeping whilst they socialize at coffee shops.
There’s also another issue men face when they come to western countries which incite insecurities and contributes to their commitment to fadhi ku dirir. When resettled in countries like Australia, most families receive welfare from the government to help with the resettlement process. For families with children, the government assigns the welfare money directly to the mother, and mothers are sometimes even prioritized when applying for government housing. This is because mothers are often the primary caregivers and assigning the children’s welfare money to them is meant to give women financial freedom and therefore minimizes the likelihood of them being financially abused. Unfortunately, this can create tension within the family and plant insecurities in men. Some men in the community feel as though their sole responsibility to provide financially has been taken away from them seeing women no longer be financially reliant on them. Some men might even become financially dependent on their wives and children which makes their role within the family structure even more uncertain. It becomes extremely challenging for them to adapt to this new way of life which doesn’t align with the traditional norms they were raised in. To escape the pressures of feeling less like a man at home, they migrate to coffee shops and spend their days caught up in political debates and reminiscing the past.
If you have reached the end of this post, thank you for taking the time to read it. Click on Part 2 to continue reading.
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