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The Titanic Tower

“DAKHASO, dakhaso,” my mom is screaming, standing at the door of

her Minneapolis home.

“Hooyo,” I whine. “You can’t rush tea! You know that, Hooyo.”

It is going to be a long day, and I need tea to keep me going. Every Sunday I’m dipped into Somali stories and rituals with my mom, my “hooyo,” and her lady relatives and friends. I’m finally old enough to hang out with my mom, sit in on her chats, and maybe even say a few words. My Sunday roles

are well defined: I am the driver and the tea maker. And if any of the extended relatives needs help with translations and filling out paperwork, I’m good for that, too.

Our final Sunday destination is Mama Warsan’s apartment on the ninth floor of a place we call the Titanic, but it's really the Sky Line Tower in Saint Paul. Tall and visible from I-94 at Lexington, the Titanic is truly a village in the sky. Many East Africans, predominantly Ethiopians and Somalis, reside there. I have relatives living on many of the floors, taking care of each other and raising their children together. My mom would love to live there, too, if she were not terrified of elevators and escalators.

Mama Warsan is an elderly aunt who was a prominent businesswoman

in Somalia. She doesn’t like anyone making tea besides me and says I have a sweet tea-making hand. If I could, I would live in a cup of sweet Somali tea! And even though Mama Warsan is eighty three years old, she has a girlish laugh and a young, generous spirit that brings everyone together. She says I bring out the young girl inside her, and I think she’s the most elegant woman I’ve ever met.

As usual, the Titanic’s telecom is broken, so someone has to come down to let us in, and the elevator is slow. While we wait, I get a call on my mobile phone from Mama Warsan. She tells me to go buy tea ingredients from the halal grocery store across the street and then pick up an aunt named Faduma and three of her daughters, who’ve just arrived in the country.

In the store, I gather cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and Lipton tea bags. I also grab some xalwo and sambus. Normally, I ask the cashier to write the bill on Mama Warsan’s page on the tab book. But, today I have a little cash and feel generous, so I pay. Today is also a potluck feast to welcome a newly arrived relative to the country.

We will be at Mama Warsan’s apartment, furnished with imported cushions and Turkish carpets, until the late evening. Uunsi incense mingles with the scent from spicy tea, lingering throughout the apartment and the whole ninth floor. The women will be buying and selling imported garments and exchanging gifts and gossip. They will celebrate, sing, dance, recite poetry, talk, and chant away their worries. I will keep the tea boiling and served. The door to Mama Warsan’s will remain open.

Some time ago, a rumor spread that the Sky Line Tower had reached its expiration date and was about to collapse. The rumor got people so frightened that they showed up at the next resident meeting, which none of them had attended before. The building’s community room was filled to capacity, and the overflow of people lined up in the hallway. My aunts had invited me to come and translate, so I was there as rants and concerns reached all corners of the room.

An American woman who works there stood up to greet the residents: “We are surprised by this attendance. Normally we have an agenda, but this evening we want to listen to your concerns and answer your questions.” An elderly Somali woman stood up, cleared her throat loudly, and began speaking.

“Me lived in this building ten years. Come Saint Paul, live here. Now

me, friends, family, all scared!” She looked around, scanning and circling the room with her hands. “We here because we hear story, the building go down soon.” She gestured collapse with her hands.

“Like Titanic go down, the tall building go down soon. We afraid of sleep. Like Titanic, we die. Finish! Sorry, English broken, but me have to speak for self because me scared. Understand?”

Everyone applauded in agreement with her.

It turned out that because the elevators had been getting slower and slower, people’s fears turned into stories and rumors of collapse. At the meeting, residents were assured that the building was not going to go down. Since that day, among Somalis, the building has been called the Titanic Tower. Every Sunday, the Titanic, a village in Saint Paul, keeps me connected to Somalia. ●

Story: NIMO FARAH is an artist and activist who uses language to express things she finds too confusing. Her current undertaking is to develop her skills as an orator while blending Somali and English. She thinks herself charming and hilarious in the Somali language, but rarely does that humor translate into English. She co-founded HUMAAG, a nonprofit organization promoting art and literature in the Somali community.

Photo: Nimo with her mother, sister, and niece. Courtesy, NIMO FARAH.


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