Charis welcomes Shugri Said Salh in conversation with Samuel Kọ́láwọlé for a celebration of The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert. “I am the last nomad. My ancestors traveled the East African desert in search of grazing land for their livestock, and the most precious resource of all—water. When they exhausted the land and the clouds disappeared from the horizon, their accumulated ancestral knowledge told them where to move next to find greener pastures. They loaded their huts and belongings onto their most obedient camels and herded their livestock to a new home.” This event is co-sponsored by the Refugee Women's Network. Refugee Women's Network inspires and equips refugee and immigrant women to become leaders in their homes, businesses, and communities.
When Shugri Said Salh was six years old, she was sent to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert, away from the city of Galkayo. Leaving behind her house, her parents, her father’s multiple wives, and her many siblings, she would become the last of her family to learn a once-common way of life. The desert held many risks, from drought and hunger to the threat of predators, but it also held beauty, innovation, and centuries of tradition. Shugri grew to love the freedom of roaming with her goats and the feeling of community in learning the courtship rituals, cooking songs, and poems of her people. She was even proud to face the rite of passage that all “respectable” girls undergo in Somalia, a brutal female circumcision.
In time, Shugri would return to live with her siblings in the city. Ultimately, the family was forced to flee as refugees in the face of a civil war—first to Kenya, then to Canada, and finally to the United States. There, Shugri would again find herself a nomad in a strange land, learning to navigate everything from escalators to homeless shelters to, ultimately, marriage, parenthood, and nursing school. And she would approach each step of her journey with resilience and a liveliness that is all her own.
At once dramatic and witty, The Last Nomad tells a story of tradition, change, and hope.
Shugri Said Salh was born in the desert of Somalia in 1974 and spent her early years living as a nomad. In 1992, she emigrated to North America after the civil war broke out in her home country. She attended nursing school at Pacific Union College and graduated with honors. And although this is her first book, Shugri has been storytelling since she could talk. From her grandmother and the nomadic community in which she was raised, she heard stories and learned of their power to entertain, teach, and transform. When she isn't writing or telling stories, she works as an infusion nurse. She lives in Sonoma County with her husband and three children.
Samuel Kọ́láwọlé’s novel, The Road to Salt Sea, is forthcoming from Amistad/Harper Collins. Samuel Kọ́láwọlé was born and raised in Ibadan, Nigeria. His work has appeared in AGNI, Gulf Coast, Washington Square Review, Consequence and is forthcoming from Harvard Review.
His fiction has been supported with fellowships, residencies, and scholarships from the Norman Mailer Centre, International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Columbus State University's Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, Clarion West Writers Workshop, Wellstone Centre in the Redwoods California, and Island Institute.
Kọ́láwọlé studied at the University of Ibadan and holds a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing with distinction from Rhodes University, South Africa. A graduate of the MFA in Writing and Publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, he returned to VCFA to join the MFA in Writing faculty. He is working towards his Ph.D. at Georgia State University.
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A remarkable and inspiring true story that "stuns with raw beauty" about one woman's resilience, her courageous journey to America, and her family's lost way of life.
Born in Somalia, a spare daughter in a large family, Shugri Said Salh was sent at age six to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert.