Amal Hussein and Hamdi Mohamed both came to Boston as young children, their parents having fled Somalia’s civil war as refugees. They’re now both in their early 20s, both poets, and say that their main inspiration in their craft come from their grandmothers… yes, who are both poets. Hamdi grew up with her ayeeyo (grandmother) in her house while Amal has only known her grandmother over the phone, and it’s been years since they’ve seen one another.
The two girls started their friendship commuting to their Islmaic school on a train in Mansfield, Massachusetts . “We just got into this habit, where whenever we’re on the train, we’re writing poetry,” says Amal. They would pass the same paper back and forth, letting the melodies flow. At first the girls wrote the poems in English, but eventually Amal decided to write poems in Somali, dedicated to her ayeeyo (grandmother).
Families often call on grandmothers to recite a style of poetry called gabay. When Amal recited her poem. over the phone to her grandmother, there was silence until she realized her grandmother was crying. “And then she was like, ‘You’re definitely my granddaughter. You took after me when it came to gabay, and I want you to hold onto it, and I want you to continue, and I don’t want anyone to ever tell you that you can’t do it.’”
Amal’s grandmother lovingly told her that it doesn’t matter what language she writes her poetry because “we have that connection…. that gabay connection.”