Somali Author of Call Me American: A Memoir, Abdi Nor Iftin, Shares His Refugee Journey with SMA Prep Cadets

Somali Author of Call Me American: A Memoir, Abdi Nor Iftin, shares his remarkable journey as a refugee from Mogadishu to Maine and offers SMA Prep cadets a unique “outside – in” perspective of America. His story is powerful and ties into this year’s Inspire Project pathway: Project Equality. Cadets are exploring equality, tolerance, and, discrimination across gender, race, and ethnicity.

As a child growing up in Mogadishu, Abdi first knew of America when US Marines came to his village to provide food and places to eat because their presence allowed for peace. “I thought they were aliens.”  Abdi had never seen anyone that looked different than him.  He described his life in Mogadishu as difficult. There is no public service and there is also a war. He taught himself English from movies and began to feel that he was no different than any other child.  He grew a love of America and gained the nickname “American Abdi” and he knew that one day he would get there, even though it was not easy traveling 10,000 miles to the U.S.

“All humans share a desire for survival and acceptance.”

Many of his coworkers think of Africa as all the same. There are different languages and culture throughout Africa. In his book, he wanted people to see the human side of the refugee story. “All humans share a desire for survival and acceptance. I was just like every American kid who wants to be inspired by something. Everything you have is a privilege.”

The hardest part about adjusting to American was the lack of diversity where he lives in Maine. The weather was also a shock having come from a consistently warmer climate. He also described the more humorous side of learning about a new culture. “Ordering a coffee at Dunkin Donuts drove me crazy. In Kenya you just say coffee and they give me coffee, but here you have to say so many things.” He says he now sticks with hot chocolate.

SMA-Cadet MacCloud was reminded, “how to not take for granted all we have here. Mr. Iftin notices every little thing for example how many types of crackers are available at Walmart.”

When asked what drove him to keep surviving he replied, “Many times, I almost gave up on hope. As long as I was breathing and living another day, I needed to do everything it takes to get myself out of the life I was living at the time. I connected to the rest of the world through my stories. Teaching myself English motivated me because I was able to communicate to a wider audience.”

About Sarasota Military Academy

Founded in 2002, Sarasota Military Academy (SMA) is a public charter, (6th-12th) located on 2 campuses in Sarasota, FL. As an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, SMA provides students with a 21st-century learning experience immersed in daily military principles of honor, respect, and leadership. Combining extraordinary academics with the highest military principles of camaraderie, focus, leadership, integrity, compassion, poise, honor, and respect, SMA’s mission is to graduate young men and women who will confidently define their personal and unique goals for success in a multicultural and globalized world. More information is available at