Shocking transition: From nomad to nurse


Creative Commons

Creative Commons

She spent her childhood in a village untouched by modern times. Now she’s an RN at an institution on the forefront of medicine. In the Fall 2013 issue of Scrubs magazine, Habibo Haji reveals the incredible journey that took her from the hills of Somalia to the halls of the Mayo Clinic.

After more than a dozen years living in the United States, Haji took a trip back to Africa to visit her family (now living in Kenya). Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on her way back to Minnesota, she began thinking about how much her life has changed since leaving her village in Somalia.

Here I was, dressed nice, carrying a purse with money and charge cards, a U.S. citizen with a driver’s license and being a Registered Nurse, flying home to my nice job at the Mayo Clinic and my nice house with a large screen TV, nice furniture, king size bed with lots of pillows, and my children!  I thought to myself, “What a life! How did I get here?” I’m still processing some of what I went through in my life, especially the very difficult times.

A very large part of me is still that village girl out herding the animals or swimming in the river, yet another side of me is a “modernized” woman, having learned English and the American culture, driving a car, shopping in the malls, being a nurse in a large institution in a bustling city in America. I imagine if I had a pair of sandals made out of old tires and a cloth rapped around me carrying a long walking stick, I’d feel very much at home.

My favorite things to do now are to read books, anything in the sciences. I like to learn new things; I listen to NPR a lot, as I   enjoy finding out what’s going on in the world.  Perhaps being raised with no word from the outside world—in fact, I didn’t even know there was an outside world—gave me a strong desire to learn more about it and be a part of it.  

Now that I’m older, I realize how our environment shapes us into who we are.  I learned to enjoy being alone with the herd, and I learned how to entertain myself for days on end all by myself. I look back now on the many, many hours and days I’d be all by myself.   Sometimes I long for some quiet moments, as I seem to have multiple things on my plate most of the time as a wife, mother, working nurse, and student.   I learned at a very young age, to appreciate the quiet and the peace of being by myself.  In this busy world we live in, that, to me, is a luxury to be treasured which few people get to enjoy.

To get a better sense of Habibo Haji’s incredible journey, follow the timeline of her life.

1982: born in Mogadishu, Somalia; at six months old, sent to Balcad, a remote village, to live with grandmother

1987: becomes responsible for herding animals

1990: reunites with her mother in Mogadishu, where she spends several months recovering from a bad case of malaria before heading back to Balcad

1991: civil war begins

1993: lives as a nomad during the dry season, traveling hundreds of miles with her cattle in search of grazing

1995: with the war intensifying, heads to Nairobi to reunite with her mother and siblings; soon after, they move to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp

1998: wins the lottery allowing her to emigrate to the U.S., settles in Phoenix, gets a job as a dishwasher at The RitzCarlton

1999: moves to Minneapolis, works two jobs as a cashier

2000: marries

2001: has her first child, Najma

2002: becomes a nurse’s aide

2003: has her second child, Nawal

2007: becomes an LPN

2008: moves to Rochester, Minn., and gets a job at the Mayo Clinic

2009: has her third child, Mohamed

2011: graduates from Excelsior College with an associate’s degree in nursing, becomes an RN

2012: writes Conquering the Odds: Journey of a Shepherd Girl

2013: scheduled to graduate with a BSN in the fall from Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Adapted with permission from Conquering the Odds, Journey of a Shepherd Girl Copyright 2013, by Habibo Haji, RN and Joseph Patrick Culhane.

Want to learn more about Haji’s inspiring journey? Pick up a copy of her book, Conquering the Odds, Journey of a Shepherd Girl.


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