Self portraits

Self portraits

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Faras and a Geel*

I Live in Minneapolis, acrylic on vinyl
It would not be a bad idea, if you live in Minneapolis, to learn some Somali language. There are some amazing older people who moved here from Somalia and other parts of E. Africa as refugees from the war. Many of the elders were hidden away in apartments here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, often alone during the day while their family members worked and went to school. A few years ago, the first adult day care center opened up, and now, a lot of older people attend adult day centers for community, along with health and enrichment activities during the day.  My work (day job: public health) brings me in conversation with hundreds of elders in several of these adult day care centers.

The other morning when I got to work, it was quiet. The drivers were out picking up people, who now live all over - Columbia Heights, St. Paul. It was the first snow and everyone was late. The old people were afraid to go out, and the drivers had to convince them to come.

I sat with an older Somali woman who was working there that day; she was early, and she was viewing a Webinar to learn Arabic. We watched it together and chatted. I told her, "I'm going to the MIA to meet a group there." I showed her the postcard, below (from the 1930's, but, this view hasn't changed much), and asked, "Do you know this building?" She said, "Yes, I lived on 26th and Stevens for seven years. I've seen and walked past it many times, but have never been inside. I didn't know what was in it." This woman's story is one reason I like bringing groups of people for their first visit to Mia to view art.

I found a docent with interest in Islamic art, and we planned a tour of the galleries, routed to avoid as many of the nude representations as possible. The first group arrived, along with our interpreter. Do you want to learn about camels? Look at the sculptures in the China gallery with a Somali elder - they will tell you more than you ever knew there was to know about camels. (In my research I found that both camel milk and urine are used in East Africa for healing purposes, and camel milk actually has been shown to contain an insulin-like protein which lowers blood sugar in people with diabetes.)

My group of E. African elders enjoyed many of the objects on view at MIA that day ~ the carved elephant tusk from Benin, in the African gallery, and the Algerian, whom one gentleman insisted was Sudanese. They liked the Tissot painting in that same gallery, as the three men on camels in the desert reminded them of Somalia. I think their favorite objects were in the Islamic gallery, especially the pages from the Qur'an. All of our guests that day could read Arabic, and, after my brief morning Webinar, I was looking around for letters I could recognize. So, yeah, we were that group, the colorfully dressed older ladies, and me running about, pointing "alif! alif!" - the letter I could identify for certain.

* Somali ->English translations:  Faras = horse ; Geel (rhymes with 'well' or more like we-ell') = camel

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