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Born in Mogadishu, Somalia |

In 1992, when many Somalis were leaving due to the ethnic cleansing and tribal warfare that was taking place, Khalaf’s family came to Canada as refugees. Khalaf was only three years old and had four siblings. His mother didn’t adapt well to the big city so she decided to raise the family in Kitchener, a smaller city one hour west of Toronto. Twenty two years later, Khalaf’s youngest sister was accepted at OCAD and, after finishing his studies at the University of Waterloo, he joined her in Toronto. Khalaf explains that while his heart remains in Kitchener, Toronto is home for now. He believes that many people are doing good things here to overcome lingering divisions within the Somali community. Organizations such as the Somali Men’s Basketball League, entrepreneurs like Robleh Jama at Busy Building Things and Zak and Hersh at the PLI (Policing Literacy Initiative) are all having a positive influence.

“Unfortunately these stories don’t get as high of ratings as Teenage Somali Boy Gunned Down in Lawrence Heights or Dixon Neighbourhood raided in Project Traveller on CP24.”

In KW he felt that the East African community was a closer knit unit and this is something he hopes may happen here in Toronto.

Toronto as Home

Khalaf thinks that Hamdi is “the” Somali restaurant in Toronto and, as far he is concerned, one isn’t Somali if they haven’t experienced the biriis and chicken at this “cultural institution”.

They serve sports which is a huge plate piled high with rice, chicken and bananas and you eat it with your hands, as  group,  and wash it down with mango juice. Khalaf says: “You can’t get a meal any more traditional Somali than that.”

Connection with the Past

tusbaax is a beaded necklace that is meant to be kept in your hands. In Islam it is used to make a thikr or remembrance of Allah. It has ninety-nine beads for asma-ullah-al-husna (the ninety-nine names of God). Khalaf explains how his grandmother wouldn’t be caught dead without it. He credits his fluency in Somali to his eyeeyo (grandmother) Faduma, now in her late 80s, who grew up as a nomad in Jariban. She’s a six-foot-five mother of eleven and he swears on The Qur’an that she “has the memory of an elephant, even though she can’t write.” She never forgets a thing and he hopes he will retain at least half of her cognizance into his old age!

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