My dad's Cinderella story: Finding love in Somalia | KUOW News and Information

My dad's Cinderella story: Finding love in Somalia

Sep 28, 2016

My dad's life story is kind of like Cinderella’s. 

My dad, Abdul-Basit Hassan, grew up without a mom, worked for an evil relative and found his princess in the least expected way. 

But instead of having a pumpkin carriage, he had a taxi. Yes, my dad is a Seattle taxi driver, and like many, he's from East Africa. 

He was born in May 1966 in a small village in Ethiopia. His mother passed away when he was 7 years old. 

"I wish she was alive now and just be in my life," he told me recently. "I love my mom and I miss her."

At age seven, he took on his mother's role. His brother was five and his sister was 2 years old. He raised them. 

He cooked, cleaned, collected wood for fire, got water from the river and cared for his siblings, while his dad worked on the farm. 

"How was that at the age of seven – was it hard for you?" I asked him. 

“Well, it is not easy, it is not hard," he said, "but I have to take it. I have to be in that position." 

Three years later, my father’s aunt took his little sister from the village so she could raise her. My dad had an unbreakable bond with his sister to the point where he could not concentrate with her gone. So he followed her to reconnect. 

He wasn’t able to see his sister much because his aunt made him live and work in her restaurant, at times up to 16 hours a day. Kind of like Cinderella’s evil stepmother. 

Imagine going to school from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then working after school from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., starting from the age of 10 – for eight years. He was not getting paid. 

Luckily he was able to leave this situation.

"I just decided to leave the country in order to find a better life," he said. 

The author as a kid, with her dad.
Credit Courtesy of Zubeyda Ahmed

He moved to Somalia at the age of 18 to a city called Hargeisa. He earned money and opened his own restaurant. His business was thriving, until civil war broke out in Somalia.

"Everything is upside down," he said. "I don’t know how to tell you. That is the worst life. Many, many times I almost faced death.”

In a few short months, my dad was back at square one. His restaurant got bombed. Despite all this, my father found his princess, my mom. 

My mom, Fetiha Omer, left Ethiopia a few years after my father with the same hopes of finding a better life. She walked from Ethiopia to Somalia with a group of friends and arrived during the civil war. 

“We were both refugees," my dad explained. "I was before her in Somalia. We met one another. After that we come to Berbera, from Berbera to Mogadishu. After that we got married.”

The author's dad, soon after arriving in California
Credit Courtesy of Zubeyda Ahmed

My parents moved to America in May 1990.  

“We were lucky to leave Somalia and resettle in the United States," my dad said. Although they were safe, the change was not easy. "Everything was new. It was like happy times, and sometimes sad times.”

Now he has grown his own village. I am number four of seven children.

The author's dad in California
Credit Courtesy of Zubeyda Ahmed

For my dad, life would be totally different if it wasn’t for the migration to the U.S. 

“If I lived in Ethiopia, there is no opportunity," he said. He guessed he would be working in a farm or "maybe just day labor."

Today, my dad is a taxi driver. He doesn’t like it but it pays the bills. 

My father went to community college. He wants us to go further.

“My big dream is my kids to pass me," he told me. "My dream is my kids to be highly educated, live better life, be good citizens, not to forget where they come from." 

I recently graduated from both high school and community college. I am 17 years old and I am entering my junior year in college at the University of Washington Seattle.

I wrote a thank you letter to my dad and recorded his reaction.  

"Dear Dad," I started.

"Dear Zubeyda," he joked. 

"I want to say thank you for all that you have been through and sacrificed in order to get a better life. I won't forget your resilience to keep on pushing. Hopefully I'll make you proud."

"You make me proud every day," he said. "Thank you."

"I love you Dad."

"I love you back Big Z!" 

The author (center) at her community college graduation, with her father (right) and siblings.
Credit Courtesy of Zubeyda Ahmed

This story was created in RadioActive's Summer 2016 Intro to Journalism Workshop for high school students at KUOW. Production support  from Nina Tran. The editor is Jenny Asarnow. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.