Passages of an Immigrant's Life

Sunset in Freetown, Sierra Leone.


Life speaks a spontaneous language

at once personal, dynamic and formal.

Other times

Life dares to challenge it's sensitive students,

immigrants and their polite existence.

Most times

Life finds them elongated away from homelands

with the swift movement of time

a constant feature

moving them

through realms of expression

deeply involved in life

deeply involved in death.

At all times

Life speaks a natural language

rhythmically unfolding the story

of immigrants and their preoccupations

driven by an urge to live and

a will to survive aspects of their lives

they would rather forget

paths to permanent residence

defenses against permanent removal.

Then a loved one passes

far away in the homeland

in a world close to their spiritual habitations

where the traditional magic of

the village cock crow

echoes across the compound

and there’s never an end

to human drama and dance

where long, flowing fly-whisks

sweep the air and revive the spirit.

When a loved one passes

far away in the homeland

immigrants become good


learning nevermore

to take their homeland for granted.

On the morning of April 20, 2009, my best friend lost a dear relative. He died instantly in a motorcycle accident in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Uncle Bailor (pronounced Bye-lor) was her father’s younger brother, by a different mother (my friend’s grandfather had four wives). And as is customary in Islamic tradition, Uncle Bailor was buried on the same day because he passed away in the morning. May his soul rest in perfect peace. My friend will gather with extended family and friends here in a mosque in the U.S. for a prayer vigil seven days after the burial.

Uncle Bailor meant the world to her; he was the only grown-up who validated her existence as a child fighting for time in a household filled with step-mothers and step-siblings. His tall, imposing stature inspired her and her siblings to stand up straight in the compound, and sit up straight in school; he expected success from each one of them. A hardworking businessman, he worked hard to support his older brother(s) and the extended family.

My friend last talked to Uncle Bailor soon after Ramadan in 2008. In her last conversation with him, she had to convince him to accept a monetary gift she had wired him as a token of love.

He argued that in lieu of the money, he wanted to see her and her children and urged her to hurry home soon.

Mama Shujaa.

Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.


  1. "paths to permanent residence

    defenses against permanent removal."

    This is familiar and painfully true. So beautifully expressed, as always.

    Peace and strength to your friend.


  2. R-A,

    Danke schone meine freundin.


    Mama Shujaa

  3. May your friend find peace in her time of bereavement. She must be a lovely person to be surrounded by so much love and support. God bless her and her family!!

  4. oh, how sad. My condolences to your friend and her/his family.

  5. My condolences to your friend and her family as well Mama Shujaa. It must be very difficult to lose someone in another land where you cannot be there to say goodbye to him. But she sounds like she comes from a very strong family unit and will have much support throughout this mourning time.

    Your poem was beautiful and beautifully expressed; I especially liked the fifth stanza.

    ((hugs)) to you dear heart,

  6. Thank you for your kind words. And @rebecca: I too like that stanza!

  7. Gorgeous photo: the colors, the people, the motion. I love your poem too. Your words capture the expat experience and the sadness of being apart from loved ones, especially during the hard times. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss.

  8. ah jamani poleni sana...beautiful pic...yes. families are always split up...when we de root ourselves...sad. sad. lots love always xxx janelle

  9. i identify with the feelings captured by the poem, being far away from home and then something tragic occurs can be quite a distressing period!

  10. @ciamismanis: Thanks for dropping in and for your nice comment.

    @Sarah: Yes, I was lucky to find that photo; and I was meant to attach the link and credit: There are other wonderful photos of Freetown there too! Thank you for your kind thoughts.

    @Janelle: Asante sana dadangu.

    @Nairobian: Yes, you begin to ask yourself questions. Asante.

  11. Oh, Mama Shujaa - how beautifully you write of loss and longing.

  12. What a blessing that your friend had this wonderful man in her life. I am so sorry for her loss...


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