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'I'm done killing hyenas'

Excerpts from Portland teens' stories of migration to America

These are excerpts from the stories of Portland high school students who have come here from other countries — including Somalia, Iran, and Iraq — and have worked with members of the Telling Room, a group of prominent local writers (including fiction writer Lewis Robinson; screenwriter Lance Cromwell; Telling Room founders Sara Corbett, Susan Conley, and Mike Paterniti; and poet Gibson Fay-LeBlanc), to record their experiences in their birthplaces, here, and the stops in between.

They illuminate the world inhabited by so many people who have found new homes in Portland — and across Maine — often seeking better living conditions, and freedom from fear of attack, but arriving to find new fears, and old ones, still arising.

The fifteen students’ writings, photographs of them by local photographers Laura Lewis and Sean Harris, sculpture-like “story houses” the teens built with the help of Maine College of Art students, and audio and video recordings of the students telling their stories will all be on display at SPACE Gallery, at 538 Congress Street in Portland, starting Tuesday, May 8, with a 6:30 pm reception. The exhibit will be open only a short time — through May 11, from noon to 6 pm.

Admission is by donation ($5 is suggested). An anthology of the stories, published by Portland-based Warren Machine Company, will be available for $5.

By Ali Mohamed

My grandmother always told me that I should be afraid of the lions, but not to be afraid of the hyenas. My grandmother lived in our village and helped my mother cook. She died before my father died, but I remember the stories that she told me. She said that you should never run away from a hyena because they will kill you, but if you don’t run away, they will not kill you. My brothers and sisters were afraid of hyenas, but not me. They had seen a hyena eat something down by the river once, and it scared them.

At night, we put our goats inside the fence that went around the house. One morning, a hyena jumped the fence, grabbed a goat by its neck, and jumped back out of the fence. My father said to me, “Wake up! Go get that hyena who stole our goat!” So I ran after him. I hid behind a tree and when the hyena went by, I hit his kidneys with a club and he fell down. My grandmother had told me not to bother hitting them in the head. You can hit them all day in the head and nothing will happen, but if you hit them in the kidneys they will die, she said. My father ran over to me with a knife, and he gave the knife to me. He was afraid of the hyena. Then my father said, “Kill him!” I stabbed the knife into the hyena’s stomach. That was the first time I killed a hyena. It was before my father died, and he died when I was five years old. . . .

My father was a kind man and he was very tall, he was maybe ten or eleven feet tall! Well, I don’t know how tall he was, I never asked him, “How tall are you, father?” But when we walked together, while going to the ocean or to town, and he held my hand I looked way up into the sky to see him. My mother says I am getting tall like my father. . . .

Nothing had ever happened in my village. It was a very quiet village. I don’t think that anyone had ever been killed there before. It was a Sunday night. I remember everything about that night. It was in the summer of 1992. It was 12:30 am. We were all awake. There were men with big guns who surrounded our house. They looked like they were in the army. My mother said that we were the minority tribe, and they were fighting against us and that is why they were there. Or maybe they had seen my father coming from his store in the town and thought that my father had a lot of money.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Armed Forces , Lance Cromwell , Maine College of Art
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