WeekEND Reading: This woman’s transformation from nomad shepherd girl in Somali to Mayo Clinic R.N. is nothing short of incredible. CONQUERING THE ODDS, refugee camps, teenage depression, suicide awareness & so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Inspiring–and often devastating–story of one Somali woman’s tumultuous childhood as a shepherd girl in the sub-Saharan desert to successful Mayo Clinic R.N. Aport

This book might be slim, but it’s message is mighty and powerful. Born to teenage parents through an arranged marriage, Habibo wailed in her bassinet in a Somali hospital as her young mother was deprived of food and emotional support (at the time, it was the custom of Somali friends and family to provide nourishment to their patients, and not the hospital’s responsibility). When her father came to the front desk, he asked the nurses, “What is the sex of the baby?”

When told she was a girl, he turned and walked away. 

So begins Habibo’s life. Shuttled between her birth parents (who soon divorced) to her grandfather’s home, and then raised by her maternal grandmother, Habibo’s life was rift with emotional neglect, physical and sexual abuse.

At four, she was a shepherd girl caring for 150-plus goats, sheep, cows, coaxing them across the countryside to fertile pastures and clean drinking water. At seven, she reunited with her mother briefly–because the city of Mogadishu had better facilities–to treat her malaria. She was returned to her primitive, nomadic life, and her no-nonsense grandmother who was often harsh, never telling her granddaughter a job well done, or even that she loved her. Through years of starvation, depression, and more, Habibo learns to conquer the odds.

But her journey takes time, heartache, and just when you think nothing is going to improve for this young woman, it does. 

While living in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab in Kenya, Habibo and her cousin decide to apply for a seemingly untouchable lottery: the selection to leave the camp for America. 

The girls check the lottery postings religiously, every Thursday or Friday afternoon as they are posted on the doors of the UN Center. Weeks go by, then months. Finally, the news they’ve been waiting for–they’ve been chosen.

It’s August of 1998. In a Midwestern college town, thousands of miles away, I am beginning my second year in a 4-year nursing program. My skin is white. My eyes are blue. As I child I had oodles of Barbie dolls, attended Kindergarten, and was given every opportunity to receive an education. I did not witness a crocodile devour a small child, I had not walked for miles in the desert, tired and thirsty and wondering when–or if–I would ever receive a drop of water or find a piece of fruit to stave off the thirst.

Habibo and I are alike in that we are both nurses. We are both women. We both work(ed) for one of the world’s top medical institutions. And while our similarities bind in some ways, our differences are striking.

I am so honored to welcome Habibo to the blog couch. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Habibo, it’s funny the way people are connected. Twenty years ago, I would never have guessed our paths would have crossed. But they did and I find that inspiring. So why this book, why now?

Habibo Haji:  I wrote this book because I want to give people hope. I want them to know that regardless of our past we can always influence how our future turns out.  We do not have to live in our past. Our past does not determine our future. We can leverage our pain to harness our future. Often, people are stuck on the past, the pain, the failure, get into blame game, and lose sight of what is really important.

L.L.: When you look back on your life in Somalia, what three vital lessons stand out?

Habibi Haji:  I have learned that life has many lessons such as pleasant and unpleasant ones. I do not have to live in pain because people who were supposed protected me let me down. I can forgive, work hard, and live my life on my own terms.  In our life whether we are young or old people will disappoint us because they are human but it is up to us not to take things personal.

L.L.: I’ve had the opportunity to travel, but I’ve never been to Africa. Can you set the scene for us? What is Somalia like, geographically? Can you describe the hut you grew up in?

Habibo Haji:  My grandmother lived in a small village called Balcad, which is located eastern Somalia about three miles north of the Indian Ocean. The Shabeelle River runs through Somalia, where everyone in the village got their water, washed their clothing, swam, and watered the animals. Balcad, like many of the villages around it, has about thirty huts, each one surrounded by a fence made from poles and branches to keep the domestic animals in and the wild animals out.  Approximately three hundred men, women, and children live there, along with all their cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and a few chickens here and there.  Surrounding the village life thousands of miles of grasslands, scrub, bush, and forested areas where the people graze their animals. 06512f47fefcfb0ba84a511ef66734ef.jpg

My grandmother’s hut, like all the rest of the huts in the village, was made of tree limbs tied together like an igloo and covered with grass woven mats, which can house an average of about four people.  The huts are built of long grass, woven into many “filiq,” or rugs, which are used to cover a frame made from about twenty tree limbs tied together to form a rounded structure with a wide open door on one side which can be covered by a filiq in bad weather.  The Filiq is handmade by the ladies.

[Leslie’s note: You may appreciate this website of The Somali Museum of Minnesota, which describes the customs and culture of the Somali people]

L.L.: This passage, in CONQUERING THE ODDS, resonated with me, maybe it’s because my daughter is 12, as you were at the time: “I lost a lot of weight due to tape worms, in addition to head lice. You could tell by looking at me that I was not very happy. I was exhausted, tired of being afraid and fighting abuse. I was lonely.” This speaks volumes. You then speak of happiness and becoming a loner. Can you talk more about that, please?

Habibo Haji:  That time was the lowest time in my teen life. I was very depressed, lonely and desperate. I had no one to turn to. I felt abandoned and unwanted. I felt as though the cows were more important than me. As I look back on that experience I am still unsure how I survived. All I know is that something greater was looking out for me.  Because of my childhood experience of being alone and not having much interaction with people especially peers my age made me a bit loner as I gotten older.

L.L.: What might you say to a 12 year old girl now—perhaps your own, or a patient—who confides in not being happy?

refugee-camp-kenyaHabibo Haji:  We have to teach our children how to learn to love themselves.  Help them build self-esteem because when he or she has a good self-image, they are less likely seek approval from others. We have to teach them failure, and disappointment is a part of life but they can lean ways to develop their resilience muscle.  I would tell the young girl to surround herself with positive role models to help her reach her potential.  Ever heard the expression “Birds of a feather flock together”?  She HAS to choose her friends wisely!

L.L.: I’m in such awe about you leaving Dadaab. You mention that your odds of leaving the camp were very slim (about 1 in 150,000). What was that process like and what might have happened had you not been selected for America?

Habibo Haji: WOW!  That was a miracle.  The process was long and it took us about a year interviews, medical check-ups, orientations, and travel plans. My ticket was $892 which I had to pay back to the government once I got a job here in the States.

Had I not being selected, MY life WOULD have been VERY different. I probably would have about 10 kids all living in a tent in the refugee camp(compare to 3 kids now living in a beautiful suburb 4 bed 2 bath home).  I would not have the education I have today. I wouldn’t have a job and would have depended on hand-outs from the World Food Organization which is given once a month.

[Leslie’s note: This June 2016 Washington Times article indicates the refugee camp has subsequently been closed.]6_192016_refugee-18201.jpg

L.L.: What factored into your choice to become a nurse?

Habibo Haji:  I had two jobs paying minimum wage ($4.75 per hour) and I was barely surviving. A neighbor told me about working in a nursing home and getting paid ($10.75 per hour).  I thought wow, now I can become rich!  I took the nursing assistant entrance exam and failed miserably because I did not speak English and did not have any education background.  I was told to study and come back in 3 months.  I went to the library got books and tape, asked for a tutor at the library. After 3 months I took the test and passed. I took the nursing assistant course and got a job at the local nursing home.  That is how I started my nursing careers. I fell in love with the older people in the nursing home. They would share their stories which made me warm and loved.  They use to call me “smiley” they said I always had a smile on my face. I guess I did because I was grateful for being in America and having a job.

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your family—your daughters and son? And also the family left behind in Africa?

Habibo Haji:  I have two lovely daughters, 16, and 14. They are becoming amazing young ladies. We laugh and joke about my childhood sometimes.

My son is 8 years old, and he is super adorable.

It is not easy to be a single mother of 3 children, but I am thankful every day that God chose me to be their mother. I am honored and grateful for the things I have in my life.  Everything I do today I do it because of them. I want to be the best version of myself. They make me better human. They inspire me. They changed my world view.  

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from CONQUERING THE ODDS?

Habibo Haji:   CONQUERING THE ODDS will inspire people to take bold actions in their life. We all have struggles big or small.  It is important not to settle in setbacks and adversity but rather take risks and develop high resiliency in order to overcome the hardships.  Are we holding back from becoming the best version of ourselves because we are afraid of what others will say about us?  Whenever I feel overwhelmed about what other people are saying about me or feel judged, I recite this quote from Les Brown:

“Other people’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” 

L.L.: Habibo, this has been so touching and so enlightening. Thank you! Is there anything I forgot to ask that you would like to share?

Habibo Haji:  Thanks, Leslie for giving me this opportunity to share my journey with your readers.  One of the many reasons, I wrote this book is connect with the youth. I want to use my journey and help them learn they too can be resilient in their own struggles whether that is peer pressure, bullying, alcohol or drugs.

Per the CDC: Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2015 CDC WISQAR). 4/5 teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.  I want to be able to reach as many teens as I possibly can to enlighten them about resilience.  I have been going to schools around the Midwest sharing my journey.  I know with force we can help our youth make better decisions. C3nsavEVMAAd5wD

[Leslie’s Note: 2017 World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th and outreach usually continues the week following. My own mother is a victim of suicide. As a former child/adolescent psych R.N. and mother of two tween girls, this is real, this is important.]

For more information, to purchase a copy of CONQUERING THE ODDS, or to connect with Habibo through social media, please see: 

Haji_1554.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  From shepherd girl in the dessert of Somalia to a bestselling Amazon author and Registered Nurse at Mayo Clinic, Habibo’s extraordinary story of how she went from struggling nomad and refugee to working at the number medical facility in the world. Habibo has helped people transformed their lives to be the best version of themselves. Habibo helps people realize struggles and hardship can be harnessed to build resilience and positive outlook in life.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, here:


[Cover and author image courtesy of H. Haji and used with permission. Image of Somalian hut retrieved from Pinterest, no source noted, image of children getting water from ibtimes.uk.co, refugee camp tents retrieved from June 2016 Washington Times article, Habibo at Longfellow School via Twitter, all on 9.3.17]

The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series

By Leslie Lindsay

Has your summer flown by…or are you counting down the days till your wee ones head back? Perhaps you’re worried about a few things–maybe your child is starting a new school…or, she’s not very good at making first impressions, staying organized, or playing fair.  Now’s the perfect time to begin working with your child on some of those skills as you polish up the back-to-school shoes and shop for glue sticks. 

Follow along as we discuss a different topic related to school readiness each week now through the August.  Topics include:

  • Back to School Stress & Anxiety
  • Easy Transitioning to a New Grade or School
  • Social Skills & 1st  Impressions
  • Organizational & Memory Strategies
  • Self-Esteem & Positive Behavior
  • Playing Fair & Respecting Others

[if you have a child with apraxia, or another special need, please remember to follow along on www.speakingofapraxia on Mondays for apraxia-specific back-to-school tips beginning 8/5/13.  With a combination of these and the apraxia tips, your family will be ready for success!]

Without further adieu…here’s a little refresher on back-to-school stress & anxiety:

Simply put, anxiety is fueled by anything unknown or new.  Think of the times you feel anxious–navigating in a new city, being late for an appointment, not having enouugh time or money to do a job effectively.  The feelings can be similar for your children.  For young kiddos, everything about school is anxiety -producing: who will be in my class?  Is the teacher nice?  What is my teacher’s name?  The building, the routine, where the bathrooms are–it’s all new and unknown, even for older kids.  Here’s what you can do to asauge the anxiety:

  • Talk with your child.  Ask very simply and neutrally, “What do you think school will be like?”  Your child may shrug and say, “I don’t know.”  Try not to fuel more anxiety by ‘offering’ what your child may be anxious about, instead share very matter-of-factly what is involved.  “You will go to ____ school.  We will find out your teacher’s name and get the class list on ____.”   That my appease her for now. 
  • If you know ahead of time who will be in the classroom with your child, invite them over for a playdate before the first day.  When your children see one another tucked behind desks, they will immediatly have a connection.
  • Drive by the school on your way home from errands or a family outing.  Pack a picnic, stop and have lunch there and then play on the playground equipment.  My family has taken a bike ride to our school to do just that. 
  • Be sure to attend the fall preview days/evenings at your school.  Most schools offer these important dates to get to know the school building, meet familiar faces, possibly even meet the teacher and see other classmates.  Go.
  • Do a practice round of the morning routine.  Summer’s great for lounging around and free-sleeping, but there comes a day when everyone must be on a routine again.  Practice it once a week before school starts so everyone can start to get in the habit. 
  • Try reversing roles.  Have your child be the parent and you be the 1st grader (or whatever grade your little one is entering)…ask child-like questions to your little parent.  “What if I need to use the potty when I am at school?”  Your kiddo will likely give you a good answer.  Plus, kids get a kick out of being the parent for a change. 
  • If role-play isn’t your thing, suggest a real-life version of playing school.  Have your  child invite some friends over and let them have at it.  This works well with stuffed animals or dolls, too.  You can help with set-up by suggesting some therapeutic play ideas…remember, your students may need bathroom and drink breaks.  They may like a story.  Pack a lunch and suggest “students” eat in the “cafeteria.” 
  • Practice the Good-bye and welcome home.  Plan ahead how you will get your child to school each day.  If a bus, maybe plan to say your good-byes at home so as not to embarrass your child at the bus stop.  Will you have a specific ritual or saying each time?  “See ya later, alligator!” or “Have fun, be good!”  If you drop your child off via family vehicle, you may want to do a practice round…how much time does it take to get to school?  Daycare or latch-key kids have a different routine, too.  Discuss these plans ahead of time with your little ones.  Make sure they are comfortable with the house keys or garage code and what to do to remain safe if at home alone, or biking/walking alone. 

When anxiety becomes troublesome–you’ll know.  If your child withdrawls completely, gets sick, complains of frequent headaches, tummy aches, sleeps more or less, over-or under-eats, gets overly angry you may be dealing with a more extreme case of anxiety.  Be sure to talk with your pediatrician or another trusted source.  ***Remember, some anxiety is normal and healthy!  Most kids get over their school anxiety in about a month of school starting. 

That’s it!  Class dismissed : )

The Teacher is Talking: Let’s Talk About Talent

By Leslie Lindsay

When I used to work as a R.N. at the Child-Adolescent Treatment Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota I often facilitated educational groups.  Aside from the fact that I really enjoyed these groups, we often would pose questions to the kids (patients) that could be a little tough to answer.  Here are some examples that come to mind:

1)  If you could have another name other than your own, what would you choose and why? 

2)  Name one thing you are good at.

Okay…the one I am focusing on today is this last one.  One. Thing. You.  Are.  Good.  At.  This particular question gets to the heart of the matter quickly: Self-esteem.  I find this question i smuch  easier for younger kids to answer than older ones. 

For example, this past week I volunteered to be a Room Mother at my 6yo’s kindergarten Valentine’s party.  I read a book to the kiddos about happiness and loving oneself.  Then I went around the room and ask for students to share what they are good at.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.  Arms shot up left and right.  “I am good at being a friend.” … “I am good at reading.”  …. “I am good at helping my mom.”  …. “I am good at taking care of my dog.”   Product Details(image source: Amazon.com.  One of the titles I read at the Valentine’s Day Party). 

When I was at Mayo working with a room full of adolescents, I would often get blank stares and mumbles, “I’m not good at anything.”  Or, screwed up faces, you know the kind when someone bites their lip and looks down, trying to wipe off a smile because they know they are good at XYZ but are afraid to admit it. 

Somewhere along the line, kids decide it is not ‘cool’ to admit to something they do well.  I want them to get that back. 

If you have a younger child, then consider  yourself lucky.  You still have time to remind them of their talents and build their sense of self-esteem.  If your kiddos are a little older, keep doing it.  “I like the way you  ____.”  “You know, you really are good at _____.”  “You worked really hard and ____.” 

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be diving into one of my favorite subjects:  self-esteem and children–and later, specifically focusing on girl’s self-esteem.  For now, I leave you with this “book” written and illustrated by my daughter, 6yo .  Note the “about the author photo.” Kelly. 

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In case you have a hard time reading her inventive spelling, I will translate:

  • “Dad’s talent is gardening.” 
  • “Kate’s [big sister] talent is art.”
  • “Mom’s talent is writing.”
  • “Kelly’s talent is soccer.”
  • “Talents are fun for everybody.”
  • “Everybody has fun talents.”
  • “Have fun with your talents.”

The Teacher is Talking: The Energy Bus Book Review

By Leslie Lindsay

I just can’t get enough of my books this week!  I think you will agree that today’s “The Teacher is Talking” meshes well with yesterday’s post about speech disorders and bullies.  Product Details

The Energy Bus by Jon  Gordon came to us by way of a birthday gift for my 6-year old.  She’s a full-day kindergarten student who hops on the big yellow every day, so a book about school buses made perfect sense.  But this is not just any school bus–it’s Miss Joy’s Energy Bus!  (image source: Amazon.co 2/12/13)

I love how this book teaches the young character that he is in charge of his own positivity–his own good thinking, and his own outcome.  It’s about coming to school ready for the day and being your best self.  When some of the older kids at school bother him, he just uses his special energy bus powers to put ’em in their place.  Of course, there are a few bumps along the road, but what one learns from the energy bus is something we can all take with us on our journey.

From the website:

“The Energy Bus for Kids shows children how to overcome negativity, bullies and everyday challenges to be their best and share their positive energy with others.

When you get kids on The Energy Bus, you’ll infuse their lives with vision, hope, love and positivity.”

For more information, see:

[No compensation for this post has been provided.  The author owns this book and is not affiliated in any way with the author.  This is not a give-a-way]

In My Brain Today: You are What you Eat…or Do

By Leslie Lindsay

(image source: http://jenuinemarketing.com/2012/07/06/writing-tome/brain-cartoon/)Brain Cartoon

You’ve heard this adage before: “You are what you eat.”  (And if that were the case, I’d be a big ol’ hunk of pumpkin bread and veggie chips from Trader Joes).  BUT have you heard this one: “You are what you do all day?” 

Ohhh…that’s a new one to you, too?  I know the feeling.  Just when I thought I’d heard it all…

And so it got me thinking.  I am what I do all day.  I am.  What. I do.  All day.  In that case, I am a cornucopia of people, careers, and ideas.  Some may call that schizophrenic.  (No comment, please).  From mom to dog-mom and slave-to-my-family, to educator (“you make an ‘m’ like a camel…two big humps”) to housekeeper and  post office girl, and friend, wife, sister, daughter, publicist, author, writer,…sigh…it’s down-right exhausting.  And that really  is really  the tip-of-the-iceburg. 

I want to be a writer who moms, not a mom who writes.  I want to be the size I was when I graduated college again.  You, too?!  I get it. 

But, really when it comes down to it, I won’t let some goofy saying shape who I am or how I see myself.  We are all unique.  We all do a ton of stuff all day, everyday to make the world go ’round.  There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘left’ or ‘best’ way of doing it.  We just do. 

And we do it gladly. 

And we are. 



Say we are. 

And that is what is in my brain today, Thursday October 4th 2012.