Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying Somalia

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Every year, my kids choose a bunch of countries and we devote our summer vacation to learning all about them: the history, the food, the language, the religion, the culture... everything and anything. 

This week is the last week of what I like to call The Educational Summer Vacation (mostly because it annoys my kids and makes us sound like a super-smart family,) and the kids wanted to spend it in Somalia.

I checked out Somalia from the Enchantment of the World series and Africa from the Eyewitness book series, and got a few novels for the 16-year-old and I to read, including City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence and Call Me American by Adbi Nor Iftin.


We started by finding Somalia on the big wall map, which my 6-year-old pointed out was super-easy because Somalia is shaped like a 7.

There it is, right on the horn of Africa.

They filled their last passport page of the year (free for download here,) although I'll add new pages next year and keep them from year to year so I can look back and see their cute little elementary school handwriting.

While the kids were coloring the Somali flag, we looked up its symbolism and then I read Somalia from the Exploring Countries series out loud.

Light blue for the U.N., 5-pointed star for the 5 clans of Somalia.

Did you know that the song "Wavin' Flag" was written by a Somali rapper about his home country? I didn't, but we read it in the book about Somalia, and since it was one of my favorite songs back in the day when I went to Zumba class, we watched the music video and I gained a new appreciation for it (a version with the lyrics is here.)

We watched Part 1 of this documentary on Somalia, but it was a little too boring for the younger kids so we didn't make it to Part 2.

Instead, we decided to talk about leopards. The leopard is the national animal of Somalia, which you can see on the country's coat of arms.

We watched this 5-minute documentary about leopards and then we talked about how a leopard's "spots" are actually called rosettes. If you look at them closely, they aren't spots at all but a brown dot with smaller black blotches all around it.

The younger kids looked at a picture of a leopard and decorated this paper plate, replicating the rosettes as accurately as they could. My boys wanted to use googly eyes, but my 8-year-old was fully committed to realism and wanted to make her eyes green just like a real leopard.

While they were doing that, the big kids made a map of where leopards live in the world and told us some facts about them.

Green is where leopards live today; red is where they used to live but don't anymore.

(At dinner, my 6-year-old announced to my husband "I painted a cheetah!" so it's clear that we all learned a lot today.)

For dinner we ate bariis, which is literally translated "rice." As you can guess, it's a rice dish.

I had the kids watch the video included in this recipe over dinner because the recipe creator talks about the role of bariis in Somali culture. You even see her eating it with her hands at the end, as is tradition.


Somalia's two official languages are Somali and Arabic. We've already covered two other Arabic-speaking countries this summer, so we decided to focus on learning some Somali words today.

We practiced counting 1 to 10 in Somali with this cute little girl (I'm not sure if the kids remembered the numbers, but they sure do remember the cute inflection in her voice because they've been copying it all day.)

We looked at this helpful list of Somali phrases and learned how to say "please" (fadlan,) "thank you" (mahadsanid,) and "my hovercraft is full of eels" (huufarkarafkayga waxaa ka buuxa eels.)

My daughter looked the last one up and apparently it's a Monty Python thing.

Somali has used a variety of writing systems throughout the years as shown here, but in 1973 the Somali Latin script was made official. That means my kids all recognized the letters, but they were in a different order and some were actually two of our letters grouped together, which blew my 4-year-old's mind.

We watched yet another cute Somali kid teaching us the alphabet, then divided up for the next activity. The older kids went to watch this YouTube video about the written language, while the younger kids made some sequencing towers to put the Somali alphabet in order.

The Somali ABCs... or, BTJs?

I cut out little rectangles of paper and the kids wrote the Somali letters on them (this was mostly a a way to trick my 6-year-old to practice his handwriting, because he hates writing lately,) then  we taped the papers to Duplos and watched the video in slow motion to stack them in the correct order.

My 4-year-old copied what everyone else did, but he was very confused. We watched another video that had the letter next to an object starting with that letter, and when he saw an apple next to the Somali letter T, he looked at me more confused than I've ever seen him and asked, "Tapple??"

I made beef suqaar for dinner, which was basically beef stew with fewer spices. We like beef stew, though, so that part was just fine.


For lunch, I made some Somali flat bread called lahooh. We ate it with butter and honey. My kids were not impressed.

I think because they resembled pancakes, the kids had the wrong expectations. The lahooh really weren't bad. They weren't good, either. I was totally neutral on the lahooh.

After cleaning up, we talked about the history of Somalia. It's kind of amazing that Somalia is even still standing, because for about 25 years, it had no national government. There were no federal institutions: schools, infrastructure, law enforcement. 

People got along by relying on the clan legal structures they'd used before, but without a coast guard, Somalia had no way to defend its own waters. Other countries could dump their waste or illegally fish off their coasts and no one did anything about it.

Enter Somali pirates. The started out just defending their country's coast, but some people realized how lucrative piracy could be and a whole new industry was born. It turns out this is actually pretty complicated:

After putting the younger kids to bed that night, Phillip and I and our teenagers watched the DVD Captain Phillips. Today Somali piracy has declined drastically, but this movie was based on a true story during its height in 2009. Super-intense.


Today, we learned about Somalia's fight to rebuild after so many years of civil war. 

This video featured a great vocabulary word for the kids to look up: diaspora. It means people who've been forced to remove from their homeland. 

I asked the kids if they knew what a refugee was. We talked about how people usually need a passport or visa to enter a foreign country but if they're escaping a country that's too dangerous for them to live in right now, they can leave as refugees.

My 8- and 12-year-old summarized When Stars are Scattered, a comic book-style story about Somali kids living in a refugee camp that I'd given them earlier that week. 

I encouraged the teenagers to read two other books I'd picked up about a town in Maine with an influx of Somali refugees: One Goal by Amy Bass and Home Now: How 6,000 Refugees Transformed an American Town by Cynthia Anderson. Haven't read either yet, but they sound fascinating.

For dinner that night we had baasto, which is how you say "pasta" in Somali because their alphabet doesn't include the letter "p."

What are we doing having spaghetti bolognese in Somalia? Well, Somalia used to be divided up into parts that were colonized by France, Britain, and Italy. Thanks to the Italians, Somalis apparently love pasta.


There are a large number of nomads in Somalia. So many, in fact, it's hard to get an accurate count of how many people live in Somalia because 3 out of 5 of them have no permanent address!

One popular type of nomadic tent in Somalia is the aqal. This video was really informative, and then we watched this one of a Somali college student building an aqal for a school project.

In the second video, the kids noticed the lady at 2:38 waggling her tongue back and forth and asked what she was doing. I explained she was ululating, which is kind of like Africa's version of yelling "Wooo!" when we're excited. 

I showed them this video and then wished I hadn't because they were doing it ALL DAY after that. Please do not tell any of this to your children. You'll be sorry.

It was a little hard to reign them back in after that detour, but as an activity I told them to go out and find some materials in the yard to build a small model of a Western-style tent for camping and a model of a Somali aqal.

They decided that Western-style tents were faster to put up if you're going camping for a weekend, but Somali aqals were sturdier, better at keeping out sand and wind, and fit more people. So probably better for nomads.


Most people in Somalia are Sunni Muslim, but there is a sizable subset who are Sufis. Sufi spiritualism is an interpretation of Islam that emphasizes the individual's mystic experience with God. You've probably heard of the Whirling Dervishes in Turkey? That's them. 

But in all the videos I watched of Somali Sufis, I didn't see any spinning. They were all sitting or standing in a line, rhythmically bobbing and swaying as they chanted or sang.

Islam has two major holidays, and they're both called Eid. 

I split the kids up into two groups and gave them a few minutes to research either Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha and report on what it was about and how it was celebrated.

We read the book Crayola Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr Colors and talked about some of the yummy foods they have at this giant Eid feast. We decided to make halwa, which is popular at Eid and also at Somali weddings.

Unfortunately, ours didn't look appetizing at any point during the cooking process and looked even less appetizing when it was finished.

I suspect I look like a witch stirring something bubbling in my cauldron right about now.

I'm supposed to be able to take this out and cut it but it's too... oozy.

I'm not sure what I did wrong, but my halwa didn't solidify. It just congealed into a jelly-like substance that tasted vaguely of gingerbread cookies.

What a way to end the week.

With the exception of the halwa, though, the kids and I had a good time on our trip to Somalia. We tried some new foods, gained appreciation for a new culture, and they learned there are new ear-splitting noises to discover all over this beautiful planet of ours. The Educational Summer Vacation is all about broadening horizons, after all.

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Unremarkable Files
This Somalia unit study is packed with activities, crafts, book lists, and recipes for kids of all ages! Make learning about Somalia in your homeschool even more fun with these free ideas and resources. #Somalia #homeschool

Building the perfect Somalia lesson plan for your students? Are you doing an around-the-world unit in your K-12 social studies classroom? Try these free and fun Somalia activities, crafts, books, and free printables for teachers and educators! #Somalia #lessonplan

Learning about Somalia is fun and hands-on with these free crafts, ideas, and activities for kids! #Somalia #educational

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