No Room For Failure

(by Hani Malaika M)

At the age of 16, I left home in Toronto, Canada, to pursue a career in the music industry. I vaguely remember packing and leaving, determined not to be like my mother.


My mother made the decision that our family leave home in Somalia to escape the civil war there. She sent me on a plane with a relative to Kenya, where we landed illegally, and I was thrown in jail at the age of five. I was lucky to find my aunt in the jail, and she took care of me until we were relocated to the Deca refugee camp. (Sadly, that camp is still in operation, filled with my people.)


In 1992, my mother, two brothers, and I sought asylum in Canada. I was nine. I felt ashamed and embarrassed by the hardship of an immigrant single parent. All my friends had a closet full of clothes, and mine remained mostly empty, filled with ‘90s boy band posters but only dreams of filling the shelves to the brim.

My mother would show up to school functions in dirah, a head wrap, and shawl. Most days, I’d hide in the bathroom or shoo her out quickly. She did not have any schooling and did not speak English. My surname is “Muse,” but because she couldn’t read, I carried my middle name “Salax” all through school. I skipped lunches. I was not a fan of bringing Somali rice to school.


I never fully understood the emotional discombobulation of moving to a new country where one does not speak the language. I fought my way to speak English: watching Power Rangers after school, listening intently to everything, and reading anything I could get my hands on. Failure had no place in my books.


We moved around a lot. I felt that my mother didn’t take responsibility for being involved in my activities. I was an athlete; I did track and field, volleyball, and basketball. She never came to any of my games. As I grew older, I realized that she had to take care of my younger siblings and could not have made it, but it was painful watching other parents support their children when mine were not there. She did not think it was important. Girls, playing sports? She also did not drive, and I resented that.


So, still a teenager, I left home in pursuit of greatness: a house with marble floors, not the small apartment where I grew up. I did not want to live paycheck to paycheck and show up to school in secondhand clothing. I brooded for years, scrambling to fix things with my mother, doubting her love for me. But an arrogant teen turns into a sinner full of repentance. The cliche of “you’ll understand when you’re a mother” came to life.


Fast forward to October, 2019. I had just given birth to my second child, and I was in as much pain as I have ever been. (Caesarean is truly the devil's work.) My mother came to stay with me. We talked and laughed, and avoided anything beneath the surface. Neither of us wanted to bring up unhealed wounds.


Now I understand that her way of showing love was more complex than mine. I wear my heart on my sleeve and drown my kids in hugs and kisses. My mother's love came in giving up her seat for me on an airplane to escape the war; bringing me my favorite drink; cooking her simple rice for me; and patting me on the back. It took me becoming a mother to fully comprehend how her love language differed from mine.


My dream is one day to go back to the refugee camp in Kenya where I spent part of my childhood, to follow the long trail that I took to get water, and visit the small homes built there that mostly flooded when it rained. My children have brought my mother and me together. Today we live ten minutes apart, and we maintain a relationship where I know she’s proud, although she hasn't said it yet.

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Hani Malaika M is a screen/poetry writer who lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. She can be found on Instagram, Backstage, and IMDb pro.

Simplified Flavored Rice


2 c. basmati rice

2 garlic cloves

handful of cilantro leaves

2 T. olive oil

1 chicken bouillon cube

1 1/2 c. hot water

1 T. ghee

1 t. seasoning salt


Preheat oven to 350 F.

Wash rice until the water runs clear. Strain and set aside.

Crush the garlic and cilantro together.

Heat oil in a pan, and add garlic/cilantro.

Simmer for 1 minute, but do not let garlic burn.

Add bouillon cube, and crush it to mix in with the oil.

Add rice, and stir.

Add water, ghee, and seasoning salt.

Bring to a boil, cover, and place in the oven for 20 minutes, checking on it several times and stirring, until water is absorbed and rice is cooked.