The Trials and Tribulations of a Somali Desert Nomad with Shugri Said Salh

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In this deep dialogue you’ll hear from a woman who is the last person in her direct lineage to have lived as a nomad and keeper of her family stories. Ancestors on both sides of her family were nomads. They traveled the East African desert in search of grazing land for their livestock and, the most precious resource of all, water. It only took a few years for her beloved country of Somalia to be changed forever by a civil war that drastically altered the tradition of storytelling. However, Salh's grandmother imbued her with resilience, courage, a love of poetry, storytelling and, above all, an appreciation of the beauty of the Somali culture. Here we explore with Shugri Said Salh her journey from the deserts of East Africa to the green pastures of Northern California. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms) 


Shugri Said Salh was born in Somalia in 1974. In 1992, she immigrated to North America after civil war broke out in her home country. She attended nursing school at Pacific Union College and graduated with honors. From her grandmother and the nomadic community in which she spent her early years, she heard stories and learned of their power to entertain, teach, and transform. She now lives in Northern California with her husband and three children and works as a post-operative nurse and infusion specialist. 

Shugri Said Salh is the author of:

  • The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert (Algonquin books 2021) 

To learn more about the work of Shugri Said Salh go to 

Topics explored in this dialogue include: 

  • How Salh was chosen as a young girl to live as a nomad with her grandmother
  • How her grandmother, Halima Hirsi Bille, was an extraordinary woman including the rarity of a woman being a camel trainer and a famous poet
  • What is meant by the Somali saying ’Our ancestors are our security officers’
  • Why it is crucial for Somali children to memorize their lineage up to six generations
  • The Somali desert is a harsh environment where scorpions, snakes, hyenas, and lions live
  • Why is there fighting among the Somali clans
  • What is the broader view of why Somali girls are circumcised
  • The punishment for rape is extreme for young girls
  • How did Salh cope with being in an orphanage run by several Canadian women
  • What is the story of how Salh tamed a grumpy camel
  • How the fundamentalist regime led by al-Shabaab is wreaking havoc in Somali
  • How it’s the women who suffer most when a fundamentalist government is in power
  • What was her arduous and dangerous trek to Nairobi in Kenya to escape the war
  • What was Salh’s first impression of landing in snowy Canada
  • How a kind bus driver helped Salh navigate the bus system in Ottawa, Canada 

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 9/24/2021   Program Number: 3743 

Music Playlist

From Album: Journey Between
Artist: Baka Beyond
1998 Rycodisk Hannibal #HNCD 1415

Opening Essay: Track 01 Mbé
Music Break 1: Track 05 Cotu
Music Break 2: Track 06 Land's End
Music Break 3: Track 06 Land's End (reprise)