Feeling trapped in a refugee camp in Kenya, Abdikarim Osman saw dropping out of school as his only chance for a better life, a new start. But after a short stint down the wrong path he vowed to never be defeated again, a message he has held on to throughout his adult life.
In 2005, my life was unbearable. I was in a refugee camp in Kenya, in high school and short of everything. Everything was a struggle – I was surviving on one meal a day – but especially school – which required a uniform, and I only had one shirt and one pair of pants – so I decided I had to quit and find a way to make myself happy.
The first thing I did was leave school and go to the nearby market. That’s the biggest mistake I ever made. I had little money but wanted to buy khat, a flowering plant native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, which can serve as a drug. I was scared to approach the dealers, however, and spent most of the afternoon loitering the market, trying to build up the courage.
While walking around I ran into an old friend who had dropped out of school in fourth grade. He approached me, asked what I was doing, and I explained. He could read the naivety in my eyes and told me that while I didn’t have near enough money, he would help.
I sat next to the other chewers and removed the black plastic around the khat. I started chewing, drinking a strong black tea I was given, and before I knew it, the sun was setting and it was raining cats and dogs. We were ordered to leave by the teashop owner, and I ran home.
My mom had prepared food. And I remember her pointing out my plate, and me taking it into my room. She had made maize cooked with beans, and I was grateful, but I had to hide because I still had the khat on me.
The next day I went to a different market, this time to one by the cinema where khat chewers go. I saw another man I knew, and he welcomed me. I sat next to him. We chewed until midnight. Eventually the cinema owner signaled that it was time to leave the premises. Once again I kept a few leaves on me, paranoid I’d get caught at home.
That night I couldn’t sleep. In my dreams, I was building castles. I saw myself a very rich man. At 4am my mom came to wake me up to pray, but I was already awake. But I didn’t pray then. I didn’t pray that whole day.
Later that morning I told my mom I wasn’t feeling well, that I couldn’t go to school. And that was true. I had a sharp pain in my mouth, and I couldn’t swallow. For the next week, I couldn’t eat and I had to go to the hospital. I was forced to evaluate myself, and I realized that by not going to school I had done something that was physically ruining me, and spiritually breaking me down, I hadn’t prayed since trying khat. One irresponsible decision had led to another, and I didn’t want it to continue. I revised my decision at that moment. I picked myself up. I never went back for khat, and I chose my studies even if that meant struggles. I saw a bright future ahead of myself. I realized my friends and classmates had difficulties too, but that we can overcome them if we stay strong and stick together.
From that day I told myself I’d never give up on life. And here I am today. A father to three children, a husband, and studying to pursue a degree in business management. I had a career-ending life threatening accident a few years ago, when I broke my left leg while driving a fork lift, but I refused to let it break me down. No matter what happens, I say Alhamdulillah and pick myself up.