Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflections on 2012 from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 31, 2012

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS present a time to reflect. So on this, the final day of 2012, I’ve considered the past year, what’s been most significant in my personal life and for me as a blogger.

My 18-year-old son, shortly before my husband and I left him in his dorm room on the campus of North Dakota State University four weeks ago.

Our 18-year-old son, shortly before my husband and I left him in his dorm room on the campus of North Dakota State University in mid-August.

This year marked a time of transition for my husband and me from the full-time job of parenting, a position we’ve held for 26 consecutive years, to becoming empty-nesters. The youngest of our three children, our son, started college in August. The past 4 ½ months have been a period of adapting for all of us. But it’s gone well. Although I miss our boy, the letting go process has been easier than I thought. And for our son, even though he would not admit it, I think he’s missed us a tad more than he imagined.

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

My husband, Randy, and me on our wedding day, May 15, 1982.

Prior to that, in May, Randy and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. I cannot even fathom how three decades have soared past, snap, like that. But I am thankful to have lived them with the man I cherish and love. That reminds me of this little story from yesterday, when we were shopping for window treatments. The associate assisting us complimented us on how well we were getting along, noting that disagreements between some couples often get so intense he simply needs to step away. Not that Randy and I don’t disagree—we do. But we always manage to work things out.

I love this sweet image of Amber and Marc taken after my son's high school commencement.

I love this sweet image of Amber and Marc taken after my son’s high school commencement.

This year also brought love into the life of our oldest daughter, Amber, who met Marc, now the love of her life. I never realized, until this happened, how happy I would feel as a mother to see my girl so happy.

Some of the guest gathered in the Vesta Community Hall for my mom's 80th birthday party.

Some of the guests gathered in the Vesta Community Hall for my mom’s 80th birthday party open house.

The celebration of my mother’s 80th birthday in April, several weeks before her actual birth date, was also defined by love. My mom is the most kind-hearted person I know. And to see the community hall in my hometown filled with family and friends who came to show her their love filled my heart to overflowing with gratitude. This open house party was the best gift we, her family, could ever have given her, even if the party ended early due to a tornado warning. You can read two posts about the party by clicking here and then clicking here.

During 2012, I continue to be gifted with a faithful and growing readership here at Minnesota Prairie Roots. My blog has been viewed this past year 290,000 times by readers from 186 countries. Such support humbles me. I also am honored, even surprised, that I continue to find success in writing poetry. This has been a good year for me in poetry.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Within the realm of writing, specifically here on this blog, I had no difficulty choosing my favorite post of 2012: Yearning for respect & equality, “no matter what color you are.” In that post, I featured photos from the International Festival Faribault and interviews with several teenaged Somali immigrants. It was an especially powerful piece, both in portraits and in the honest and troubling words spoken by these young people who face discrimination in my community. To this day, it hurts my heart to read this post. I’d encourage every single one of you to read or reread that story by clicking here.

The south side of the house roof, reshingled.

The south side of our house roof, reshingled.

The post which drew the most comments, and the most heated comments, this year, Why I am not getting a kitchen redo, totally surprised me. I never expected to hear from so many readers who empathized with our experience related to defective shingles. If you haven’t read that post, click here. However, if you prefer to keep your blood pressure low, skip this story.

Creative freedom of speech

Creative freedom of speech along Interstate 94 in west central Minnesota.

A political post, Driving home a political point along a Minnesota interstate, produced the most views, 3,288 in a single day. Typically I avoid politics. But, when I spotted a limo driven front end first into the ground along Interstate 94 near Alexandria in a statement about the direction in which President Obama is driving this country, I had to post photos. The post was picked up by reddit.com, which generated the high viewership. (Click here to read this post.)

This concludes my review of 2012. It’s been a good year, filled with love, change, constancy and, most definitely, many blessings.

WHAT DEFINED YOUR YEAR?

© Copyright 2012

 

Yearning for respect & equality, “no matter what color you are” August 26, 2012

I HAVE PHOTOGRAPHED them from a distance, their long skirts swaying as they walk across Central Park toward me.

Now the young women are standing before me and I am confused for a moment until Nasteho Farah tells me she wants to look her best and asks me to photograph them again.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

I agree as I already envision the portrait possibilities—the expressive brown eyes, the warm skin tone, the way Nimo Abdi leans toward her friend, her hijab brushing Nasteho’s cheek. They are beautiful young women and I take only one shot, knowing I’ve captured a memorable portrait.

I love this image of  a fest performer and her single audience member for the message it portrays– the one on one connection that helps us understand one another, no matter our culture or skin color.

These Faribault High School students are among those participating in the International Festival Faribault on Saturday, an event designed to connect cultures through music, arts and crafts, kids’ activities, international cuisine, education and, on a personal level, conversation.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician performing in the band shell.

After I photograph the friends, we talk about their experiences living in Faribault. And what Nasteho shares with me so upsets me that I apologize to her for the utter disrespect shown to her and her friend, who stands silently listening.

The native of Kenya, a Faribault resident for five years and prior to that a resident of Rochester, Owatonna and Waseca, says she is criticized for the scarf she wears, for her culture, for her…

“They assume I’m a terrorist.”

Her words temporarily stun me and I can feel my jaw drop.

She doesn’t define “they” specifically, but says the insults, the prejudice, happens randomly—in school, in the streets, even at work.

A group of young Somali dancers perform on the band shell stage during the festival.

When I ask for examples, Nasteho mentions the middle-aged man who comes through the drive-through at McDonalds in Faribault where she works. He tells her she should stop wearing her head scarf. She’s talked to her manager about it and he’s been supportive. For now, she mostly tries to ignore the customer’s spiteful comments.

When she walks into other businesses, like the grocery store, she feels the stares. When driving, she’s been flipped off.

“There is no respect for Somalis,” Nasteho assesses.

Yet, she doesn’t seem visibly angry, choosing instead to speak up or to take the position that those who choose to attack her or her culture do not know her or understand her.

I admire Nasteho’s positive attitude. She tells me she didn’t experience prejudice living in Rochester—a larger and more diverse community—but that it’s been much harder in a smaller town like Faribault. She was too young to remember what life was like in Owatonna or Waseca.

Faribault High School seniors Shukri Aden, left, and Khadra Muhumed.

Faribault High School students Shukri Aden and Khadra Muhumed, who are volunteering with STOPS, Students Together Offering Peer Support, at the International Festival, have also been subjected to hurtful comments from those who tell them to go back to their own country or that they smell.

“I try to talk to them,” says Shukri, who has lived in Faribault for seven years, since she came to the U.S. at age 12.

She wants everyone “to be equal no matter what color you are…to get to know each other.”

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia for sale at the fest.

And this FHS senior has dreams—of going to college to become a nurse and then returning to Somali to help those in need.

On this Saturday, at this International Festival, the words of these young Somali women evoke mixed emotions within me. I am saddened by those in my community who fail to see beyond the scarves, the culture, the skin color, the language.

Mother and daughter check out the artwork from Kenya and Somalia.

These women are not terrorists. They are someone’s daughters. They are high school students. They live here, work here, shop here, worship here.

Despite the clear prejudice which angers me, I feel hope. These young women possess a maturity and poise beyond their teenage years. They yearn for understanding, for respect, for the personal connections that define them as individuals.

And on this Saturday afternoon they are trying, through their volunteerism at the International Festival Faribault, to, as Nasteho says, “bring everybody together.”

A mother’s love and care, the same in any language, any culture, any skin color.

CHECK BACK FOR A FUTURE post with photos from the seventh annual International Festival Faribault. Thank you to the organizers and participants in this festival who are trying to connect cultures, to make Faribault a better place to live, no matter your culture, skin color or country of origin.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling