College Essay: Rewriting the single story about refugees

Zahra MustafaI look around, seeing two naked Turkana women carrying a pile of wood above their heads. Sacred red paint covers their bodies. Heavy and large beads adorn their elongated necks. An ugly donkey grazes near a dead tree while a little boy pees behind it.

People in America thought they knew me because if a single story that was established about me. That I was poor, unhappy, homophobic and terrorist.

My bare feet dig into the warm, dry, cracked ground, as the hot sun hits my bare thighs, arms and face. While waiting to meet up with friends, I stare at my feet, which were bloody from stepping on thorns.

This was weird for a 7-year-old child, but it became a normal experience. A buoyant smile appeared on my face. This was my home, Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

I was content. I never went to bed with an empty stomach. I never had to wonder about where my next meal would come from, and I never felt the fear of violence erupting as others seem to talk about in other refugee camps.

I was born in the city of Nairobi. My parents later fled from Somalia because of the civil war in 1991. In 2007, when I was the age of 6, we escaped.

Refugees certainly do have things in common. However, we are not all the same. The 185,000 people living in our camp came from their native homes from all around the world, including Pakistan, Sudan and India. We speak different languages, follow different traditions, believe in different religions and have different dreams.

Others see me as a young, dark-skinned Muslim girl who grew up in a refugee camp. But I am more than that. I am a bright and happy girl who is independent and who aspires to be a journalist one day.

young Muslim woman with Somali flag

My refugee camp was my jovial place because it was run by the United Nations, and we were provided with food, healthcare and a promise of going to somewhere better. It was a place where people came together to escape the catastrophe that was chasing them. It didn’t matter who they were or where they came from, they just wanted to live in peace. They weren’t the isolated, third-rate African refugees people perceived. We had theaters, electricity and lakes to swim in. Like me, many had educated families abroad who supported them financially.

The fact that I am black, Muslim and a former refugee—people in America thought they knew me because of a single story that was established about me. That I was poor, unhappy, homophobic and a terrorist. These words make me feel numb, because I am here to change the world and make something out of myself.

I am here to get rid of those single stories people have about not only girls like me, but communities like mine. The danger of a single story is that they are incomplete. We hear those incomplete stories of sadness and we feel pity. We assume the worst of every story because they stick out more in our minds.

And I hope to change those incomplete stories by studying journalism. In programs like ThreeSixty Journalism, I am using my writing skills and voice to complete those single stories— to show the world that there is this one side of horror and desperation, but also behind all that, there is joy, happiness and a buoyant smile.