When Iman Bedri was 13 years old, she and her mother went to to attend an aunt’s wedding. She’d been there twice before, when she was four and five, but had little memory of those visits.

 

          As a teenager, the prospect of a two-month long visit to a foreign country was more than disagreeable.

 

          “I didn’t really want to go,” says Bedri, who was born in Dallas . “I was really mad at my mom. I just thought, ‘It’s a Third World country,’ and I really didn’t want to go. When you’re a kid, you just want to be where you’re at.”

 

          Adds Bedri, now 18 and a senior at Hillcrest High school : “When I was younger, I didn’t know any better.”

 

          If she was younger when she left for Harar, , she was older and wiser when she returned. While there, she experienced not only some of her mother’s native country’s customs — including the seven-day wedding celebration of her aunt — but the nation’s staggering poverty.

 

          “What I first noticed was all the poor people,” says Bedri, who was born in Dallas . “When you come here [to the ], there are homeless, but as far as the numbers, you can’t even compare them. They’re everywhere in … but they’re accustomed to it; they’ve just kind of numbed it out. It’s everyday life.”

 

          The trip, she says now, changed her life.

 

“Witnessing stuff like that — being around your people, hearing their language — makes you really proud. You begin to appreciate it.”

 

          Bedri is Hararian, meaning her family and ancestors are from the Muslim city of Harar, . Her mother, Hajera Avdullahi, walked for 20 days in the early 1980s to escape the country, then embroiled in the political and social turmoil of the Derg, a communist regime. Her parents eventually escaped to the , and Bedri was born in Dallas in 1985.

 

          When Bedri returned from her trip to , she began to immerse herself in her culture. She stopped speaking English at home, and spent a lot of time talking to her grandmother, who is fluent in the language of the Harari, called Adere — she is now fluent herself.

 

She also helped found the Dallas Harari Youth group, in part because of the Hararis’ declining population.

 

“We didn’t want the kids of the next generation to kind of stray away,” says Bedri, who continues to serve on the group’s board of directors. “Everything we do, we focus on the kids who are younger than us. We want the older kids to kind of take up after us.”

 

          Today, similar Harari youth groups have been organized in Atlanta, Toronto and other major cities.

 

Discovering her culture and heritage has led to good things for Bedri, who thinks she might have otherwise rebelled. While learning the language has been important to her, “a lot of it has to do with values and tradition,” she says.

 

“They kind of go hand in hand. It’s really stressed that you respect your parents, and that there’s so much respect you have to give for people. You find kids losing that here, I think.”

 

Today, Bedri is third in her senior class, maintains a near perfect grade point average, and has been accepted to both Georgetown and New York universities, where she hopes to stay active with Harari student groups. 

 

Embracing her heritage also helped her accept her differences from other high school kids.

 

“I used to feel kind of ashamed,” she says. “I wasn’t comfortable feeling different than everyone else. Going to made me more appreciative and more proud. A lot more proud.”

 


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