During an appearance at the National Press Club this spring, Garrison Keillor was asked if he would diversify "A Prairie Home Companion" by introducing Somali characters. Keillor suggested a Somali woman converting to Lutheranism was a possibility, but it was hard to discern whether his monologue was improvised or rehearsed.
Either way, I couldn’t help it but think: What a terrible idea! First, religious conversion doesn't embody Somali life in Minnesota. Second, there are other more emblamatic characters.
Here's my idea for a fictional Somali character: A 40-something Somali-American woman named Bulo Kaad Kaadi. The two last words of her name mean Sporadically Urinating.
Names that might be considered rude in some cultures are not so in the Somali culture. Here's one humorous anecdote from the BBC, filed by a British media advisor working in Mogadishu.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi produced and hosted a Somali Community TV Show in Lake Wobegon before becoming an FBI agent. The show was broadcasted on and off, hence the nickname "Sporadically Urinating."
Bulo Kaad Kaadi lives in a one-story single family home with her two sons, her daughter and her mother. She’s divorced and can’t commit to marriage again. That’s despite numerous relationships since her first husband vanished in phenomenon known as “Wuu Cararaay” or he ran away in Lake Wobegon.
Like all the women in Lake Webogon, Bulo Kaad Kaadi is strong. She is head of the household and the primary breadwinner. She’s ambitious and follows Somali politics closely.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi's show features plenty of political news from Somalia and highlights the impacts on life in Lake Webogon. There are stories of political leaders from Somalia holding meetings urging residents to come back and help rebuild Somalia.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi first contacted "A Prairie Home Companion" when Guy Noir, Private Eye, showed up in her studio investigating the disappearance of a female news anchor with the local Fox News affiliate. Guy Noir suspected Bulo Kaad Kaadi was responsible for the disappearance because she wanted to take over the anchor job.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi’s show received financial support from Public Access Television of Lake Wobegon. Funding support stopped after in 2007, thanks to the Great Recession, forcing the cancelation of the show.
Suddenly Bulo Kaad Kaadi was without a job. She needed to find a job quickly in order to support her family and the continuous phone calls from Somalia, with relatives pleading for money.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi applied for a translation job with a temporary staffing agency and got one. She was assigned to hospitals translating for Somali patients.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi liked medical translation. She utilized her bilingual language skills. She was happy.
But demand for medical translation dwindled as more Somalis learned English. Bulo Kaad Kaadi was working fewer and fewer hours, meaning less and less income. She needed to earn more income to keep pace with the desires of her children for expensive sneakers and trendy clothes. So Bulo Kaad Kaadi started asking her supervisor for more work.
Among the clients of the temporary staffing agency was the FBI. The FBI had openings for interpreters to work on a volume of recorded phone calls, emails and text messages intercepted through PRISM, the highly secret surveillance program which was leaked by Edward Snowden. Bulo Kaad Kaadi was the perfect candidate for this type of work.
But there was a caveat. The assignment with the FBI will take her to the tiny nation of Djibouti where the U.S. large military base supporting counter terrorism efforts in East Africa.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi was initially hesitant and nervous but accepted the job after being offered hazardous pay which tripled her base salary. Her mother, another strong Lake Wobegon woman, only approved the plan after being promised the house will be paid off in two years with income from the job.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi took the job and went Djibouti. She fit right in Djibouti where the population is ethnic Somalis. She worked at the US military base during the day and hanged out with locals at night in bustling cafes when not Skyping her children back in Lake Wobegon.
One day, she was assigned to translate for an Al-Shabaab suspect who was secretly napped from Somalia and was being held on US aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Aden. Bulo Kaad Kaadi was put on a helicopter to get to the carrier.
The mission was so secret it required Bulo Kaad Kaadi to be blindfolded during the helicopter ride. She was allowed to remove the blindfolds upon getting into the integration room. The suspect was already in the room. Bulo Kaad Kaadi recognized the suspect as member of her clan. The suspect recognized her as well. They attempted to embrace drawing screams from interrogators. The lead interrogator said no to hugs.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi did good job in this assignment. The suspect trusted her and provided valuable intelligent information. Her stellar performance percolated fast through the chain of command.
Bulo Kaad Kaadi was offered a covert FBI agent position. She accepted the offer and was assigned to keep tabs on a Somali warlord with links to Al-Shabaab. This made her part of many Somali-Americans who commute between America and Somalia supporting counter terrorism efforts while disguised as political advisors, development workers and other functions.
Garrison Keillor made accurate observation when he said the population has not decided whether to stay or if there were to return their "disastrously war torn country". This is true of many of Somalis. But there are also many Somalis, including this author, who decided to make Lake Wobegon home. In fact, real America is the only country many Somalis know and they are true patriots.