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Syracuse filmmakers to help Somali refugee reunite with mother after 13 years

Wednesday September 12, 2018

Before Salat Ali left a massive refugee camp in Kenya, he'd never seen his face in a mirror. He'd never worn shoes, only flip-flops.

Ali, whose parents had escaped Somalia before he was born, didn't speak English when he landed in Syracuse. He was 11. But he'd heard about the United States.

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It was a place, he thought, where cars flew. He imagined remote controls that zapped food into mouths. In Ali's America, there would be no dirt.

He left Kenya in September 2005, with his father and brother. His mother stayed behind. Thirteen years later, Ali is a college graduate who works two jobs. His mother still lives in the camp.

Now, a small team of filmmakers are working with Ali to make a documentary of his life. Part of the story will include Ali's trip this fall back to the camp in Dadaab to see his mother for the first time in 13 years.

"I am a refugee," said Ali, who said he feels grateful and privileged about the life he's built in Syracuse. "I'm the 1 percent of the refugee community. I wanted to show people what it's like to be a refugee. And a success story."

Ali, the filmmakers and Habiba Boru - who runs Habiba's Ethiopian Kitchen in Syracuse - are holding a fundraiser for the project on Saturday. Boru is cooking injera bread, Ethiopian wats and a Somali dessert. It will be at 6 p.m. at With Love, Restaurant on North Salina Street. Any cash donations are welcome, Ali said.

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