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NOEL KING, HOST:
Time for StoryCorps. When Najat Hamza was in her early teens, she left Ethiopia with her dad and two siblings fleeing a conflict. They eventually settled in the United States. And after almost 20 years here, she came to StoryCorps to remember the night they left.
NAJAT HAMZA: The day, it started like any other day for me. But school ended, and we were told to get ready to leave forever. We didn't know when or if we were going to come back. I had to leave my little brothers and my mom behind. One thing that I have never, ever forgotten was that I was shivering as I waved goodbye to my mother for the last time. And in her last attempt of being a motherly figure, she walks back inside our house and grabs this blue sweater and brings it out. And she puts it on me, you know, with her hands. And that was her way of sending me off to the world with care.
That blue sweater traveled with me, and it is here with me in my closet. It was something that I looked at and reached for whenever I thought about her. That is what distances do, break apart bonds that can never be brought back. I'm pretty sure all my high school friends that I went to school with here in Minnesota wouldn't know what I thought about when I would sit in a corner away from them while we're learning about math or what have you. They have no idea what a refugee child from such a background carries.
And of course, you can look at me and go, what are you talking about, Najat? You went to college here. You went to high school. On the surface, yes. But home is the familiar. Home is a space that belongs to you. Home is going outside and just staring into the night sky and not have worries in the world. Even though I'm a full-fledged U.S. citizen, my heart will always belong to Oromia or, as the world knows it, Ethiopia.
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KING: Najat Hamza in St. Paul, Minn. She did not see her mom again for 10 years after that. Her conversation will be archived in the Library of Congress.
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