Muktar Abdow holds up a can of coconut milk from the shelf in his store.
He’s quizzing his daughter and niece on Somali vocabulary. Abdow is the owner of the African Mini-Mart in North Portland. The shelves are stocked with fresh vegetables, spices and colorful clothing from Africa and the Middle East. Abdow has owned the business for three years. He and his family are refugees from Somalia.
When school lets out for summer, he sometimes brings his three young kids to work.
“I show, you know, like being in the store it’s difficult, I tell you the truth. You have to deal with a lot of different people, different behavior. I was showing them to see what we do in life to survive,” says Abdow.
Abdow has been through a lot to survive. He fled Somalia in 1993 after he says his village was destroyed by civil war and genocide. His family followed soon after, and they settled in Portland.
His daughter, nine-year-old Feruse Moalim shows me around the store.
“These are where the scarves are, the headdresses. I also get the shoes, and the jewelry. But I’m not wearing them right now,” says Feruse.
Feruse is wearing bright red shoes with a tiny heel, a colorful skirt, and the traditional Muslim headdress. She’s proud of her culture, she says. But sometimes school is difficult.
“When I came here it was really hard because they asked me about my headdress they say, ‘How come you wear this all the time?’ and I have to tell them every single time. ‘It’s my culture, I have to wear it.’ I kind of get a lot of pressure, and I get mad,” says Feruse.
But she also likes it that her culture makes her unique. Sometimes, she knows interesting facts about Africa that her classmates don’t. And in the summertime, she can come to the store with her dad.
“When there’s no school, I just hang out and help him. He says it’s really important to have a job,” says Feruse.
Feruse likes tidying up items on shelves or chilling out behind the counter. Business is good, says Muktar Abdow, but he has to work a lot—sometimes seven days a week. He says that showing his kids what he does for work carries on the custom of his parents back in Somalia. They were farmers and business owners, too.
“Our parents, they used to take us farm, they show us how to farm, they show us how to keep the animals, because we see how to keep them. They don’t hide, they always show us everything, ‘Let’s go, let’s go… So mostly now I give them opportunity they can learn, because in America there is a lot of room for opportunity they can learn whatever they want,” says Abdow.
Abdow has gotten some assistance with his business. Last year, he received a county grant to provide fresh fruits and vegetables in the store.
There are nearly 7,000 immigrant business owners in Oregon, according to the most recent census. Several programs and agencies help immigrants to get low-interest loans and navigate the licensing process.
On the opposite side of town near Gresham, 14 members of the Puzur family are hoeing, weeding, and tilling the soil at Happy Moment Farm.
Tatyana Puzur doesn’t speak much English. But it’s easy to see she loves having her children and her grandkids with her at their farm.
“I like—something do together—plant or, or pick up. But the kids they like a little play, running ,” says Tatyana.
Tatyana and her husband came to the U.S. from Russia 13 years ago as religious refugees. Most of her kids and grandkids now live here too. She and her husband started Happy Moment Farm five years ago.
“I love this place because I like to garden, and this is my grandma and grandpa’s garden, where I plant potatoes and cherry tomatoes,” says seven-year-old Susanna Puzur.
She and her siblings come here several times a week during the school year, and more often in the summer. There’s a lot for them to see here.
“Bees, and flowers, trees, plants, dirt, and rocks,” says nine-year-old Regina Puzur, another granddaughter.
She helps here at the farm and also at the Lents farmers’ market every Sunday, where the family sells fresh vegetables and honey from the farm. Business is good, but they’d like to see it grow. The farm is still not a full-time operation for the Puzurs—most of the adults also work regular jobs, too.
But farming is what they love to do most. Tatyana, the grandmother, says that eating healthy, fresh food has always been important to her family, even when they were in Russia.
That value has stuck with the grandkids. Regina talks about how she loves picking cherry tomatoes.
“And then you eat them and you get really healthy and then you eat a lot of them. But you don’t really need to eat a lot each day but you do need to be healthy,” says Regina.
On the farm the kids are also learning how to keep bees, when to harvest radishes, and how to get rid of invasive thistles.
But it’s also a great place to play. The nine grandkids chase each other through a small grove of fir trees lining the farm.
So the Puzurs share their culture and their values with the next generation through their farm business.
But the best part of being on the farm? At the end of a day, Susanna says, “I’m all dirty. When we come home we can, you can get bubble baths. It feels good.”
OPB | Feb. 22, 2017