Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 23rd 2017 Contents Sunday, April 23, 2017 guardian.co.tt
Granted UK asylum after 2012 Olympics...
Somali to run again
Zamzam Farah runs
near the London
Stadium in London,
Wednesday. AP PHOTO
LONDON---Glancing at the Olym-
pic Stadium for the first time in five
years, Zamzam Farah's troubles mo-
mentarily wash away and she fondly
reminisces about competing in the
"It was overwhelming," the Somali
runner says. "It wasn't like anything I
had experienced before. The whole world
was coming together."
The London Olympics felt like a sanc-
tuary from the suffering in Mogadishu,
from the violent threats that failed to de-
ter her from running those 400 meters in
the 80,000-seat stadium as half of the
two-person 2012 Somalia team.
Then came a knock on her bedroom
door in the athletes' village late one
evening. A 21-year-old Farah was
woken by a team official with disturb-
ing information: Islamist extremists
had posted death threats on Facebook.
"I didn't take it seriously," Farah said.
"I thought it was a joke."
Until a call from Somalia.
"I don't want to lose you, but you have
to be safe," Farah recalled being told by
her mother. "It doesn't matter how long
we are separated from each other."
It's been almost five years now.
Farah had little choice but to pursue a
new life in Britain. One that ultimately
led her back to the Olympic Park this
week, accompanied by The Associated
Press, to look ahead to her fresh sporting
Farah is ready to run again. This time
pounding the streets of the city that
granted her asylum in today's London
Permanent resident status was granted
by the British government six months
after the Olympics, on February 28, 2013.
"The day I got the letter was so over-
whelming," Farah said. "I was jumping
around. I couldn't believe it."
Starting a new life in London didn't
feel like a choice for Farah but a necessity.
It wasn't about collecting benefits from
the state, but staying alive.
"It was a dark life," Farah said. "Not to
be going back to my country. Not having
the freedom that anyone in this world
would have of going back where he or
she was born or belonged. It was really
sad for me. But I still really appreciate
being here and feeling more safe. I feel
more happy. I can do what I want and
follow my dream."
Even as Farah seizes new opportunities
in life --- like taking a course in English
and information technology---being sep-
arated from her family is a daily torment.
And all because of the faceless, nameless
extremists who endanger her life.
"It's really painful to be running from
someone you didn't do anything wrong
to," the 26-year-old Farah said. "If you
do bad things to them or their family
you would understand. But I didn't do
anything wrong, I didn't know them (the
extremists). I've never seen them before
so it's really hard. It's painful how hard
Perched on a bench in the Olympic
Park, the tears begin to flow. She's
comforted by members of The Running
Charity, the organization that found her
in a London hostel and rekindled her
passion for running.
Growing up in Somalia, Farah was a
carefree teenager who lived for sports.
"Most of the people don't like it that
women do sport, they feel ashamed," she
said. "Some parents might disown you
if you play sport. They think you would
be a bad role model for the other kids."
Not Farah's mum, who encouraged
her daughter to pursue her dreams.
There was soccer, handball and ath-
letics, which involved training runs on
the treacherous streets of Mogadishu to
prepare for the 2012 Olympics.
"It wasn't an easy journey, it was
hard," Farah said. "It was really like the
'road of death.' Waking up in the morn-
ing and not knowing what will happen to
you for the rest of the day. It was really
"Sometimes there was a gunshot. My
mind was on what I was doing but still
I had the fear in my mind of whether
I was going to come back home safely,
or whether I would die today. That was
It is still the life for the rest of her
family. Being so far from home as her
60-year-old mother underwent surgery
last year was particularly painful, espe-
cially as her sister now has children of
her own to look after.
"It's hard for me to miss my mum.
What makes me sad all the time is not
having my family here. Everyone can see
I'm really cool but I have a lot of pain
Farah dreams of the day it's safe to
fly home and use her British education
to spread technology into the Somali
"I can be a role model for other women
who don't have the power to do what
they want to do," she said. "I would say
follow your mind and live by your heart,
try to do what you want to do, don't stop.
Everyone has a time to die, you never
know the day you will die but don't die
not doing what you wanted to do."
Sport remains her passion. It's why she
will take on the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilo-
meter) course around the streets of
London in her first marathon. It's why
she wants to experience the joy of the
Olympic spirit again in Tokyo.
"That's my dream to do my sport," she
said. "I am planning to be back. The next
Olympics coming, the one in 2020."
Farah didn't progress from the 400
heats in London. The 1,500-metre event
is the target this time, but competing un-
der which flag?
"Somalia is where I was born, where I
grew up," Farah said, "and Britain is where
I live, which changed my life." (AP)
"Sometimes there was a gunshot.
My mind was on what I was doing
but still I had the fear in my mind
of whether I was going to come
back home safely, or whether I
would die today. That was my life."
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