Journalist Hodan Nalayeh posted about taking a walk in paradise on her Instagram story on Friday. While trekking around Somalia that day, she also made fun of herself for falling off a boat but saving her phone, much to the amusement of her husband, Farid Jama Suleiman, who was “hyping” her up.
A few hours later, they were both dead, killed in an attack on a southern Somalia hotel that left at least 26 people dead and scores of others injured. The terrorist group al-Shahab claimed responsibility for the violence.
Mogadishu-based independent radio station Radio Dalsan confirmed the couple’s death.
According to a Somali official and news reports, the attack started when a car bomb exploded at the gates of the Asasey hotel in the port city of Kismayo, some 500 km south of the capital Mogadishu. It took 12 hours for authorities to regain control over the hotel, according to BBC News.
Among those dead were a number of foreign nationals, including one Canadian, one Briton, two Americans, three Kenyans and three Tanzanians. Fifty-six people, including two Chinese, were also injured in the attack.
The attack was the worst in the port of Kismayo since al-Shahab was forced out of the area in 2012. All four of the attackers were killed, Somali officials said.
After another Somali-Canadian was killed in 2016, Nalayeh told CBC News that anyone who wants to “help rebuild Somalia knows there’s always a risk of death.”
Nalayeh’s death led to an outpouring of grief on social media, primarily from the Somali community. Many shared stories of the impact the 43-year-old’s work had on how they viewed themselves, and their homeland.
Others talked about her upbeat personality and constant validation of others.
One Canadian woman, who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of online reprisals, told HuffPost Canada that her mother had been crying for hours since she found out about Nalayeh’s death because the journalist’s legacy meant so much to young Somalis.
Immigration Minister and former national president of the Canadian Somali Congress Ahmed Hussen mourned Nalayeh’s passing and said she became a “voice for many.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also offered his condolences to the families of Nalayeh and her husband.
“Ms. Nalayeh’s work showcased positive, uplifting, and inspiring Somali stories, and was a testament to the role of the free press in broadening people’s perspectives and defending diversity and inclusion. Her loss is deeply felt in Canada, and in Somali and journalistic communities around the world,” Trudeau’s statement said.
Former Edmonton poet laureate Ahmed Ali, known as Knowmadic, shared his anger and sadness in a Twitter post accompanied by a photo of Nalayeh. He ended it with a quote from the Quran, which translates to “We belong to Allah and to Allah we shall return.” The phrase is commonly recited by Muslims when receiving the news that someone has died.
On Instagram, he tagged Nalayeh and said he was trying to feel how she would’ve wanted him to feel.
“I’m not sure if I should accept this feeling of anger and defeat or take your advice today and stay positive @hodantv … But I am grateful for you and everything that you did. I’m grateful that we spoke recently and that I got to tell you [how] much I appreciate you. Your legacy shall [live] on Insha’Allah.”
One of Nalayeh’s friends, Mohamed Gialo, told the Toronto Star that she was an “amazing person with an amazing heart.”
“She was a person who motivated the youth in our community and always worked to help them get the support they needed.”
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also shared her grief on Twitter, and said Nalayah’s positivity was “inspiring.”
Nalayeh’s most recent project was as the producer, presenter and founder of Integration TV, which told stories about Somalia, the Somali diaspora and Muslim life both on Youtube and on CityTV.
The channel’s most recent videos featured Somali women entrepreneurs and things to do in the city of Las Anod. Nalayeh had returned to Somalia to show a different side of the country to a world that often viewed it as violence-stricken and full of conflict and poverty.
In 2014, she talked about what the concept of “integration” meant to her.
“You leave behind whatever you left – the war, the fighting, the corruption in that country – and you come to a country like Canada where you have democracy and freedom to practice your religion, to be who you want to be, to have all these opportunities,” she told the Etobicoke Guardian.
“Basically, integration is balancing that new life, where you still keep your culture, but you embrace the new culture that you’re in. And I think a lot of Somalis have struggled with that – they haven’t embraced the culture of the new, because they’re afraid if they become too Canadian, they’re going to lose themselves.”
Last month, she talked about the importance of Africans telling their own stories in an episode of the podcast “Meaningful Work, Meaningful Life.”
“If we don’t have more storytellers from our communities, especially in the African diaspora communities, who’s going to continue the tradition of storytelling?” Nalayeh told host Francine Beleyi.
“If we don’t become the creators of our own content, we are going to be at the mercy of other people telling the stories of Africa.”
Her last Twitter post highlighted a beautiful day spent with fishermen on the Island of Illsi.
Nalayeh was born in Somalia in 1976, but spent most of her life in Canada after her parents immigrated with her and her four brothers and seven sisters when she was six years old. The family sought political asylum after Nalayeh’s father, who had been a politician, defected, her sister, Dega, said in a 2013 interview.
At first the family lived in Edmonton, but moved to Toronto in 1992 to be closer to other Somali migrants.
She attended the University of Windsor, where she studied Communications, and earned a post-graduate certificate in broadcast journalism from Seneca College.
She then worked various journalism and media jobs in Canada for several years before turning her focus to Integration TV in 2014. One of her guests on the program was former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne.
On Instagram, she had recently posted about wrapping up filming on the first episode of her new show. Her frequent visits to her native country inspired her last year to move back and live there permanently.
Nalayeh was also the founder of the Somali Refugees Awareness Project, a non-profit organization that advocates for Somali refugees across the world.
She is survived by her two young sons, who Nalayeh mentioned in the same Etobicoke Guardian interview.
“I hope to inspire young Somalis to really be active in their communities and to do more, to get involved, to be inspirational for the next generation. I have two children... I hope when they grow up … they can say they have a media that talks to them and there are positive stories about who they are and what they’re about, ” Nalayeh said.
“I think it’s all about leaving a legacy for our children and giving back to the next generation.”
With a file from The Canadian Press
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