[dehai-news] (Worthington Daily Globe) I'll sacrifice all I have for my kids— just to make sure they get ahead in life, Eritrean-American mother

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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Thu Mar 26 2009 - 07:50:29 EST

Born into a life of chaos in Eritrea
Julie Buntjer Worthington Daily Globe
Published Thursday, March 26, 2009

WORTHINGTON — When Aida Simon thinks of her native Eritrea in east Africa,
she thinks of tears. Tears shed by a little girl who was always on the run,
hiding in homes of family members … tears shed by a mother who watched as
innocent victims were gunned down in the streets … tears shed for a homeland
at war with neighboring Ethiopia.

Simon’s father was one of the guerillas who started the 35-year civil war
with Ethiopia, which meant his entire family was considered a target. Aida’s
mother and her four brothers were moved from house to house, staying with
grandparents, aunts and uncles and other family members for protection.

While the casualties of war were all around them, Simon’s father made it
safely to Egypt and soon began communicating with his family in code, so as
not to tip people off about his family’s whereabouts. His plan was to bring
the family together in Egypt.

“We escaped the country as refugees,” recalled Simon, who was a small child
at the time. “We were the fortunate ones to get out. We flew on a plane —
usually people would die walking across and over to Sudan or Somalia.”

The family lived together in Egypt for six or seven years before moving to
Sweden. There, this brown-haired, brown-eyed, brown skinned young girl was
surrounded by blonde-haired, blue-eyed Swedes. To this day, when people ask
her where “home” is, she will often say Sweden. The country had a major
influence on her life, and she fell in love with the people and the culture
— although the food was quite bland compared to the foods of her Eritrean

After a short stay in Sweden, Simon’s father found work as a petroleum
engineer with an oil company in Texas. He traveled to the U.S. first, and
then began the process to bring his family over.

“Everything was so much easier than now,” Simon said of the paperwork. When
the documents were approved, they moved to Minnesota.

“Why Minnesota, only God knows, even though he had a couple of sisters
here,” said Simon. “Why everybody settled in this cold weather, I have no

When they arrived in the United States 17 years ago, Simon and her family
settled in the Twin Cities. Her mom remains there, along with three of her
four brothers. Her father died about 10 years ago, and one brother lives in

The brother in Worthington is the reason why Simon moved to the community
several years ago.

“Once he took me around the lake, I fell in love,” said Simon, adding that
she’s always been a fan of small towns.

Simon moved to Worthington shortly before the 9/11 terrorist attacks,
remembering it as one of the most difficult times in her life. At the time,
the community wasn’t as ethnically diverse, and she said there were numerous
instances where people either didn’t treat her well or looked upon her with
suspicion because of the color of her skin.

On the verge of moving back to the Twin Cities, Simon met Beverly Kruse on
the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
Simon had been taking a couple of classes there, after completing two years
at St. Cloud State University.

“(Kruse) just embraced me — she made me feel like a home away from home,”
said Simon.

When she talks to people today about Worthington, she always shares the
story of her bond with Kruse. It was Kruse who introduced her to people,
took her to local businesses and forged connections between the young,
single mother and her new community neighbors.

“She even lost some of her friends because she embraced us,” said Simon.

Kruse also had a hand in Simon finding a job with District 518 and the
Nobles County Integration Collaborative, where she has worked for 5 1/2
years as a program aide.

Today, Simon spends a lot of her time working with the African and east
African refugees living in Worthington. She helped organize the Selam
African community in Worthington and coordinates the Selam African youth
dance group.

“I work a lot with the newcomers,” said Simon, adding that she introduces
them to the community, helps them with job applications and housing.

Bringing people together

In the Twin Cities, the African people are divided into their own groups —
there are those from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Oromo, said Simon. Because of the
hatred and the fighting in their homeland, they remain separate communities
today — even though they now live in the United States.

Simon does not want to see that division in Worthington.

“It’s really hard to get all of the Africans together because of back home,
because of the politics,” said Simon. “When we come here, some tend to bring
it along with them — they don’t leave it behind.

“My main thing is to get everybody to understand that we all have one common
reason here — we’re here for a better tomorrow, for a better future for our
children,” she added. “Let’s focus on living in America and making a better
day for our children and ourselves.”

Family, education important

Simon, who earned her U.S. citizenship in 2006, has always placed a high
value on education, and that is especially true when it comes to her
children. Mother to 11-year-old daughter Adyiam and 4-year-old son Issac,
and in the process of adopting her 2-year-old nephew, Samuel, Simon
envisions all of them will go to college and find success in America.

“Education is like my whole point of living. Right now, it’s my No. 1 focus
with my kids,” said Simon. “I want to see my kids to be so successful and
just fulfill all their dreams, and I’ll sacrifice all I have to for them —
just to make sure they get ahead in life.”

At home, she is teaching them Tigrinya, the native language of Eritrea,
along with many of the customs of her homeland.

“I want them to know who they are, where they came from — to know what their
culture is,” said Simon.

She is teaching her daughter how to make traditional Eritrean dishes, and
while she prepares the typically spicy dishes daily in her home, Simon is
quick to say, “I can’t live without my hamburger and fries.”

It’s interesting to note, however, that her fries must be dipped in hot

Simon’s favorite Eritrean food is zigni, which consists of lamb or goat meat
mixed with ber ber spice (a red, spicy pepper), onion, garlic and homemade
Eritrean butter. The meat is served with ingera, which looks sort of like a

One day, Simon hopes to take her children back to Eritrea for a visit.
Today, the country is still filled with a lot of danger.

“There’s still no peace with Eritrea and Ethiopia,” she said.

Adyiam, 11, (left) and her mother, Aida Simon, Worthington, stand among a
display of items from Simon’s homeland, Eritrea, at the Nobles County
Integration Collaborative in Worthington. Missing from the photo are Mike
Semere and children Issac, 4, and Samuel, 2. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)
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