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Excerpt from The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Nomad

Coming of Age in the Somali Desert

by Shugri Said Salh

The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh X
The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2021, 304 pages
    Jul 19, 2022, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Because my mother had moved away, she felt it was her duty to provide a helper for her aging mother. In a society that saw daughters as a burden, I was my mother's fourth girl. Early on, she realized she would have to sacrifice one of her daughters to help our ayeeyo. I was that daughter, the chosen one. I would not grow up in the city with the rest of my family. I would not get an education, despite my father's wishes. I am the last nomad.


Hooyaday aniga iyo calool adayg bay na dhashay.
Alongside with me, mother gave birth to an indomitable will.

—Somali proverb, translated by Gh Wiilwaal

I ran as fast as my skinny little six-year-old legs could carry me. My heart pounded in my ears, and twigs snapped underneath as my feet skimmed the scorching desert floor. Before me, I saw nothing but vast, open land littered with rain-starved trees. The hot East African sun played tricks on my eyes, shimmering and dancing on the horizon. A glimmer of hope erupted as I glimpsed my ayeeyo's hut through this mirage. Would I make it to my grandmother's before I was torn to pieces? I was afraid my body was already too tired.

My ayeeyo's warning echoed in my ears even more loudly than my beating heart: Leave those warthogs alone if you want to live. An hour before, I had been the one in power. When I spotted the herd grazing nearby, I had an urge to chase them. They broke into a trot, fleeing with their tails up in the air and their young trailing behind. Encouraged, I followed, throwing stones and twigs at them. Warthogs were ugly, useless creatures anyway. We never ate their meat, even if we were starving. My ayeeyo told me warthogs would run from me until they reached their home, but then would fight back viciously. I wanted to obey her, but I was also determined to test this theory myself. Would they really turn vicious? I felt elated to see them scared of little me. I continued my assault, targeting the small ones falling behind. Mother warthog warned me against bothering her young, sometimes circling back to intimidate me. But the whole herd was running, two by two, away from me. I did it! I won!

Then, suddenly, as if they heard my thoughts, all the adults turned, with their young tucked safely behind them, and charged me. I was now the prey.

I scanned the landscape as I fled, looking for a way to escape. Trees and bushes were few and far between in this arid desert; I was better off looking for a hole to hide in than a tall tree to climb. I desperately glanced over my shoulder and saw nothing but savage eyes, hooves pounding in the dust, and very long tusks, closing in fast. My lungs burned, my legs shook, and my red tunic clung to my body, drenched in sweat. Just when I thought all was lost, I felt a final surge of adrenaline; I practically flew into the hut, leapt up, and threw myself against its inner wall, clinging to it like a frightened monkey. For a moment I hung suspended, gasping for air and trembling, my eyes glued on the entrance, expecting the warthogs to stampede in. But I didn't need that last desperate acrobatic move: the warthogs had given up chasing me.

Excerpted from The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh. Copyright © 2021 by Shugri Said Salh. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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