Gettin’ to know the new neighbors in Ft. Morgan, the men anyway

A local church in Ft. Morgan, CO hosted a luncheon this week so that folks could learn more about the new Somalis among them.

About 70 Morgan County residents and leaders from the white and Latino communities came together to meet with 10 Somali elders for lunch at the United Methodist Church in Fort Morgan on Thursday.

The crowd, which filled the church’s cafeteria area, included government officials, business leaders, police, educators and a number of teenagers who wanted to ask some questions about the Somali community.

An estimated 250 Somali refugees have been drawn to Fort Morgan for the relatively high-paying jobs at Cargill Meat Solutions, and local people want to know more about their new neighbors, several said before the meeting.

At least they are working, unlike the ones trapped in Postville, Iowa with no work.

If you thought a meeting with the elders might be to determine the power structure in town, don’t worry, these elders don’t rule like they did in Africa.

Somali elders were responsible for making decisions when they lived in their homeland, but now they have a different role, said Abdullahi Aden, a Lutheran Family Services case manager for the refugees. They have a senior voice in discussions held with the refugees on problems and issues of everyday life, but do not rule.

Oh, well, except maybe they rule the women who can’t come out to the local church and eat lunch.

One guest wanted to know if the Somali women would be willing to meet with local women.

Somali women, in particular, feel more relaxed speaking with another woman in their homes, Aden said. They are ill at ease in mixed-gender settings and often reluctant to go to meetings.

They sometimes need a man’s permission to go someplace, too, he said.

Oh, what the heck, that’s their culture and who are we to say our treatment of women is better.   It’s all relative and we broadminded Americans mustn’t pass judgement.

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