Salah Abdo fled his war-torn homeland with his family at age three. Now, through hard work and perseverance, he brings his basketball talents to Trinity.
On February 9, 1991, a year after the Somali civil war began, Hassan Abdo and 35 family members and friends packed into a motor boat, no larger than 20 by eight feet, to flee the once-peaceful town of Brava, Somalia, in search of a new life.
“Rebels attacked [Brava] and people were being killed,” Hassan Abdo recalls 18 years later, from his home in Chelsea, Massachusetts. “My family was not safe—we could not sleep at night.”
Fleeing was a risky venture, as those caught were killed by the warlords, and those who broke free were forced to find refuge in another world. There was little room for much beyond fuel and food on the small craft. With no pilot or compass, they began an 1,100-mile, 15-day excursion over the treacherous waters of the Indian Ocean.
“People vomited, waves crashed, and water spilled into the boat. There were sharks everywhere,” Hassan Abdo says of the first night at sea. “We nearly lost hope. We just prayed and prayed and prayed.”
The group made land, and thanks to luck, smarts, survival tactics, and hope, they worked their way to Kenya and eventually on to Cairo, Egypt. There, Hassan Abdo, who speaks five languages, applied for immigration to the United States. It was granted due to his extensive education and his previous agricultural work with the Somalian and Italian governments.
One of Hassan Abdo’s six children, Trinity student Salah Abdo ’11, was three years old the day he and his family boarded that boat. He’d turned five by the time they landed in Boston, Massachusetts, where a relative housed them. Besides images of armed soldiers robbing innocent people, Salah says he doesn’t remember much from those years, but fondly recalls his first meal in America: Bagel Bites and Coca-Cola.
“They were so good. Every time I eat them now, it reminds me that I’m an American. There’s no better country. You can do what you will. But while I’m an American during the day, I sleep a Somalian.”
That is why Salah, a guard on the Bantam basketball team, wants to be a role model for young Somalians to help them understand there is reason for hope.
Kaynaan Warsame (K’Naan) and Salah Abdo
“Just seeing another Somalian do positive things is encouraging,” he says. “Everyone associates Somalia with pirates and crime—even Somalians. It’s important for young Somalians to know and see that you can do good things with your life.” Abdo strives to be a role model, like his father has been for him, and says he finds inspiration from other Somalians he admires, such as Kaynaan Warsame (K’Naan), a progressive hip-hop artist whom Salah met at the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival this year. It is no coincidence that the musician’s song, entitled “Wavin’ Flag,” resonates with Salah. And just as K’Naan uses music as a platform to spread hope to his countrymen, Salah uses his sport, volunteering as a basketball coach and spending time with Somalians in his community and at his alma mater, the Boys & Girls Club.
“The fact that he’s a great athlete allows him to connect with young people, and he’s smart enough to then stress the importance of education,” Josh Kraft, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, says. “I’ve always been impressed with his sense of responsibility.”
Hard work, perseverance
Salah’s athletic talent caught the attention of the Somalian National Basketball Team in the Somalian National Invitational Tournament in 2003 in Toronto, where the young star, then 16 years old, led his team from Boston to the championship game from among a field of 24 teams. Mohammed Guled, his long-time friend and mentor, was the coach. Guled, who has two younger brothers coached by Abdo, received a call from the National Team this summer to inquire again about Abdo’s availability to play in the Arab League. In rehabilitation for an injury, he was unable to join.
Abdo graduated from St. Mark’s School (Massachusetts) where he played for David Lubick, whom Salah considers a friend and an inspiration. He went on to play at the University of New Hampshire. He transferred to Trinity after seeing the positive experience high school teammate, co-captain Paul Rowe, had as a player here.
Abdo showed flashes of his talent last season, but didn’t play at full strength in his first year with the Bantams, in which he averaged seven points, four rebounds, and three assists a game. Head Men’s Basketball Coach SeanTabb says that his talent matches his character and that we can expect big things of Salah.
“He’s an immensely talented player,” Tabb says. “And once he’s back to top physical and mental condition, the sky’s the limit for him in this league.”
The coach recognizes the value of Salah as a person as well as a player.
“We’re very lucky to have him here,” Tabb said. “His teammates love him, he’s well respected, and he always has a smile on his face.”
With his remarkable past and his hopes for the future, Salah says he has every reason to smile.
By: Michael Raciti
The Trinity Reporter