SMILEMAKER - The True Life Story of Layla Farxiyo Sheikh Geire
Born and raised in war-torn Somalia, Layla Farxiyo Sheikh Geire, as only a teen guided by vivid prophetic dreams, spiritual strength and immense courage, runs for her life, alone in the ominous jungle finding freedom at the Kenyan border.
In 1980, life in Mogadishu is nearly perfect for the Geire family: the shiny blue ocean dotted with small, brightly painted fishing boats, the sweet sounds of singing in the streets. Mogadishu is a bustling, happy place. Precocious FARXIYO GEIRE (4) lives in an elegant mansion surrounded by lush mango, guava, and papaya trees. Farxiyo's father, ABSHIR, is a general and military doctor, a wealthy, revered chief of the Darod clan. Farxiyo's mother, HALIMA, is a much younger, very beautiful clan princess. Farxiyo laughs and plays in the streets with younger brothers ALI-NASIR and ABDIKAREN; Farxiyo’s sisters, SAYNAB, FADUMA and HAMDA are born later. Abshir is elected chief of the Hawiye clan, and his possessive nature leads him to isolate Halima and the family by moving them to a village called Heelwaayne. Their life of luxury is no more.
At Heelwaayne, Halima raises her children living off the land. At seven months pregnant, she carries her baby, balances water on her head, and manages loads of grass and tree branches on her back. At only four years old, Farxiyo becomes a shepherd girl, responsible for her family’s cattle. For years, each day Farxiyo is bullied and beaten to the brink of death by the enemy clan. Unconscious, she awakens i the bush to hyenas smelling her body as potential food. The sun sets; the cows are no where to be found. In a panic, Farxiyo runs into the jungle searching for them. Flies follow her bloody smell. Badly bruised, Farxiyo arrives home. Overworked, perpetually pregnant Halima sees Farxiyo without the cows and screams at her for daydreaming. Enraged, Halima attacks Farxiyo and chokes her to the point of unconsciousness. Now, Halima rushes to find the cows while facing the dangers hidden in the jungle.
Farxiyo is a daydreamer, though she knows she is destined for greatness. Farxiyo prays for a sign, for The Creator to show her a better world. Later that day, at the military base, she sees a fashion magazine from the United States. The smiling cover model speaks to Farxiyo of hope. From this day on, Farxiyo's world is never the same. She now is determined to create her future in America. When Farxiyo is nine, Halima forces her to undergo the Muslim tradition of female circumcision. Farxiyo continues to be bullied by young enemy clan members which leads to a street fight between Halima and Farxiyo and the neighborhood bully and her mother. After years of hard labor, Halima, with the help of her brother, Mohammed, negotiate with clan elders to move the family back to Mogadishu. The bullying finally ceases. Spring 1989 is the happiest time of eleven year old Farxiyo's life. In Mogadishu, the family returns to the mansion where they had lived nine years earlier. Halima opens a vegetable market. Farxiyo attends school. Life is sweet. Until one morning, in the winter of 1991, the government is overthrown by Hawiye rebels. Bombs sound like popcorn exploding in the sky. People scatter everywhere and scream in complete chaos, running for their lives. Months pass as the family runs from the shots of genocide. They head toward Kenya with a group, surviving on bruised berries and tree sap. Images of body parts, women, babies shot from behind haunt Farxiyo. Hunger ensues, and some people resort to cannibalism. On the journey, they hear that Abshir is killed in a military operation.
A year later, they make it to Halima's father's territory near Kenya, where they celebrate with family. Still, Farxiyo feels sure that her destiny is in America. Her spirit unwavering, Farxiyo joins a group of men who plan to travel on foot to a refugee camp on the border of Kenya. On the first night of the journey, the men trick Farxiyo and abandon her. Farxiyo is on her own in the bush. Alone in the jungle for twelve months, Farxiyo sleeps in holes that she digs with her hands. She wakes up startled, surrounded by snakes. A branch cuts her thumb and it becomes infected. She must burn her thumb in fire to treat the infection. Barely alive, emaciated Farxiyo, too weak to get out of the hole she hides in, sees a lion at close range staring at her. After a staring-match between them, Farxiyo asks the lion why it just will not end her misery. Strangely, the lion leads Farxiyo to a water hole. No animals bother her; butterflies kiss her wounds. This rejuvenates Farxiyo and soon she reaches the Kenyan border. Farxiyo is taken to the Hagadera Refugee Camp; within weeks, Farxiyo travels to retrieve her family and bring them to Hagadera. It is 1993 when the Sheikh family settles there. Each day, Farxiyo stands in line for food for hours. At night, her vivid, prophetic dreams begin. Concerned, Halima believes Farxiyo is possessed by evil spirits and takes her to a witch doctor to rid her of her demons. Ironically, a holy man reveals Farxiyo’s bright future.
One night, while Farxiyo, Halima, and IDLE, Farxiyo's aunt, sleep, terrorists storm into their tents intending to brutally rape and kill them. Idle screams and will not cooperate; the terrorists beat her with a rifle. Idle distracts the terrorists and, in turn, saves all of their lives. Farxiyo jumps over a fifteen foot high fence to escape as the gunmen shoot at her. In 1995, Farxiyo is hired by the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees as an elementary teacher. When she discovers that some of her students have been raped, Farxiyo speaks out and demands that the girls be protected. Farxiyo is told to mind her own business, even from Halima. Farxiyo does not turn away. One of the victim's parents is ashamed and has a Kenyan soldier arrest and imprison Farxiyo. In the end, Farxiyo does make a difference; the school is closed down for investigations. For years, Farxiyo writes to immigration offices in Nairobi for permission to travel to America. No response. Against Halima's wishes, she journeys to Nairobi on her own. Farxiyo's plan: to apply for political asylum in the United States. Instead, she gets arrested and locked up in a rat and snake-infested jail and is taken back to the refugee camp. After several attempts, Farxiyo makes it to the embassy and is granted refugee resettlement status. Her brother, Ali-Nasir, pleads with her to stay. He begs her to preserve her traditional values, her culture, and her connection to her family. Tears fall.
Farxiyo boards the plane feeling somewhat hollow, frightened, while bubbling with an unfamiliar excitement. Twenty years of visualizing and anticipating this moment, Farxiyo cannot breathe. Despite all of the terrorists, cannibals, starvation, ghosts, isolation, this flight is even more terrifying. The flight attendant provides oxygen. Farxiyo feels a lightness beneath her feet as the plane takes off; she ascends.
Written by: Marci Winters and Layla Farxiyo Sheikh Geire