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A child's view of the Somali Civil War

Wednesday April 11, 2018
By Stephanie Dickrell

Somali refugee Ifrah Mansour will perform her one-woman play “How to Have Fun in a Civil War” at St. Cloud State University April 13.(Photo: Courtesy of Ifrah Mansour)

As a child, Ifrah Mansour fled the civil war that tore apart her home country of Somalia.

The Minnesota woman reflects on her childhood experiences in her one-woman show "How to Have Fun in a Civil War." Mansour will perform the show at St. Cloud State University this week. 

In the show, she examines the trauma of war through the eyes of a 7-year-old child. Mansour uses poetry, puppetry, video and community interviews to examine the violence of war and how people heal from trauma.

As a Somali refugee and a Muslim, Mansour is becoming known for her multimedia art. She explores trauma through the eyes of children to uncover the resiliency of black people, Muslims and refugees.

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The story can be understood by children and adults, said Jane Oxton, director of education and outreach at the Paramount Center for the Arts.

"I think Ifrah said it best," Oxton said. "The more we tell our story, the more we heal. The more others hear our story, the more they understand."

She saw one of Mansour's performances at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in February and March. 

"I think none of us knew what to expect," Oxton said. "It places you in the midst of something that you've heard about."

For some audience members, it's a reflection of their own experiences in the Somali civil war.

"It helps you understand common humanity," Oxton said, "as we hear a story that is not only Ifrah's, but is part of so many as well."

The show Oxton attended had a mix of Somali and non-Somali people. A discussion after the show let people ask questions and many with Somali heritage shared their own experiences of the war.

"They shared a kinship," Oxton said. "They were saying, you also told my story."

Despite the traumatic subject manner, the play isn't only distressing.

"It's done in a calm and persuasive way," Oxton said. "It feels very safe to be listening to, and it uses humor."

Oxton hopes to see a full auditorium for the performance.

Somali refugee Ifrah Mansour will perform her one-woman play “How to Have Fun in a Civil War” at St. Cloud State University April 13. (Photo: Courtesy of Ifrah Mansour)

"I hope people ... see it as a real opportunity to come and learn together," she said. "You come away with one more level of understanding."

Masour was brought to St. Cloud through the Midnimo program, which means unity in Somali. The program is designed to provide shared programming over three years to build understanding, curiosity and respect for Somali culture through the performing arts.

Originally, another artist was slated to be in St. Cloud this week, but visa problems delayed the visit to October.

Mansour is also a multimedia artist. She has a piece in the "I am Somali" exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, on display through May 27.

Her work will also be included in "Then and Now: Somali Stories Through Art," at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in April.

She has been featured by Twin-Cities Public Television on "Minnesota Original" and has appeared on PBS NewsHour.

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