The Last Nomad

Coming of Age in the Somali Desert


By Shugri Said Salh

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A remarkable and inspiring true story that "stuns with raw beauty" about one woman's resilience, her courageous journey to America, and her family's lost way of life.

Finalist for the 2022 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Nonfiction Award
Winner of the 2022 Gold Nautilus Award, Multicultural & Indigenous Category

Born in Somalia, a spare daughter in a large family, Shugri Said Salh was sent at age six to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert. The last of her family to learn this once-common way of life, Salh found herself chasing warthogs, climbing termite hills, herding goats, and moving constantly in search of water and grazing lands with her nomadic family. For Salh, though the desert was a harsh place threatened by drought, predators, and enemy clans, it also held beauty, innovation, centuries of tradition, and a way for a young Sufi girl to learn courage and independence from a fearless group of relatives. Salh grew to love the freedom of roaming with her animals and the powerful feeling of community found in nomadic rituals and the oral storytelling of her ancestors.

As she came of age, though, both she and her beloved Somalia were forced to confront change, violence, and instability. Salh writes with engaging frankness and a fierce feminism of trying to break free of the patriarchal beliefs of her culture, of her forced female genital mutilation, of the loss of her mother, and of her growing need for independence. Taken from the desert by her strict father and then displaced along with millions of others by the Somali Civil War, Salh fled first to a refugee camp on the Kenyan border and ultimately to North America to learn yet another way of life.

Readers will fall in love with Salh on the page as she tells her inspiring story about leaving Africa, learning English, finding love, and embracing a new horizon for herself and her family. Honest and tender, The Last Nomad is a riveting coming-of-age story of resilience, survival, and the shifting definitions of home.


1 Nomads

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.

Now that I was safe, I examined my damaged feet. A long, thick thorn was deeply and painfully embedded in one sole. All I could do was wait for my family to return from animal herding so my uncle could pull it out with his well-used toorey, the short hunting knives all of the men in my tribe carried. I closed my eyes and pictured how brave I would be as he placed one toorey on each side of the thorn and pulled it straight out. The sun was directly above me so I knew it was midday; they wouldn't return until nightfall. It would be a long wait. I sat outside the hut, watching birds flit around me, keeping an eye out for the warthogs, and doodling in the sand. My misadventure hadn't deterred me from wanting to explore, but every time I tried to walk, the pain in my foot intensified, so I distracted myself with one of my favorite imaginary games. I built little huts made of twigs in the sand, pretending I had my own goats and sheep, and practiced calling them the way my ayeeyo did.

When the sun headed to its hole and the sky turned orange behind the acacia trees, I heard the sound of bleating goats approaching. I had managed to fence the young ones, knowing my ayeeyo would not be happy to see the waharo empty their mother's udders before the goats were milked. Now, I glimpsed her walking behind her goats, a herding stick in her hand. I couldn't miss her; she was a tall woman who always moved with great efficiency. Turning, I saw our camels approaching from the left and heard the wooden clacking of the koor bells worn around their necks. My abti Qoodaar, my mother's oldest brother, followed, singing to his herd, casually holding a long stick behind his neck with both hands. The melody of bleating goats, their crying babies, and bellowing camels, punctuated by the koor's rhythm, thickened the air with music. I knew my family had come home.

Just one year earlier, I had been a city girl proudly wearing my schoolgirl uniform of white shirt and blue skirt, waiting with great anticipation to discover if I would be permitted to enter the first grade. I knew nothing except what I was told by the tall girl standing in front of me.

"I will make it into first grade because I can do this," she declared as she reached her right arm over her head and touched her left ear.

I was small for a five-year-old, so this caused me great distress. In reality, I shouldn't have been nervous. My father, a well-respected English and Arabic teacher and religious scholar, had already taught me more than I needed to know. If he said I should be in first grade, no one would go against him.

The teacher scrutinized us as we stood in line. Under his critical gaze, I straightened my back and stood stiffly, focusing on the tall girl's braids so I wouldn't draw attention to myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw endless lines of children in crisp blue and white uniforms standing in the middle of a dirt courtyard, surrounded by white stucco classrooms set against an encircling wall. I had never seen so many children gathered in one place, and they all towered above me. Who will be my friend? I thought as my eyes darted around.

Ten years earlier, one would not have seen so many girls or nomadic children going to school in a city. When Siad Barre took over Somalia in a military coup in 1969, he installed a program called "scientific socialism," which included building roads, hospitals, and farms and improving education. Even nomadic families sent their children to relatives in the city so they could get an education. In 1972, Barre hired a Somali linguist to write out our language using the Latin alphabet. Until that point, it had been mostly oral and, if written, was phonetically transcribed into another language, most commonly Arabic. (The Arab influence brought Islam to Somalia in the seventh century AD, and it remains an Islamic country today.) Despite his many faults, Siad Barre believed in education for all children, so there we were, all in uniform, a mixture of city boys and girls, and bewildered-looking nomads. I gazed up at the Somali flag waving in the wind as voices rose around me into the air, teachers and students singing songs praising the country and President Barre. The flag looked like the clear blue sky, and I imagined that the star in the middle was made from fluffy, white clouds. Whether due to nostalgia, pride, or a longing to see my home country again, to this day I have yet to see a flag as beautiful as the Somali flag.

I had spent the first five years of my life traveling back and forth between my ayeeyo's lands and my parents' house in the city of Galkayo, but during that first-grade year I lived the whole time in the city with my parents and siblings, in a huge stucco house my father built. When school was out, my siblings and I were sent back to the desert. This alternation between nomadic life and the city, not typical in our culture, represented a compromise between my nomadic mother and my well-educated father.

Even as a nomadic child, my father was restless and dissatisfied with the life he had been born into. He had a deep yearning for knowledge. But nomads depend on each other, and young boys were especially needed to help herd the camels far from home. His mother was unlucky and burdened because she had given birth to seven girls and only two boys. She truly needed her sons to take their place in the family.

This longing for education was so strong that in his teens he did the unthinkable: he attempted to steal money from his mother so he could run away. He got the money, but on his way out of their hut, he dropped it. Even though it was tied up in a red cloth and would be hard to miss on the dusty ground, my father kept turning frantically in circles, trying to find it. His movements caught his mother's attention and it became clear to her what was going on. His mother picked up the bundle and asked, "Is this what you are looking for?" It was like he was cursed not to see the money that day. Somalis truly believe that parents can bestow both blessings and curses on their children, so when my father couldn't see this red bundle of money lying in plain sight, he was convinced more than ever that his mother possessed godlike power.

"Forever you will move in circles if you ever try to deceive me another time," she warned. My father knew he would be cursed if he ever betrayed his mother again.

But something changed in her that day. She realized that this son of hers was so desperate for a world different from the one she had in mind for him that he would go to great lengths to escape. She finally released him with a blessing, saying, "May the stones of Galkayo turn gold for you." It was a clever chess move on her part that my grandmother forecast his success in a city that lay within her clan's lands. Like any mother, she wanted her son close by. Apparently, although he traveled around, he never felt settled until he finally dug up the stones of Galkayo to build his house there.

I don't know my father's exact age, only that he was born in the early 1920s. Even today, most Somalis don't know the exact date they were born. We might say, "He was born in jilal," and mark the birth by an important event, such as a bad famine or an unusually rainy season. My father, however, recorded the exact birthdate of each of his children, which was quite a feat since he fathered twenty-three. However, because Somalis don't generally celebrate birthdays, our actual birth dates were not something he shared with us. For the first eighteen years of my life, I didn't even have the concept of a birthday. I now celebrate mine on February 15, only because that's the random date I chose when Canadian officials created my documents granting me entry to North America. At least I didn't choose January 1 like most African immigrants.

When my father was a young man, the British held most of the land from Zeilah in northern Somalia to Garissa, Kenya. The whole region was known as Somaliland, not to be confused with Somaliland of the north, which later gained its independence from the British, or Italian Somaliland in the south. Somalia did not become a unified country until 1960. The British were employing young Somali men as domestic help, so my father decided to get a job at one of their military camps. The problem was that the British man in charge, Commander Smith, only spoke English and Swahili, so my father had no way of communicating with him. Since my father spoke Arabic, and a significant portion of Swahili vocabulary was derived from the Arabic language, he decided it would be faster to learn to speak Swahili than to learn English. He locked himself in a room for three days and taught himself five hundred Swahili sentences. When he was done, he marched over to the British encampment and, in Swahili, asked Commander Smith for a job.

Smith had a reputation for hiring young, poor Somali men, making them work for a month, and then refusing to pay them. Instead, he would falsely accuse them of a crime and dismiss them. My father had heard about this trick and wasn't going to let someone cheat him out of his hard-earned money. Toward the end of the month, my father was working in the kitchen when Smith entered and tried to pull his scheme on my father. He chose the wrong man at the wrong time.

My father had been chopping meat, and with a firm grip on his butcher's knife, yelled his innocence and accused the Englishman of repeatedly cheating his Somali employees. My father, knife in hand, chased that haughty man across a field. By the time someone intervened to stop the chase, their roles had reversed. Smith apologized to my father and even offered to help him with his education. My father learned English quickly. Smith was so impressed, he sent him to Mogadishu to get an English certificate, saying, "The two-year program started six months ago, but you are already ahead of the game." Making good on that prediction, my father came back within a year and half with a certificate. He then worked for Smith, traveling and bringing goods from Kenya to Somalia.

Years later at our home in Galkayo, my siblings and I always sat together and shared family stories as the evening darkness gathered. This particular story was repeated often and with pride by my older siblings. When I first heard it, I thought, My father is a hero! I was impressed by his fortitude and angry at the man who had tried to humiliate him. I was proud he was my father at that moment, but that feeling did not live long enough to cushion the blow of the corporal punishment he often inflicted on my siblings and me. The reality was that my father was portrayed more admirably in the stories I heard about him than I found him to be in real life. At home he was serious and distant. I didn't spend nearly as much time with him as I did with my ayeeyo, and I couldn't bond with him in the same way. A palpable tension hung in the air around my father, warning me that engaging him in conversation would only lead to long lectures, more unpleasant homework, or undeserved punishment.

By the time he was in his midtwenties and had moved to Galkayo, a midsized town in Central Somalia, my father was fluent in both English and Arabic. People came to him and asked for his assistance when they had difficulty interpreting or understanding the Quran, and important government officials consulted him for help with English. Throughout his life, he educated many top-level government officials and ran his own private school from our large house. This earned my father the titles Ma'alin, teacher, and Waadad, man of God. My father had his faults, but he was adamant about one thing: all his sons and daughters must get an education. This was an unusual and bold view at that time, because girls' education was not highly valued. If a mother had money to educate only one child, she picked a son. But my father used to say, "If you educate a son, you educate one person, but if you educate a daughter, you educate the whole community."

My mother came from a different world. After she married my father as a teenager and went to live in the city, she felt it was her responsibility to provide her aging mother with a child to help her with the demands of nomadic life. My mother considered it an honor for one of us to be Ayeeyo's helper. She wanted to choose a child her mother was compatible with, and one suited to the harshness of the desert. My sister Arafo, though one year older than me, was fearful by nature. Even in the city, dark rooms frightened her. I, on the other hand, was a temperamental, strong-willed child who had learned early on that bravery was a virtue worth striving for. And my mother would never have given away a boy to be Ayeeyo's helper; domestic help was for girls. The reality was, my mother was giving birth to too many girls in a society that valued males over females. I was her fifth child and her fourth girl, so it was no great sacrifice for her to spare me as a gift to her own mother. I understand now that my mother was a woman of her time and circumstances, but sometimes, even today, I also can't help but wonder, Was I dispensable? In my low moments, the thought actually brings tears to my eyes. But when I am able to step back and take in the whole picture of the past, I am more understanding. I recall specific moments when she admired me for my bravery and resilience and I like to think she was honoring me with her choice.

My mother's biggest obstacle was convincing my father to allow me to live full time as a nomad. My parents' acrimony over my destiny hit a boiling point when I reached school age. My mother was so determined to provide my ayeeyo with help that she avowed that she would go herself if he didn't give in. Moving my ayeeyo to the city was never an option. My father had moved his own mother to the city and regretted it deeply; they had both watched as she slowly lost her independence and mobility. So after I finished first grade in the city, my father reluctantly agreed to let me go. My mother took me by the hand and headed to the desert.

All I recall from this particular trip was suffering terrible motion sickness on the long bus ride, a sensation that was mixed with the excitement of seeing my grandmother again. I did not grasp the full picture of what this trip meant. No one explained that I would grow up without my siblings and only occasionally see my mother. It was not until I was older that I learned the fight over my destiny had almost caused my parents to divorce.

When I was living full time with my ayeeyo, my mother visited us from time to time. Looking back, I am amazed by my mother's ability to find us wherever we were in the vast, unforgiving red desert. By necessity, nomads are never stationary for long. They are constantly moving in search of water and fresh grazing land. My mother traveled from the city to the edge of the nomadic lands by bus and then walked for many days at a time until she found us. She survived her journeys not only because she knew the harsh desert intimately but because of our built-in "nomadic network," which provided communication, food, and navigation. When she came to a hut, regardless of whether she knew its occupants, the nomads living there would give her shelter for the night and share their meal. Sometimes, in the rainy season, the season of plenty, they would slaughter a goat to share and give her meat to take along. This hospitality was commonplace among the nomads and was key to their survival. People shared because they knew they, too, might need that kind of hospitality in the future.

As they moved about the terrain, herding camels and other livestock long distances to find water, the nomads came into contact with each other, so they not only knew the land but knew where other tribes were currently located. To access this information, my mother had to give the "nomadic password," which was her full name and the name of her subclans. The Somali clan system, with its myriad clan wars, is remarkably complex and difficult to describe. The four core clans are Darod, Hawiye, Dir, and Isaaq. Each main clan branches into four or five main subclans, and they, in turn, split into many more sub-subclans, and so forth. Think of a big family tree, but with warring squirrels on the branches. Somali society uses a patrilineal system, so children always belong to their father's clan, not their mother's.

Somali children are taught to memorize the full name of each of their father's ancestors as far as ten to twenty generations back or more. You might see a little girl, only four or five years old, proudly reciting the names of her forefathers all the way back to the original member of the four clans. Although my father was serious about our education, he didn't feel it was necessary for us to memorize our clan lines. This created some awkward situations for me when I could not recite my forefathers' lineage to other kids my age. My ayeeyo and my mother belonged to the same sub-subclan, but only because my grandmother and grandfather happened to share a lower subclan. That was unusual: for the most part, nomads married their daughters off to other clans to create alliances so they could appeal to them in times of trouble or bad drought. Alliance was insurance, nomadic style.

When my mother went looking for us and came upon people from other subclans, she scrutinized their body language and reactions to make sure there was no recent animosity between the subclans. She had to be ready to flee, in case she had walked into enemy territory. Luckily, unlike men, women were not seen as much of a threat, but she did have to watch for other dangers, such as rape or forced marriage. The way nomads gave navigational information was not in coordinates but in environmental landmarks. They might tell my mother, "Oh, we heard they were headed to the lafo Ayr," which meant "the bones of the Ayr family," and signified an area where the Ayr clan had lost a lot of men in a war. Many areas were named for the warriors who died there. Other areas were named for the type of trees that grew there, the type of animals that lived there, or the harshness of that particular environment. She could be directed to libaax yaale ("the land where the lions lay") or bali Higle ("the reservoir Higle") or bili badan ("many reservoirs"), and she would understand exactly where to go.

I was always glad to see my mother, whom I called hooyo, but wasn't sad when she left, because I loved living with my grandmother. I loved the rhythm and rituals of nomadic life, from the sound of the baby goats demanding milk from their mothers every morning to the mysterious lullaby of the insects and birds that soothed me to sleep at night. I loved sitting around the fire, listening to the stories and poems my family members shared every evening. I could visualize myself in those heroic stories, whether they were legends about my ancestors or traditional Somali folktales. In the desert, I was treated like a big girl, as if I was part of something important. I was expected to be brave, and I was. My days were not structured or filled with schoolwork. When I stood in front of my ayeeyo's hut, all I could see was a vast, limitless land all around me, and I had the freedom to choose which direction to go. I could sit under a tree, just watching nature and being alone with my thoughts, or I could walk endlessly, exploring the myriad sights and sounds. I spent a lot of time climbing trees so I could see farther into the distance. When something caught my attention, I investigated it, often following an animal to its home. Around me, birds built nests, warthogs ran in groups, and foxes played hide and seek with me.

Although I enjoyed the freedom, nomadic life was not entirely carefree. I had work to do, and dangers abounded. Under my ayeeyo's watchful eye, I learned how to do the simple but important tasks of starting a fire, making flatbread using the hot sand under the fire, and looking after waharo (baby goats). Looking after waharo was my first job with the animals, given to me as a four- or five-year-old. I herded them close to our huts, and it served as a learning experience for both me and the waharo. At age five or six, I graduated to looking after a herd of older goats, which I would take farther from the huts in search of grass to eat. To get a bird's eye view of my herd, I climbed a tree or termite mound. From my perch, I watched all my goats below, scattered across the land, heads down, grazing contentedly.

Dudumo—termite mounds—rise like castle spires above the red desert, sometimes reaching the height of seventeen feet at their pointy peaks. They are shaped like a cone or stalagmite rising up from the ground, tricky to climb, yet are often the tallest things around for miles, so they are useful as both a landmark and to get the lay of the land. I quickly learned to climb with care, never leaving my foot or hand in a hole too long, for many other creatures also took advantage of the termites' building skill. Many times I placed my hand on a lizard, snake, or other scary crawler, who would be none too pleased with me for using their home as my play structure or watchtower. Like other nomadic children, I learned how to read landmarks. A tree that was twisted a certain way, unique rock formations, and clusters of dudumo all helped me navigate. Standing on top of a dudumo, I was convinced that the sky and desert met at a far-off point. I would walk toward it, thinking I would get to the meeting point, only to find it getting farther away as I neared. It was this kind of curiosity that often led me into danger, but I was rarely scared, for my ayeeyo taught me well.

As the sun dropped and evening neared, I would return to our cluster of huts with my herd of goats. We would tend to our animals, eat our dinner of camel's milk and dried meat, and then gather around the fire for stories and poems. At times, I mixed up the stories I heard with reality. Coupled with my curious nature and strong sense of duty, this created some interesting perceptions that sometimes came back to bite me. For example, I had often heard the adults talk about guduudane, or "the red one," who caused great destruction of the nomads' goats and sheep and seemed to magically appear and disappear. My mother's family often talked of demons that could possess people and then demand food offerings to leave them alone, so this idea swirled around in my head as I heard stories about "the red one" sucking the blood of animals. Then I grew confused. Was a guduudane a possessed person or a bloodthirsty beast?

One sunny, hot day, I was herding my baby goats not far from our huts when I spotted something red under a tree. Elated and proud to have discovered the despised guduudane, I yelled with urgency to anybody within hearing distance. My family knew I would not yell for help unless it was a life-threatening situation, so they came running. When they reached me, they saw nothing but a woman with a red head scarf sitting under a tree at the edge of our little village of huts. I stood, proudly waiting for someone to capture the "red one." I was convinced my discovery would end tales of the guduudane once and for all. But my mother, who was visiting at the time, calmly told me, "That is not what a red one looks like. Guduudane is not a human."


  • Winner of the 2022 Gold Nautilus Award, Multicultural Indigenous Category
    Finalist for the CALIBA/Golden Poppy Award, Martin Cruz Smith Diversity Category
    An Apple Best Book of the Month, August 2021
    An Amazon Best Book of the Month, Biographies Memoirs, August 2021

    “Salh’s prose radiates with deep empathy and sensitivity, a reflection of the gift for storytelling she inherited from her poet grandmother. This stuns with its raw beauty.”
    Publishers Weekly

    “A brilliant and riveting book . . . The Last Nomad introduces the reader to the real lives in Somalia and the resilience of its people not only inside the nation but beyond.”
    —Abdi Nor Iftin, author of Call Me American
    “Shugri Salh's The Last Nomad is a fascinating look at a disappearing culture. It's told from the perspective of a girl growing into womanhood in a place where women's value and virtue hinges on the actions of men. Salh's stories of bravery and resilience intersplice with those of everyday joy and struggle. They show her forever navigating the place where two worlds collide with grace and skill, as perhaps only a nomad can.”
    —Tracey Baptiste, author of The Jumbies and African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History
    Stunning . . . A clear-eyed, richly-remembered memoir that takes its readers on the journey of a lifetime.”
    “An illuminating and engaging read . . . [Salh] offers an important perspective, carefully documenting her experiences and how they reflect geopolitical issues . . . A thoughtful and resonant celebration of the human spirit.”

    “[A] beautifully written memoir . . . Salh’s memoir is a tale of both physical danger and family warmth and traditions, both nomadic and urban. She brilliantly takes the reader along with her, whether that is in the desert tending her herd or in the city, protecting her family . . . A memoir that demonstrates the power of a young woman to adapt to many difficult changes in life, by an author who was truly inspired by the strength and power of women in her own family.”
    Library Journal (starred review)

    “A clear-eyed and moving chronicle of her coming-of-age during a tumultuous time in the history of her native Somalia . . . A thoughtful look at life in an often-misunderstood culture and region.”
    Kirkus Reviews

    An intense, compassionate, and moving story of tradition and resilience.”
    Book Riot 
    “The prose is simple and open, and captivating. Shugri’s voice calmly teaches us about a stunning world most Americans are unfamiliar with, and the struggles of immigrating.”
    Napa Valley Register, Elayna Trucker

    “Salh shares her incredible journey across cultures and continents . . . She writes with reverence of her desert upbringing, under the wing of her grandmother, in a world of savage beauty, poetry, and storytelling. She also reflects with clear-eyed honesty on the plight of women in a repressive culture and the cruelties she witnessed in a homeland she describes as riven by clan warfare.”
    Sonoma Magazine 

    “An absorbing attempt to explain, through vivid recollection and compassion for her own personal traumas and triumphs, how it feels to have experienced two such dramatically divergent lives. 
    San Francisco Chronicle

    Shugri Said Salh has had a life few of us could ever imagine. From the age of six, she lived as a nomad on Somalia’s unforgiving, arid plains, herding goats under the gentle tutelage of her wise grandmother. Forced to flee with her family during the country’s early-’90s civil war, she lived in refugee camps before beginning a new life from scratch in North America. That quick summary makes The Last Nomad sound like a tragic read, but Salh’s intense focus on her connection to her family and her culture packs an inspiring emotional wallop. As a nurse, she’s crystal clear about why female genital mutilation is harmful to women. Yet her eye-opening description of undergoing it as a girl is filled with a surprisingly deep connection to her heritage. If you don’t know much about the lives of Somali women before starting The Last Nomad, knowing Salh’s story will make you want to learn more.”
    —Apple Books, Best Book of the Month, August

    “A natural storyteller, Shugri Said Salh was born in the Somali desert and has endured war, refugee camps, loss and oppressive traditions on her way to finding her home.”
    Ms. magazine
    “A unique story of an unusual life.”
    Southern California News Group, Stuart Miller
    “A triumph of storytelling that illuminates the nomadic culture . . . As a testimony to human resilience as well as a love letter to Somalia and its people, The Last Nomad delivers accessible insights. Salh’s hard-won wisdom endures in her sometimes painful, yet always riveting and entertaining book.”
    “Heartbreaking and soaringly inspirational . . . Gorgeous.”
    Petaluma Argus-Courier

    “The riveting and lyrical tale she tells is complex and reflects many angles of a patriarchal nomadic culture that is by turns oppressive and supportive, frightening and beautiful . . . Her storyteller’s voice infuses her memoir with a playful, poetic spirit.”
    North Bay Bohemian

    “Salh writes lyrically and with reverence about her upbringing… she recalls with clear-eyed honesty the casual cruelties she witnessed in a homeland riven by clan warfare and a native culture that, for all its rich traditions, is rooted in misogyny.”
    Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

    A fascinating account of the life of a young girl growing up in a nomadic family in Somalia. Reading like a novel, the author provides an account of her life beginning when she was six years old and is sent to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert. Filled with fascinating details of her culture, I was totally immersed in this amazing memoir.”

    “This effortlessly told story documents both a personal and national history of strife. Salh’s unforgettable memoir is about hardship, the ‘rhythm and rituals of nomadic life,’  and a victorious song at the end of personal and national trauma.”
    Isele Magazine 

    This stunning memoir is an exploration of identity, survival, and finding yourself wherever you are.”
    A Mighty Girl, 2021 Mighty Women Reading List for Adults Pick

On Sale
Jul 19, 2022
Page Count
304 pages
Algonquin Books

Shugri Said Salh

Shugri Said Salh

About the Author

Shugri Said Salh was born in the Somali desert. In 1992, she immigrated to North America after civil war broke out in her home country. She attended nursing school at Pacific Union College and graduated with honors. Although this is her first book, Salh has been storytelling since she could talk. From her grandmother and the nomadic community in which she was raised, she heard stories and learned of their power to entertain, teach, and transform. When she isn't writing or telling stories, she works as an infusion nurse. She lives in Sonoma County with her husband and three children.

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