Spotlight

A Profile on 2016-2017 Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center Fellow on Quality of Life, Sayah Bogor

Article written by Anne Brice at Berkeley News. Original article can be found here.

Sayah Bogor, a UC Berkeley graduate student in public health, will make the short walk across the stage to receive her master’s degree. For Bogor, a native of war-torn Somalia, the event will mark a joyous leap in a long and difficult journey.

“My mom is very very practical. She told me over and over and over, every single evening, ‘if you hear anything, run straight home. Straight straight home.”

Five-year-old Sayah lived in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. It was the late 1990s. Although the country had been in a civil war since the early part of the decade, Sayah knew her home to be peaceful.

“You could go to anyone’s house and have food or go to anyone’s house and hang out. It was a very safe, comfortable environment.”

But there had been rumors that violence might break out, so the family had a game plan. Her father had taken Sayah’s two older brothers to New York, where he had worked for the past six months as a cab driver. Soon, he would be back with visas, so the whole family could move to the U.S.

One afternoon, Sayah was walking to the local gelato shop with her aunt, hand-in-hand with her cousin and best friend, Sarah.

“She also had three brothers, so we just clicked. Her name was Sarah and I’m Sayah, so we were like sisters in a sense. My parents said we were inseparable."

But their walk was cut short.

“I heard shouting, then I started hearing screaming. Then, I heard this loud bang. I didn’t know it at the time, that’s a gunshot. I had never heard a gun before.”

Sayah tried to pull her cousin in her direction, but their hands dropped and, hearing her mother’s voice in her head, she sprinted home without looking back.

“When I got home, my mom is packing. Whatever she can. And my brother is 3 and a half, so he’s a handful. He doesn’t know what’s going on, so he’s crying.”

Her mom used a long cloth to strap her son to her chest so she could carry him more easily. Sayah grabbed a bag and the family took off.

“We start running in the opposite direction.”

“But I told my mom, I was grabbing her skirt, and I was like, Sarah and auntie, they’re at their house and their house was just around the other side. So, my mom was like, ‘We can’t stop. We can’t stop. We gotta think about us.’ But I was a little kid. It didn’t click, the danger of the situation.” 

So Sayah turned around and ran away from her mother toward Sarah’s house.

“I was already pretty far by the time she noticed that I wasn’t right behind her. She turned around, but she couldn’t scream and shout out because you didn’t want to bring attention. So she ran after me.”

“I saw my cousin’s house, and I’m kind of running around. I hear commotion. I come closer behind the house and I see the window, and I look inside the window. And there’s a bunch of men in the house. My aunt is on the ground. Sarah’s in the corner crying. My mom catches up to me right when I’m looking in the window. My mom knew what was going on, but I didn’t know. I just knew something bad is happening…

“My mom is trying to pull me away from the window. I was like, ‘We gotta get them, we gotta get them, we gotta help them, we gotta save them.’ My mom was like, ‘There’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing we can do.’ Then, all of a sudden, I hear a gunshot in the house. And I look back over my shoulder and my uncle is on the ground. They shot him in the head. And we took off.”

There was no way to know that the next two years — a time when surviving required strengths she didn’t know she had — would also set Sayah on a path to tackle some of the world’s biggest medical problems. 

Read the rest of the article which was published on May 9, 2017 in Berkeley News HERE.