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Abdi Nor Iftin

Abdi Nor Iftin, the author of the recently published memoir Call Me American, first fell in love with America from afar. As a child, he learned English by listening to American pop artists like Michael Jackson and watching films starring action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Sporting American clothes and dance moves, he became known around Mogadishu as Abdi American, but when the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab rose to power in 2006, it suddenly became dangerous to celebrate Western culture. Desperate to make a living, Abdi used his language skills to post secret dispatches to NPR and the Internet, which found an audience of worldwide listeners. As life in Somalia grew more dangerous, he was left with no choice but to flee to Kenya as a refugee.

In an amazing stroke of luck, Abdi won entrance to the U.S. in the annual visa lottery. Parts of his story were first heard on the BBC World Service and This American Life. He has contributed to Refugees International, American Public Media and been featured on CNN and in the Washington Post.

He is currently attending the University of Southern Maine as a political science major and works as an interpreter for Somali immigrants. His memoir is a vivid reminder of why western democracies still beckon to those looking to make a better life.