Longform

There's no place like home for Somali refugees in Greeley

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But even Adow's future in Greeley is uncertain. When her uncle was fired from Swift, he moved to Denver to look for a new job. Adow wanted to stay in Greeley and finish school, so she tried to apply for a subsidized apartment. But there were none available, and she couldn't find a part-time job to earn more money. So now she's planning to apply for subsidized housing in Denver and transfer to a school there.

This is far better, she believes, than working at a meatpacking plant. Her friends who still work at Swift have almost nothing good to say about it.

"[It's] very screwed up, a lot of shit going on there," says a neighbor named Jamal. He works the late shift at the plant while also taking pharmacy classes at Aims Community College and doing part-time translation work. He believes that new non-Somali workers are being hired daily at Swift while Somalis are being told there are no jobs. "This is very wrong," he says. "It is against the law."

Muna, a tiny, shy woman who keeps wrapping her scarf more tightly around her head as she talks, says that Somalis have to ask permission to use the bathroom, while other workers can just leave. Once, when one of her friends was praying on her knees with her head on the floor, someone put a foot on her friend's head, Muna says. Zuheyra says that one day a Hispanic woman hit a Somali woman in the face with a piece of meat.

"If I find another job, I will leave," Muna says through Adow's translation.


On the first truly cold night of the year, several Somali women gather in a friend's apartment, trying to keep warm. Adow introduces them all as her aunties and cousins. They are relaxed here, out of view of the men, sprawled on colorful rugs, some without their head scarves.

Zuheyra looks especially young in her gold earrings and gray sweatpants, her auburn-streaked hair exposed. She is one of the Somalis who returned to Swift the Tuesday after the walkout, so she still has a job. But it's not one she enjoys. There are nights when cries at the thought of going back to work the next day, and times when she feels as if she's still fasting because the lunch breaks are so short — barely fifteen minutes, she says — so that by the time she removes her safety gear she doesn't have time to eat.

Back home, Muslim women aren't even allowed to work. Here, only the desire to earn money to support her family keeps Zuheyra motivated. "I see the check and [think], 'Maybe it's easy tomorrow.' But it's not easy still," she says.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab