A Profile of Strength: Abdarahmane Wone

On October 13, 2004

  • Abdarahmane Wone is one who will never take America's freedom for granted. Image Contributor

Mauritanian tea, boiled in a small kettle, mixed with flowers of spearmint, has a light-brown, almost greenish tint. Served in tiny cups, it is a Mauritanian social tradition, comparable to an after work cocktail in the United Sates.

For Abdarahmane Wone, who drinks it multiple times a day, it is a reminder of a world left behind.

For those born in the United States - a country that strives to maintain freedom and equality for all its citizens - it might be difficult to imagine a world where overt oppression is the government's order of business.

Wone has known and is a product of this world. Faced with more challenges in his life than most could ever imagine, Wone has proven himself a strong and energetic spirit in the face of adversity.

Born in June of 1973, in the North African country of Mauritania, Wone grew up in the presence of severe racial discrimination. The country, ruled by Arab Muslims, is in a dire state according to Wone.

For over 20 years Mauritania has been going through a form of ethnic cleansing, similar to that which is occurring in the Sudan. Hundreds of villages have been destroyed, men and women killed, and every day people are forced to leave their homes. This is in large part due to the rule of Colonel Taya, leader of Mauritania's government since 1984.

"They call themselves democratic, and they are holding elections," said Wone. "But you can not talk about democracy when people are being kicked out of their country. If you are black you are not welcomed in the homeland."

Despite the oppression surrounding him, Wone was able to attend school, and lived with his uncle in the city of Kaeida until he was about 16 years old.

"At that age you are always happy because you are not thinking about a lot of things," said Wone. "But my life started changing in 1989 after my family was deported and things fell apart."

Wone was forced to leave his home and move to the southern country of Senegal. Although his first years in Dakar, a city of about 1.5 million people, were difficult, Wone was able to complete high school and receive an education in journalism.

"In Senegal I learned a lot about things, I learned about life," said Wone.

Also during this time Wone began taking an active role in politics by joining an organization called FLAM, the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania.

FLAM's goals include ending slavery, and establishing a state of peace among the people of Mauritania. The organization, in which Wone holds the position of North American Spokesman and Secretary of Communications, is a cause to which he devotes much time and energy.

It was his work in FLAM that provided a means for Wone to come to the United States.

In December of 2000, along with other members of FLAM and support from Catholic Charities, Wone moved to the United States to begin a new life.

While many of his fellow countrymen chose to live in much larger cities, Wone chose Buffalo, and is currently the only Mauritanian living in the area.

Now, sitting in the living room of his one bedroom apartment in downtown Buffalo, Wone appears to live in a careful balance between Mauritanian and American culture.

Tables and window ledges contain African figurines, native tapestries cover the wall of his living room. In his study room is his praying area, where he prays five times a day. Framed and hanging in various places are pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, both admired for their advocacy of nonviolence. Wone also owns a poster of Bob Marley, a man whose voice and lyrics he admires.

As he waited for his tea to boil, Wone spoke about how he became accustomed to American life. Wone said that now, after having lived in the United States for four years, he still has a lot to learn and that his most challenging adjustments were behind him.

"Sometimes I felt very frustrated," said Wone. "You are surrounded by people who think you're a crazy, bad guy, and all you want to do is communicate."

But Wone stayed optimistic and thrived in the United States. With the support of Catholic Charities, Wone found a job at St. Francis Geriatric, where he works 50 to 60 hours a week. St. Francis also rents Wone an apartment and provided him with financial aid for his first four months.

Wone is also a tutor at Erie County Community College, and is currently completing his degree in international studies at UB. He is frequently requested to speak with groups of students about his experiences.

He speaks of the United States, a country he says he appreciates for its values, with pride.

"What I really like about the country is the freedom. It can be hard, but you can get where you want to get," said Wone. "It is a country where anything is possible.

Wone continues to fulfill his duties as the FLAM spokesman. He frequently travels around the country to speak with other members of FLAM, writes articles for their Web site, and educates people about the political situations in Mauritania.

"If I can make Americans know more about Africa I will do that," said Wone. "Education is important."

In the little free time he has, Wone enjoys going out, spending time in the library, and with his friends. To Wone, who has friends of different ages, races and backgrounds, friendship is one of the most important things in life.

"I never get bored because, thank God Almighty, I have my friends," said Wone. "They're what make my life rich, what makes me happy."

As for his continuous work in FLAM, Wone travels about once every three weeks to speak with other members of the group and to promote awareness of the unsettling situation in Mauritania.

Recent trips include a journey to South Africa this past summer with UB students, and last month attending a meeting and protest in New York City.

Wone loves teaching, and although he is considering pursuing journalism in the future, his main goal in life is to inform people about what goes on in his part of the world and to effect a positive change in Mauritania.

"No matter what position I'm in, I want to always be in a position where I can share my knowledge," said Wone. "My future will always be linked to the future of my people."

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