Transnational conceptions: displacement, maternity, and onward migration among Somalis in Nairobi, Kenya
Lucy Jane, Lowe
This thesis provides an anthropological account of the relationship between experiences of migration and reproduction among Somalis living in Nairobi, Kenya, specifically the complex relationship between motherhood and migration, and the intricacies of balancing the significance and consequences of both. Due to their legally ambiguous and often volatile status, many Somalis did not perceive Kenya as a ‘durable solution’ for settlement, instead locating themselves within an ongoing process of migration, and as part of a fluid yet highly connected transnational diaspora. This thesis draws on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork in Eastleigh, the ‘Little Mogadishu’ area of Nairobi, with Somali women and their families, as well as medical practitioners, NGOs, UN agencies, and governmental bodies, during which I followed how reproductive decisions were made and medical facilities were navigated within a context of displacement. In this thesis I unpack what it means to exist as a ‘refugee’, ‘a migrant’, and ‘a Somali’ within Kenya, as well as the significance of living within a global diaspora community. I analyse (re)creations of ‘home’ through the temporal appropriation of space, as well as the reproduction of the nation within a context of displacement. I argue that in order to understand how women experience migration, it is essential to understand how they identify themselves within their own transnational family and clan networks as women, wives, and mothers. By illuminating how women protect and act upon their own social positions, this thesis will analyse interwoven concepts of beauty, morality, and motherhood, with a particular focus on how these were entwined with perceptions of both Islam and the Somali nation. Finally, a detailed ethnographic exploration of how women and their families navigated fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth, while simultaneously accounting for possibilities of onward migration, will shed light on the body as a site at which matters of kinship, migration and the future were negotiated. Drawing these issues together, and situating them within medical and political anthropology, this thesis argues that maternity and motherhood are points at which concepts of kinship, religion, citizenship, and gender are intricately interwoven and crucially tethered to strategies for onward migration.