Abdoulaye Sow

Photo by John F. Russell

Abdoulaye Sow

A walk in another man’s shoes

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A second village

After fleeing the political unrest and racism of their home countries in West Africa, a group of immigrants has found a community of kindred spirits, and a land of opportunity, in Steamboat Springs.

Abdoulaye Sow

Home country: Mauritania

Family: Wife and three children living in Dakar, Senegal

Moved to Steamboat in: 2011

Abdoulaye Sow tries every few days to speak with his wife and three children in Dakar. He talks to them on the phone, and he’s grateful to have a laptop and a desktop computer on which the faces of his far-away family appear via Skype.

“I have two (computers) because I have a good friend,” he said. He’s talking about Integrated Community Executive Director Sheila Henderson, who orchestrated the donation of the computers Sow uses.

“Here is a good place to live,” Sow said. “A lot of people are very helpful people here.”

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Mamadou Niass looks at pictures of his family members still living in Africa. He said he hopes to return someday to Mauritania to see his extended family and visit the village that once was his home.

Mamadou Niass

Home country: Mauritania

Family: Wife and eight children living in Dakar, Senegal

Moved to Steamboat in: 2001

Mamadou Niass’ warmly paternal presence still is felt in his village of Sorimiale, Mauritania, even though he hasn’t set foot there in more than a decade.

Like many other West African immigrants, Niass harbors a work ethic that goes well beyond his daily job.

They feel they have to give back, to support their friends and family, even when they have nothing.

So two years ago, when Niass was out of work, he took on the task of sending shipping containers filled with goods to his home country.

He enlisted the help of the community to donate mattresses, clothing, sporting equipment and anything else anyone could spare. With the help of Steamboat resident and Niass’ friend Luther Berntson, a group of volunteers packed seven shipping containers that eventually made their way to Mauritania and furnished Sorimiale with comforts they never had before seen.

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Adama Dia

Adama Dia

Home country: Mauritania

Family: Wife and nine children in Dakar, Senegal

Moved to Steamboat in: 2003

One of the oldest African men living in Steamboat Springs, Adama Dia, 60, left Mauritania more than 20 years ago.

He fled to Gabon, and then in 1992, he moved to New York City as a political refugee to find work. Three years later, he moved to Silverthorne, and in 2003, he followed available work to Steamboat Springs, where he now is employed at City Market.

Dia is as selfless as the rest of his African freres, working long weeks only to send nearly everything he earns overseas.

He can’t save enough to fly to Africa for a visit.

It’s been two years since he’s been to visit his family, but it’s expensive to return, and there are mouths to feed there.

Integrated Community Executive Director Sheila Henderson said plane tickets can cost more than $1,000, in addition to the cost for a visa. The immigrants have to apply every time they want to take a trip home, and they can’t stay longer than six months.

At his family’s home in Senegal, whoever is in need is considered a member of the family and will become a beneficiary of Dia’s labor here in Steamboat.

Right now, he said, his sister’s family is staying there because his brother-in-law died, and without him, they wouldn’t eat.

“I help his kids because nobody help them,” he said.

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Moussa Ouattara

Moussa Ouattara

Home country: Ivory Coast

Family: Wife and three children living in Mali

Moved to Steamboat in: 2005

When Moussa Ouattara first moved to the United States to find work, he landed in New York and went to Memphis, Tenn. But he soon found he was not welcome there, just as he was not welcome in his home country of Ivory Coast.

In Memphis, Ouattara said, the danger came in the form of muggings and other violence directed at Africans like him.

In 2005, he moved to Steamboat, where he’s getting used to the cold and snow. He enjoys his job working as a maintenance associate at Walmart, collecting shopping carts, mopping floors and garnering recognition for his signature, toothy smile.

He’s outgoing, quick to offer a handshake and a deep, booming laugh.

“I like it here, no criminalite,” he said. No crime.

He claims his English isn’t very good, but he practices conversationally as much as possible, encouraged by the English classes he takes twice a week at Colorado Mountain College. He said he hopes to become a U.S. citizen, which might allow him to move his family here.

“Yeah, I need them,” he said.

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