In Conversation With: Ikram Hussain
Ikram appeared on my Instagram feed a few weeks back, via the Run Dem Crew account. Ikram is part of the crew there and has been since 2016, when she met RDC at mile sixteen.
Her story is an uncommon one; born in Somalia before immigrating to a tiny village in Norway, eventually ending up in Brockley, London. She’s a footballer, a runner, a cycle-commuter, cross-country skier and pretty much anything else active. You name it, Ikram is there.
We caught up for a quick mid-week zoom coffee and talked it through.
I work in the Estates and Facility department at a university in London, it’s been a strange year not having students around. We’re looking forward to welcoming them back in the new academic year; it’s been forever.
So you’ve been at home.
Yeah, and I guess I was optimistic in the beginning and didn’t have a proper desk setup which resulted in all kinds of weird back-pains. I've since improved my setup and I’ve also recently been going to the office, which has been really nice.
I haven’t figured it out, my back’s trashed and I’ve got cabin fever. I desperately want to be moving around a bit more, so I’m glad we’re getting there.
Haha yeah, I had to improvise and use boxes to convert my desk to a standing one. It works.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m currently based in Brockley, only a few weeks in. I’ve always lived in East London but this is my first time south of the river.
How involved are you with the club?
Uh, I’ve been running with them for a while, maybe three or four years now. I hadn’t heard of them until I ran past mile twenty-one of the London Marathon in 2016, I saw the crew, their energy and vibe was amazing, contagious, [Run Dem Crew cheer runners on from the side-lines at mile twenty-one] and that’s, like, when you really need that extra boost. I’ve been running with them since. It’s a huge community, super diverse. We have only recently started running together and it’s so lovely to see everyone after over a year.
Okay so where did the super active lifestyle come from? Londoners aren’t known for their athleticism.
Well, I grew up in a small village in Norway called Tolga. There weren’t much to do other than to stay active. I would play football with my siblings and neighbouring kids in the summer, and we would cross-country ski in the winter. I guess it comes from there. I only moved to London in my early twenties. The plan was to study and then go back. But then of course I fell in love with the city and the rest is history.
So it’s been over a year since you’ve seen your family.
Luckily my family lives in Birmingham, so I have been able to see them couple of times since the pandemic. One of the main reasons I moved to the UK was because I wanted to be close to them. There’s a huge Somali community in Birmingham which is something my parents missed and currently enjoy being part of. We moved to Norway when I was 6 months, and it was a huge culture change for my parents. Luckily, we ended up in Tolga, a beautiful village with amazing nature and outdoor space. My parents instantly felt very welcomed by the community and it didn’t take long before they felt at home.
Your parents must have had a polar opposite childhood to yours, in every way.
Oh yeah for sure, they grew up in Somalia during a time when the capital (Mogadishu) was an international city and the tourism in the country was booming. We moved to Norway in the late 80s. Originally the plan was for my parents to study there and go back to Somalia, but that dream was crushed quickly as the civil war started shortly after. We were one of the lucky ones who never got to experience the war.
…and five siblings?
Three brothers and two sisters.
So you had a running crew growing up…
My family are really into football. Growing up, my dad used to subscribe to all the channels that showed both Norwegians and international leagues. We used to watch Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and the Norwegian League every weekend; and when we weren’t watching, we used to play football.
Do you still play?
Yes, I recently joined Brockwell United which is my local team.
So how do you fit into your week, like, running, cycling, playing football.
Cycling has mainly just been a way of commuting for me. I have only recently started to cycle longer distances. My first one was last summer when I cycled to Brighton with a group of friends. It was such a beautiful and amazing day, probably one of my favourite days since the pandemic. People think running is a solo sport but it doesn’t have to be. I mostly run with friends, it’s a great way of catching up after a long day at work. Or it could be a weekend long run where the end destination always would be a bakery of some sort.
Have your reasons for getting out there changed?
I initially started running for fun and to improve my fitness level. However, it didn’t take long before I also noticed my mental health improving massively. This is probably one of the main reasons I lace up on most days. Staying active also helps me achieve some of my personal goals in life. I’m also more aware of my sleeping habits, and I make sure I have 8hrs of sleep every day. My parents don’t really understand my obsession with running but they do support me. My father will always say the same sentence before a race – “Good luck with your run, remember, us East Africans got a reputation to keep up with.”
I guess for them, by the time you were walking they were chasing you.
Haha I guess so yeah. Although, it took them a while to accept my huge interest in sports. You have to remember; they had a completely different upbringing and a culture where maybe there weren’t that many girls who continued with their chosen sport after a certain age. I used to come home with scraped knees in my teenage years after I had played football with the local boys; safe to say my mum was ‘impressed’, haha.
Have you been back to Somalia?
Yes, I went there for the first time in December 2017. It was probably the best three weeks of my life, seeing so many family members for the first time. During the civil war, international calls weren’t always available, so they used to record messages on cassettes and send them with people that were travelling to Europe.
That’s super alien to me, my furthest family members are a few hundred miles away.
Yeah so I met my paternal grandmother for the first time. My maternal grandmother moved to Norway in the mid 90’s have lived with my parents ever since.
Your life must be totally different to theirs, what was that like?
Of course, many of them have survived one of the harshest civil wars in east Africa and that is something that will never go away. At the same time, I felt very much connected with my family and it was so nice to finally put a face on the voices from all the recordings we received over the years.
Did you stay active out there?
Not while I was in Somalia. I had so many places and people to visit. I did visit Ethiopia on my way back to London. I did try to go for a run there, but the altitude humbled me.
Is there a running culture in Somalia?
There used to be yes. We used to have a great middle distance runner called Abdi Bile. He won several medals in the 80s and is considered a national hero. Of course, the civil war put a stop to all of this. However. There are so many athletes who fled the war and now run for their chosen countries. The most well-known runner being Sir Mohamed Farah. Some other exciting runners to keep an eye on are Bashir Abdi from Belgium, and Mohammed Ahmed from Canada.
What Somali culture do you hold onto the closest?
The music and the food; the food is so good. I’d like to go back; as soon as the pandemic is in the past.
What’s next for you, what’s in the future?
Running wise? Well, I was hoping to participate in Chicago marathon this year. Unfortunately, the Muslim ban is still in place in America and my visa was declined. I probably will postpone my space to next year. In the meantime, I will focus on improving my half marathon time and maybe run a marathon here in the UK. Somali women/girls are getting more and more into sports, and it makes me really proud. We currently have two athletes representing Somalia in Tokyo. One of them is Ramla Ali who will compete in boxing. The whole community (both in the west and Somalia) are super excited.
What have you been listening to recently? Do you tune in when you run?
I love listening to music when I run solo. 90’s hip hop, especially east coast gets me going. I sometimes also listen to podcast and audio books. I mainly try to listen to them in Norwegian. It’s a great way for me to keep up with the language.
Wait so you speak Norwegian, Somalian and English?
So that just unlocks so many podcasts and audiobooks for you right?
Yeah, I can understand Swedish and basic Arabic too.
Damn, I wish my parents had me speaking five languages from when I was a kid too.
Well, yeah, silver lining of being an immigrant I guess.