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From Somalia to Milwaukee (And Back Again)

Aug. 9, 2011
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Omar Gagale came to Milwaukee from Somalia and has been a successful businessman. He set up Lula's, an African restaurant on Oakland Avenue, and then co-founded Timbuktu in Riverwest. After many years in Milwaukee, Gagale has decided to return to his homeland, where the United Nations has recently declared new famine zones. There's been a weak government and much corruption in Somalia for decades. A radical Islamist group, Al-Shabaab, has blocked international aid agencies from providing food to starving people. Despite all of these challenges, Gagale is leaving his comfortable life in Milwaukee to go back to his homeland to try to make the world a better place.

Regarding Timbuktu, Omar, what was your driving vision?

My driving vision was I knew Milwaukee needed a place that wasn't just a bar or a club. It didn't need a place where it's black or white. It needed a place where people, regardless of their background, could get together and enjoy, while building and helping their community.

And how did that vision develop? Are you happy with how it unfolded?

It went well from the start because we had a lot of events where there were fund-raisers for good causes. We had other kinds of events, like meetings of the St. Patrick's Day All City Gathering that brought all kinds of people to Timbuktu in Riverwest. And then other such events were started around the city, where people exchanged views, whether they were running for office or whether they were promoting projects that they believed in where the community in general would benefit.

Many people have said that Milwaukee is one of the nation's most racist cities. Based on your experience at Timbuktu, what are your thoughts regarding all of God's children learning to get along with one another in Milwaukee?

Well, you know Milwaukee is a city historically segregated, before even the racial minorities came to the scene. As we know, you had German areas, Irish areas, Jewish areas, Italian areas and Polish areas. But a few years back, it became black and white. I wouldn't call Milwaukee a real racist [city], but what I would call Milwaukee is a place where people need to get together more often and discuss and talk and learn to trust each other and to understand that this is one community and it cannot be divided into black and white.

You were born and raised in Somalia; you understand that culture, and you've been back there recently. You also understand Milwaukee very well. What are you going to miss most about Milwaukee when you're back in Somalia?

Well, first I'm going to have to tell you that I spend more time in Milwaukee than anywhere else on Earth, so I could call Milwaukee home. I will miss all my friends. I would be lying if I tell you I'm going to miss the winter. I will miss the beautiful summer, the festivals, but the people are what I'm going to miss most.

And what do you plan to be doing in Somalia?

I'm going to start a business that I hope will make me successful. I will do import/export. I will have a business that will be helping others, too. It's not going to be something that will benefit me only. I hope to share with those that are in need.

And would you welcome emails sent to you in Somalia from people who read this article?

Sure, I would love to have their input and I'll answer every email that is sent to me. My email address is dgagale@yahoo.com.


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