On Dec. 12, WGBH News’ Craig LeMoult visited the Whittier public housing complex in Roxbury to cover the announcement of a $30 million federal grant to rebuild the project. As he was walking around after the event, Craig struck up a conversation with a man standing at a bus stop there. 

“I’m from Somalia. My name’s Habib Hersi. I live in this compound,” he said.

Hersi is 66 years old, but as he stood there, bundled up at the bus stop, he looked a lot older.  He started telling his story, beginning in a Mogadishu hospital, where he worked as an eye surgeon. One day in 1992, he said, extremists stormed the hospital. “Crazy guys. Fanatic, religious." He said the gunmen killed 29 doctors that day.

“I was praying when they came. They didn’t touch me," Hersi said. "They thought I was a fanatic like them, which I am not like them.”

He knew he needed to get out of Somalia after that, and he escaped to Kenya. “I went to Kenya for two years," he said. He wasn't allowed to work there as a doctor. "You have to stay in the refugee camp." He described the camp as "very bad."

"No water," he said. "We have to buy the water."

Hersi said he has several siblings who were already living in the United States, and they managed to sponsor him to get refugee status here. He lived in Virginia for a while, before moving to Boston when he got married. He’d known his wife back in Somalia.

“We didn’t come together. She came before me," he said. "Her brother was in Boston. Her mother lives with us now. She’s very old.”

Hersi pointed to the brick public housing complex behind him where he lives with his wife and mother in law. Now, Mogadishu is one of the most troubled places on earth. But Hersi looks back on times before the civil war started in 1991.

“Listen, I was used to live a good life," he said. "Now I live in a place where they sell drugs 24 hours a day. I hate to live in that place. I wish I had the money to buy a good house.”

He said he took a test for a medical license when he got here, but the language barrier held him back.

“I passed the medical part, but I couldn’t pass the English part. Unfortunately, if you don’t speak the language, how you understand the problems of the patient?”

He got a job working in the outpatient pharmacy at Boston Medical Center. He described it as a "bad place," because he often had guys coming in demanding their parents’ pain medication. “Crazy guys. I never seen people like that," he said. "Every day, ten times like that.”

He worked there for eight and a half years. Now, he said, he’s retired.

“I don’t do nothing. I just…”  His sentence trailed off as he looks off down the road. “The bus is coming,” he said.

Hersi got on the bus, paid his fare, and sat down, without looking back once.

I didn’t get the chance to ask him where he was going. But as the bus pulled away, I stood there for a moment, stunned by where he’d been.