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AbdulRafiu Lawal
Abdillahi Abdirahman, also known as “Mash,” owns the Butterfly Café in Roxbury Crossing.

Abdillahi Abdirahman, also known as “Mash,” owns the Butterfly Café in Roxbury Crossing.

The Butterfly Café has changed the landscape around Roxbury Crossing –
for the better

A group of eight Somalis sat in a corner sipping green tea and discussing developments in their homeland when Mohammad Moussah saunters into the café.

Sighting his friends among the group, Moussah, steps forward to exchange pleasantries. Within a few seconds, Moussah is off to another section of café holding a piece of paper, some cash and hands it over to the man behind a thick glass window.

This is a monthly routine for Moussah who sends money to his mother in Mogadishu for the upkeep of his siblings and father. Welcome to Butterfly Café. Located inside the Roxbury Crossing MBTA station, the café is where its owner Abdillahi Abdirahman, also known as “Mash,” holds court.

Apart from serving different kinds of tea, coffee and pastries, the café also serves as a mini cultural center for Somalis in Boston and the office of Dahabshil, a local money transfer company where people can send money to their friends and families in war torn Somalia and other countries in East Africa.

“You don’t only send money here,” Moussah explains, “it is a kind of meeting point for us to socialize. If you have not seen your friend who is Somali in the last few weeks due to work schedules, you are likely to run into him here. It is either he has come to send money home or came to relax over a cup of coffee with friends after a hard day’s job.’’

Mash set up the business 10 years ago and says he was inspired by the challenges posed by the civil war in his home country of Somalia, to find ways of bringing help to his countrymen.

“No money, no food and other basic things of life is a problem for families in their homes and refugee camps,” Mash says. “So, I thought of doing something to minimize the effect of the hardship caused by the war.’’

Maganow Hassan, a Somali who has lived in America for the last eight years, says without the Butterfly Café there would be no way for them to send money to parents and relations back home.

Depending on his cash flow, Hassan said he sends money to his cousins and grandparents three or four times a month.

“They use the money I send to buy food and other supplies to keep body and soul together,” Hassan says. “They are not working. At this time in Somalia, it is really hard — no water nor food.”

To Mash, one major challenge facing his business and his fellow countrymen in America is the economy. The lean times over the last four years have seen as much as a 40 percent drop in what people were able to send.

“People are losing their jobs, others are not getting enough hours,” Mash explains. “If a person is unemployed, he can’t send money to his family back home. If you have a job, you have something to spread to your family.”

Khalif Mohammed has lived in America for 11 years and also sends money back to his father on a monthly basis. He says the bad state of the economy is having an adverse effect on him.

“The economy has changed everything,” he says. “Life is expensive. I make more money than four or five years ago but life got tough and families are bigger.”

Mash’s journey to America can be described as that of sheer determination. One of nine children, Mash came to the United States in 1982 and received a degree in business administration.

After his graduation, he says he thought of what he could do to add value to the society. He worked for the Bank of Boston for a while and then several supermarkets. All the while he thought he could do better working for himself.

In 2001, he decided to set up Butterfly Café. He now has nine people working for him, but it’s still a struggle.

“To be self-employed is not easy,” Mash says. “Everyday, you gotta get up and try.”

Mash says his vision in the next five years is to set up a community bank for the people of Roxbury.

“I have experience in this financial business and I want my immediate community to benefit from my knowledge,” he says. “Hopefully, two or three years down the road I should have realized this dream.”

AbdulNasir Abdullahi, a Somali, came to the United States seven years ago. He works part time and is a student at Bunker Hill Community College. He sends between $100 to $250 to his father in Mogadishu. He also has a sister who is married but has to send her money regularly.

“The life we are doing here, they don’t have it back home,” Abdullahi said. “Sometimes, they don’t have money for food. Economy is bad right now and I don’t have a job.”

But he remains optimistic. “One needs support to go school so that you can get a better job,” Abdullahi said. “Then you will be able to meet life expectations.”

Not everyone is sending money back to their homeland. Louai Alidrissi and Habeeba Mohammad, both Saudi nationals, were beaming shortly after receiving money from their father.

Mohammad said they have only been in America for five months but discovered that Lifeline Somalia is an inexpensive way to transfer money.

That’s music to Mash’s ears. “I feel great because I am the line, the bridge that connects the people back home and the people working to earn a living here and support their families. I unite the two different worlds.”