For two decades, Somalia was in a state of lawlessness in which a brutal civil war evolved through different stages, all contributing to the loss of lives and enormous damage to the country’s infrastructure. The major actors of this time were warlords who produced business-lords that in turn reproduced religious-lords that finally appealed to the unconscious minds of the international community. All these actors planned a total destruction to our society.
Perhaps, many may ask what sustained the existence of the Somali community even though there was no central government for over twenty years. Despite the challenges they faced in a society that under-rates them, one group withstood the test of difficult times: the Somali women. I write this out of my experience of strong Somali women that I have seen or touched my life while growing in Dadaab refugee camp.
The story of my mother is like the stories of millions of Somali mothers all around the world who shouldered unimaginable responsibilities of saving the existence of a fatherless nation. My mother raised eight of us in Dadaab refugee camp where life was very difficult to all those who called it home. It is even tougher for a mother with a handful of kids who all want to be fed despite the scarcity of food and water. Men in the camp will race for the collection food rations from the aid agencies while the women as well have no any other option but to ran and claim the share of their children too. My mother used to wake early in morning to collect the food for us, only to find herself pushed to the farthest end of line by men trying to feed their kids too. She comes home tired and sometimes bruises on her face, yet I did not hear her blame anyone. She was always ready to compete again and never accepted the bruises as a sign of defeat. I wonder if this is what keeps Somalia alive.
Mother Somalia and the flag
This leads me to the story of another Somali woman who I met in Ifo refugee camp. I do not know her name, tribe and even political affiliation, but what I know and still remember is her decent character and unwavering courage of Somali-being. The few hours or so I have spent with her will always be with me. And here is how her story goes. It was July 1st, 2004, a day celebrated for the independence of Somalia. As usual, we all gathered in a dusty soccer field in Ifo camp, the wind was blowing dust so hard that we could not see each other sometimes. An estimated crowd of about 200 people showed up to mark the occasion and many of them were young boys and fewer girls who just showed up for the sake of passing time. Few of them understood the meaning of the day or what this day means to those who have tasted the sweet fruits freedom in a peaceful Somalia. I too came to observe the day and positioned my self somewhere in the crowd by the female lot. When the occasion was about to start, I could see a heavy man grab the microphone, cleared his throat and began to speak. He called another man to lead us in reciting the Somali national anthem, but guess what? None in the crowd had the Somali flag with them. And all over sudden, each one of us started asking the other; do you have the Somali flag? A skinny woman in her mid 50s who was standing by me immediately rushed back with a clear pace towards her home. I watched her make big strides, occasionally bending down to fix her torn-out sandals that are unsuitable for this unusual pace. She was so skinny that I sometimes thought the ruthless wind of ifo camp is too much for her tiny legs. Few minutes later she emerged back from the blocks holding something in her right hand. Something that is really wrapped neatly, at least in a better condition than the old pieces of clothes she put on. As she came closer to the crowd, a young man grabbed the “wrapped something” from her and passed on to others who in turn gave to the master of ceremony. The neatly wrapped piece of cloth was a well-kept Somali flag. As the woman stood by me again without many people knowing she brought the flag of the occasion, I asked her where she got the Somali flag from. She told me that she kept this flag since she fled from Somalia in 1991. She stored the flag in a box and always kept it secret. The clothes she put on were old and seemingly over-used- an indication that she could not afford to buy another clothes. But her identity and pride in being a Somali was as new as the flag she brought to the occasion. As I brought my attention back to the ceremony, I saw people singing, a man waving the flag and the crowd cheering for the man like if he is the hero of the day. I wonder if that mother’s patriotism went unnoticed.
The pretty girl
My last example of the strength in the Somali women is about my classmate for almost ten years, the only girl in a class of 70 boys. Even though we regarded ourselves as progressive Somali boys, we had our own biases based on the unconscious belittling we had towards our female counterparts. Sometimes we did not realize it but we expressed in our body languages, in our jokes and etc. This pretty girl came to school everyday, out-performed many of us and most of all; she was highly respected figure and a role model in the community. When we were about to make some trouble, she will give us a second thought which most of the time saved us from more troubles. I wonder if we appreciated her been with us.
What did we give them back?
After all these efforts by the Somali women, what do they deserve from us (Somali community)? Let me tell you what we gave them:
We call them names that are discriminatory or somewhat belittling them i.e. “Haadey balaa” (the blind bird), the child-minded and many other names that I cannot share with you for ethical purposes. One day in ifo refugee camp, as I was heading to the market to find a cup of hot Somali tea from one the teashops, I ran into unusual crowd of people. The dust was blowing and people were making loud noises and things were not looking good. Before reaching the crowd I asked a young boy what was going on, “ a man is just beating his wife,” he replied. I thought this is the new reality we have to confront and if we don’t, we will not progress as a society. The Somali women were the silent keepers of a legacy that was in danger of extinction for last 22 years. They had the faith, the hopes and the renaissance of an entire nation. Without their will and patriotism, we would have been lost long ago. Let us begin to appreciate what they have done and continue to do for us. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I wonder if we are bold enough to do justice to our Somali mothers.