Latters from Somalia
Halkaan ka akhri
In this series, Abdurrahman Warsameh, an ISN Security Watch correspondent based in Somalia, explores how nearly two decades of conflict have affected the lives of ordinary people.
- Image: Abdurrahman Warsameh, ISN
By Abdurrahman Warsameh in Somalia for ISN Security Watch (25/02/08)
I have lived in Somalia’s tumultuous capital, Mogadishu, all of my life – as a son, a journalist, a husband and a father – and each day is, and long has been, largely about surviving to see the next.
As a journalist, a citizen of Somalia and a family man with a wife and four children, I offer you my perspective on life in this chaotic city, my observations of the present, my hopes and fears for the future. To do this I will have to recount specific stories, but the reader will forgive me for occasionally leaving out full names and dates in order to avoid compromising the privacy and safety of others.
This is a small part of our story.
I, my wife Amina and our four children (Mohamed, 7, Abdelkadir, 5, Ramla, 3 and Zakariye, 2) live in Mogadishu’s Wardigley district along with 40 percent of the capital’s inhabitants who remained behind as the other 60 percent fled for the relative safety of the outskirts of the city, according to data provided by the UN.
Like they say here, we are all walking corpses – a saying prompted by the uncertainty of whether this minute will be your last.
As a journalist my work demands that I leave my home office and brave the chaos outside to gather news and interviews and take photographs for a number of international news organizations.
As such, I have the opportunity to witness how ordinary people both in the center and on the outskirts of the Somali capital manage to survive and what kind of lives they lead amidst this seemingly eternal chaos and the almost daily flare-ups of violence.
For fear of leaving my family too often to their own fate – which for most means getting caught in the crossfire between the warring sides in Mogadishu – I have moved my office to my house to be near them as often as possible. This also makes work easier, as sometimes it is impossible to leave your home for up to two days because of localized curfews imposed by authorities, or those I impose upon myself depending on the perceived level of danger on the streets on a certain day.
Whether the confrontation occurs near our home or in one of the farthest districts of Mogadishu, we are all at risk of being hit by stray bullets (locally known as wiifto or whistlers in English, for the bullets make whistling sounds as they speed over your head, if you are lucky) or blind artillery shells, which often land on residential homes, taking out entire families or leaving trails of grotesquely wounded in their wake.
In fact, earlier this month, a whistler hit one of my neighbors in the head as she was doing her laundry inside her home. She died some time after as she could not be taken to hospital: Almost all the streets in the capital are closed to people and traffic as part of the security measures to counter insurgency in the capital.
Frequently, one of my children will come padding into my office to show me a hot bullet that has just managed to penetrate the walls of our home, luckily doing no damage other than leaving a hole and frightening everyone.
Many families, such as my own, have developed a futile strategy of damage control when the daily artillery shower begins and our residential buildings happen to be on the firing line. Learning from the fate of other families in the city, we split ours up into separate rooms to avoid having the entire family wiped out at once. It is a gruesome and very sinister lesson learned.
Our children have forgotten what it is to be children; there is no longer a school for them to attend and they cannot play outside. In the meantime, while I am working, my wife teaches the children, preparing for the day when perhaps peace will reign long enough for them to return to school.
Eight months pregnant in this situation, Anima jokes that I should train to be a midwife: If she were to go into labor during the night I would have to make use of that knowledge since the nearest hospital is seven kilometers away and all streets are closed to traffic at night.
For people in Mogadishu, performing the simplest of tasks – such as going to the corner shop to buy groceries – can be a matter of life and death.
Although we have grown hardened by the ever-present conflict and the vast experience of death, destruction and suffering, we still feel the pain of loss and grief, and have our fears and hopes like anyone else.
Abdurrahman Warsameh is an ISN Security Watch correspondent based in Mogadishu.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).
Filed under: SomaliSwiss Tagged: | SomaliSwiss Somalia Mogadisho Puntland Somaliland Baido