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TALKING POINT : THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY.

TALKING POINT BY
M.M. AFRAH
Toronto (Canada)

Jan 05. 2004

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

(A Short Story in Simplified English for our younger visitors)-
The Webmaster.
This episode took place between 1991 and 1994 during the US and UN debacle in Somalia and the Author was there to observe the event unfold before his own eyes. This short story was contribution to a BBC's World Service International Radio Playwriting Competition and was serialized in the Life Magazine section of the Daily Nation, Kenya's mass circulation newspaper.
The Webmaster www.banadir.com

PART ONE


"Certainly the Somali people want peace so much that the warlords had better get out of their way and let them have it."
Mohamed Ali Kaariye 1936-1995
Song composer and playwright

Araksan went to the Bakaaraha arms bazaar to find the whole area was bombed out and almost all the stalls, shops and warehouses have been razed to the ground by scores of Black Hawk helicopters and F15 fighter planes.
Miraculously, her fiancé's tiny wooden hovel stood intact amid the rubble and debris.

She took out her key, but the door hung open and askew on its hinges. She went inside, calling "Ahmed. It's me. Oh!" She stopped in the doorway. The place was in a mess, and if it had been looted or there has been a fight.
Ahmed was not there.

Suddenly, she was terribly afraid. It was the rival clan, she thought, holding her breath and looking over her shoulders. She walked around the darkened hovel, feeling dazed, looking under the bed. All his weapons were gone, the mattress had been slashed several times, but all his money and other valuables were still there inside the wooden ammunition box. I'm sure it was not the work of looters from the rival clan, she decided. She also knew that Ahmed stashed away several guns and hand grenades in a disused bore hole, miles away. That was hours before the US Marines, spearheading an international task force, stormed the beaches of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, under orders of former US president George Bush.

Araksan wandered aimlessly in the rubble and debris outside, after putting Ahmed's money in her hand woven carryall bag, still trying to make sense of what might have happened to her fiancé.

The owner of a half-demolished warehouse stood in his doorstep, trying to figure out how much it would cost to rebuild his warehouse. Araksan walked towards him and said the customary greetings of Nabad (peace).

"What happened?" she asked.
"He was arrested yesterday," the man replied, "by the Americans," he added.
And the sky fell.

She fainted. She leaned against half-maimed tree for support.

"Arrested? But why him?"
"It seems he was one of the bandits who ambushed the Pakistani UN peacekeepers," the man said suggestively, and added, "Whatever else he might have been. Good riddance!"
"At least tell me how and when it happened?"
"Some UN peacekeepers backed by American Marines with machineguns came to his hovel in the wake of the helicopter assault early yesterday. And seeing his hovel was the only one that was still intact, they kicked the door and took the young gunman and all his weapons."
"What else could you tell me, like which direction they took him to?"
"That's all I can say. I'd say good riddance," he repeated, this time with smile, showing gold-filled front teeth. The ire in his voice was aimed at her fiancé and all the militia teenagers, rather than the American Marines or the UN peacekeepers. And instead of answering him that her Ahmed is a true patriot who fought against dictators and big merchants, she pulled herself together and made her way slowly down the rubbish strewn streets, where few people were trying to salvage from the wreckage whatever little was left from their belongings.

She ran from the gutted arms market to the nearest building, wondering what to do. She never met the clan elders or the Somali warlords who used the teenagers as cannon fodder for their own selfish interest.

The good news is that she had the presence of mind to grab the tattered bag containing Ahmed's money from the wooden box. Surprisingly, the soldiers didn't bother to open it, and if they did they left the huge bundle of Somali bank notes untouched. Evidently, they were only interested to confiscate the weapons and arrest Ahmed. To the American Marines the Somali Shilling is worthless.

"One day we will go to a country without guns and warlords, where soldiers of the national army use sticks, instead of guns," she remembered Ahmed saying one night during their evening meal.

She tried to discuss the matter of Ahmed's arrest by the UN peacekeepers with an old neighbor across the street from her lean-to, but the woman was so preoccupied about how to gather ingredients for her next meal that she didn't understand anything Araksan was saying. And the encounter had only left her more frustrated and offended than usual.

"Get another boy friend," the old woman said suggestively, and disappeared through the bomb-scared alley of the jam-packed shantytown, known as Tokyo, probably to scavenger for food.

She crossed the notorious Green Line, where her fiancé had once manned a bogus road barricade with several clan militia gunmen. But now the place is virtually deserted. Now common criminals and freelancers, mainly hardcore convicts who escaped from Mogadishu's maximum-security prison robbed people at gunpoint. It has become a murderous field. Even the International Task Force (UNITAF) kept away from it after several futile attempts to dismantle the barricade.

At that moment Ahmed was sitting in a small cell packed with others, mostly from his own clan. Sick, hysterical and near suffocation, he and his cellmates tried to stay alive and gasp for air in a cell already slick with vomit and piss.

Like Ahmed, all the other teenagers fought against the army of the ousted military dictator and agents of the fearsome National Security Service (NSS) and paralyzed the city. Many of them lost friends and relatives during the month long government offensive against the insurgents of the United Somali Congress (USC). Later the insurgents, mainly from the Hawiye clan, one of four major Somali clans, turned their guns on each other instead of forming a broad-based government of national unity.

Now Ahmed told his audience in the stinky cell that he had the worst nightmare to rival his horrendous ordeal in the fight against the military dictator.

"Many young men lost interest in the clan struggle as they grow older," said one of the detainees who was arrested for shooting a member of the Italian contingent.
"The young get married and have a family of their own. I have learned my lesson even if you haven't," Ahmed said. He looked at them in silence for a long moment. Then he stood up.
"I believed what our leaders have been telling us. Look at what happened to us? We ruined ourselves, and none of the clan elders cared where we are now."
"Is that what you tell yourself?"
"It is true."
"Do you mean to tell us that all the sacrifice we made, all the bloodshed have been in vain?" one of the boys said inquiringly.
"For what purpose? It is evident we haven't achieved anything. Only death and destruction."

The youngest of the group, a 14-year-old boy who lost both parents in the civil war, had turned the same question over and over in his mind. He had never been able to figure out why they were exhorted to fight
"to the last man," with no question asked.

Before Ahmed was pushed into the cell, the boy tried to discuss it with his older cronies, but was afraid to be accused of being a coward. But now Ahmed, who is more educated than the rest, cleared his thought process in what he had believed all along but could not utter it publicly.

"You're right. We must put an end to these senseless killings once and for all, and accept the UN program for total disarmament," the youth said heavily. It was the longest speech he had ever delivered in a country where boys of his age were not allowed to air their opinion in public
"I understand exactly how you feel. But I am not sure if the others feel the same way."
"Well, what do you think we ought to do?" another youth asked peevishly.
"Just say NO to the clan elders and hand over your weapons to the UN peacekeepers,"Ahmed told them.
"It is too late now. We're deep in the quagmire."
"You make it sound incredibly easy. Without our guns, who will protect us from our enemies?" said the youth who was accused of taking a potshot at an Italian soldier of the international task force.
"It is within our grasp. I envision Somalia without guns. We must use common sense and open peace talks with the youth of the Abgal clan. It is clear the elders do not care about our future or that of this country. No wonder the international press calls them warlords," Ahmed said with emphasis.
"What do you personally intend to do after this?"
"I want to be totally out of all these anarchy and mayhem, do you understand? I just want you and all the warmongers to leave me alone," Ahmed said, hearing the quaver of his voice.

Then he told his captive audience that the situation was worsening with every passing hour. He catalogued the list of troop reinforcement for the multi-national task force and the arrival of the US-led Quick Reaction Force
(QRF) to reinforce the UN peacekeepers already in the country, revealing to them about the grim reality that scores of American Black Hawk and
Cobra helicopters were hovering over the clan stronghold ready to release their deadly missiles and "Smart bombs." He told them about the destruction of the arms bazaar by missiles from the AC-130 Spectre Gunships and his arrest by the Pakistani peacekeepers backed by US Army Rangers.

"There is going to be a disaster of unprecedented proportions," Ahmed concluded his little speech.


A SHORT STORY IN SIMPLIFIED ENGLISH FOR OUR YOUNGER VISITORS
To be continued…
By M.M.Afrah©2004
afrah95@hotmail.com


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