ANOTHER COUNTRY BY M.M. Afrah
EXCLUSIVE TO BANADIR.COM
An extract from a new book by M.M. Afrah to be published
in Canada in the winter of 2002.
gave Keynaan a furtive look and asked: "Do you have any idea
about what had happened to Siyad Barre's ministers and party
officials in North America and Europe?" He waited for Keynaan
to say something nasty about the former ministers and party
officials, but his attention and eyes were now on the shallow
graves on both sides of the dirt road and started counting
the smaller ones that meant babies and children.
gave up counting the graves, and said: "Some of them had bolted
off with millions of hard currency and the gold reserve in
the Central Bank's vault and flew out of the country with
their wives and children aboard the last Somali Airlines.
I understand that many of them are now destitute living on
welfare. The lucky ones are employed as security guards or
taxi drivers with new names and clan affiliations. They duped
immigration officials, claiming that they belonged to prosecuted
minority clans and had lost everything they owned to the warlords.
Only a handful have been deported by the Canadian Government
for serving under a military dictator and were accused of
torturing opponents of the regime at the notorious Godka torture
driving past a tarp-covered roadside-eating house when Keynaan
ordered him to stop the car in front of the eating-house and
to change the subject. "How is the food there?" He asked,
pointing at the eating house.
laughed, showing his tobacco-stained teeth and said: "Good,
but no menu, utensils, table cloth or napkins as you might
expect in a Western restaurant or peace time Mogadishu. Just
boiled rice, fried goat meat and camel milk."
strange reason, the eating-house is called "5-Star Restaurant"
and caters mainly to grave- diggers and road block "minders."
down the road Keynaan observed a goat lying on its back, struggling
against two men who are holding it by the legs and throat.
They are about to slaughter it with little success because
one of them is one-armed elderly man who continued to cough.
banquet in Canada you would be at a loss as to which folk
or knife to use when there were more than a dozen to choose
from," said Keynaan with a sigh, recalling his confusion at
a dinner party in Toronto. The dinner party was in honour
of a Member of Parliament whose riding was in the Somali populated
area of Lawrence and Weston Roads. This was the only candidate
who pledged to help the Somali refugees in their impasse with
the immigration authorities who kept them in legal limbo for
several years in a row for the simple reason that they were
day the food gets worse. The cook, who is also the owner,
joins the militia at night, which undermines one's confidence
in how the food was obtained. He also sells guns and qaad
on the side," Tiffow hissed into his ear.
laughed and said: "It sure won't break your heart to eat whatever
he puts on your table. After all there's no choice in the
middle of a civil war and famine. During the Second World
War people in Europe and Russia had nothing to eat. Thousands
died of starvation. Many had survived on roots and salt grass.
Others resorted to slaughter their scrawny pets, including
dogs and cats, for food," Keynaan added.
they arrived at Keynaan's old residential area after a fearsome
detour across the Argentina Market, skirting the Livestock
Market, now deserted. His neighbourhood was located opposite
the Lido Beach, where sun-starved European, American and Russian
expatriates used to snooze on the snow-white sand like fat
seals to compare notes. Keynaan and his friends used to play
soccer there with a makeshift ball. One day he spied the CIA
and the KGB Station Chiefs hiss into each other's ear at the
height of the Cold War.
then viewed as strategic gateway to the Gulf and Red Sea oil
routes, Siyad Barre took advantage of the superpower rivalry
when the CIA and KGB fought relentless battle for supremacy
in the Horn of Africa. Determined not to let Washington succeed,
the Soviets poured more money, modern weaponry and an estimated
6,000 Soviet military personnel "to train the Somalis how
to use these weapons."
Barre rebuffed the Americans and adopted Scientific Socialism
with the blessings of the Kremlin oligarchy. The Americans
knew they would never forget that, paying particular attention
to dissidents. But opposition to the military regime in the
1970s and early 1980s was at a premium. Such things were never
discussed at all. So the Americans played guessing games.
outfox the red bastards!" exclaimed President Johnson, who
had a nasty war in Vietnam.
talking to yourself," Tiffow whispered.
only reminiscing. That's all," Keynaan retorted.
was, surprisingly, little damage, and that by misguided artillery
shells and mortar rounds. It is early in the evening and the
few souls who did not join the exodus to the countryside,
to escape the carnage, began to creep out into the garbage
strewn streets. Some to the mosque for evening prayers, others
to the makeshift food stalls, not far from the notorious Sniper
Alley. Keynaan ordered the old driver to wait and started
to ask questions. There were few, infinitesimally few old
nodding acquaintances that still lived in the places they
had always lived, but there was little information they could
living in your old house. Theirs have been blown up."
and his family?"
with others. Probably they are still in Bal'ad."
Dhagey and Omar?"
… but not quite. They joined the militia."
to the countryside after one of his sons was killed in crossfire."
thanked them profoundly.
sister and her children were still alive and living in his
old house, he would not ask for more. It also means his house
was still intact, or at least what was left of it. He directed
Tiffow to an alley behind the old gun emplacement opposite
the mosque, with half of its minaret missing. Apparently it
was hit with an artillery shell. He paid Tiffow his fare,
leaving a generous tip. The US Dollar goes long way in war-torn
African countries, and Somalia is no exception. He told Tiffow
to switch off the engine of the kettle-shaped FIAT, because
he thought that the sound of a car engine could attract unnecessary
attention in his old neighbourhood.
all right?" Tiffow asked.
be all right when I get the family out of this ordeal," growled
Keynaan. "How they put up with it for years on end is beyond
me," he added.
thought for a moment and said: "As people who do not know
where their next meal would come from, or wondering if they
would still be alive in the next few minutes, they had no
other option, but to live with it. It's like second skin."
say I don't envy you." Tiffow commented. "To take the family
to the dreaded airstrip requires a superman."
seen worse," said Keynaan, recalling the day he escaped from
Mogadishu by the skin of his teeth. Fighting between Government
troops and the rebels gained momentum and all arteries to
the airport and the road to Afgoi were closed by the Red Berets
and the security forces. The city was in flames and fighting
continued at all hours.
I thank you very much for everything and I sincerely hope
that life would return to normal," Keynaan whispered.
(God willing) said the wizened old taxi driver.
Keynaan opened the door, Tiffow had a message to be delivered:
"Please tell your friends in North America that we in Somalia
are at the end of the road." Keynaan laughed and pledged to
spread the message to anyone who wants to listen.
walaal," said Tiffow and started driving the car in low gear,
whistling "Somaaliyey Toosa", the national anthem of Somalia.
turned into a dusty yard filled with old tires, car batteries,
empty ammunition boxes, spent artillery shells and scrapes
carryall bag slung over his shoulders, he walked towards the
familiar dwellings. The bomb damage was worse here - piles
of rubble covered with heavy dusty and several rows of building
have been ripped open like dolls' houses. An emaciated old
man with pieces of timber under his arm, for firewood, hurried
away from them, down into a lean-to close to the gutted buildings.
Few frightened faces peered from doorways of several lean-tos.
Then sacks and blankets were hastily dropped over the various
openings. These are the internally displaced people from the
hinterland. There are mountains of garbage in the area with
flies and rats having a field day. The inhabitants were not
in the cleaning business. They were on survival.
he reached his old house with great apprehension. There's
still the gapping hole the tank shell hit five years ago,
but the remaining walls were still whole. The windows were
boarded with iron sheets. The main iron-gate was pitted with
shrapnel wounds. Someone had piled up pieces of stones to
form part of a wall in the yard. The makeshift wall obviously
kept falling, because that someone was trying to rebuild it,
filling a basket with broken stones and trying to block up
on the door quietly and he heard a dead bolt being drawn back.
He had found his sister and her children!
© By M.M.Afrah 2001 All rights are reserved