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.
It's me. Keynaan!"
She put her bifocals on and her stomach turned and twisted.
Suddenly she couldn't say anything. That face again, that
thin, malnourished but smiling face with the bright brown
face of a happy woman who had been made desolate by years
of civil war compounded with famine, the face framed by brown
hair with sprinkling of gray strands at the roots, stared
at him, unbelieving. The eyes behind the bifocals widened,
just the way their mother's did whenever an extraordinary
Alla waa Keynaan. Keynaan from Canada!" She sobbed and buried
her face hard on his chest.
Who is it?" The young voice came from behind the sack that
served as a curtain. It was her daughter, Madina, who stared
at Keynaan not believing her long lost uncle is back. Her
face broke into sobbing. And then -
Keynaan!" The young face said finally.
You are back!"
Is it you, Madina?"
tears and sweat breaking out together all over her malnourished
body. She stumbled over a pile of laundry she was hand washing
on the concrete floor and she felt his hands on her shoulders.
He drew her into his chest, his heart filling, swelling with
pain. She was so thin that she looked like the living dead
discovered by the Allies in the Nazi concentration camps.
All her flesh had melted away. Only her skin remained, stretched
taut over her bones.
had they done to you, Madina to all of you?"Keynaan
began to sob for the first time in his life.
of old clothes, dusty and malnutrition is every where. The
fill of young body, knotted with joints destroyed.
no idea how we suffered."
are here now … and alive. Where are the boys?"
are safe. They went out to scavenger for food and firewood.
The old folks fled to the countryside. Perhaps they're still
happened to your house?"
morning we fled to the countryside to escape the bombs, but
when we returned my house was in flames and many people were
lying dead on the streets. So we decided to move into your
well," Keynaan said joyfully.
of the people we knew have been killed," Marian said mournfully.
of the others fled or turned into snitches for the warlords.
This country has fallen apart," she added.
of small fire arms and artillery thunder can be heard in the
distance and Keynaan was wondering what to do in case the
shootings come closer to their neighbourhood.
at his sister who said: "I still don't know how we did get
for a moment, taking a leaf from Tiffow's philosophy of prudence.
Tiffow wasn't a panic merchant. He took time to answer a question,
especially if that question was sensitive.
shrugged and said: "We let the criminals get away with it.
We let thugs take over what was unbelievable became the norm,"
and the petty politicians are liars, in office and out of
it," he added with bravado.
incredible, impossible, that it should have come to this.
His beloved native country rushes to ultimate disaster, that
the law of the land could no longer be enforced. In fact,
nobody obeys anybody any longer. Was this the end of civilization
in Somalia? The dawn of a New Stone Age? Who had created this
mess? Home grown villains taking orders from dark shadows?
Stop whining, he told himself and get the family out.
smiled and interrupted his train of thought. "Are Somali refugees
still allowed to enter Canada?" She said.
is a question that's in the minds of every potential Somali
refugee these days.
I left the newspapers said Canada is going to ban all refugees
from Somalia. It is not just the war criminals they're refusing
but the victims too." He reassured her that he would do everything
to the best of his ability to take her and the children safely
to Canada, saying that he had already sponsored them. "Trust
me. I'll get us out of this quagmire before you know it,"
predicament is how to smuggle them out of a city in flames
with a string of makeshift barricades every two miles manned
by wild-looking gunmen.
night after the boys returned from their errands, they all
gathered around an old trestle table in his former den. The
rest of the equipment, including his books, furniture, clothes
and photo albums are gone. Only the wooden trestle table survived
because looters could not get it out through the narrow door.
How he put it there in the first place remained mystery, even
to him to this day The mood was somber.
lived under tables covered and reinforced with mattresses
and pieces of corrugated iron sheets for months on end, under
shellfire day and night. All they had to eat was wheat and
sorghum. Whenever the Red Cross and Red Crescent lorries arrived
to distribute food and drinking water people run from their
makeshift shelters to meet them, and this was how many were
killed or maimed.
venture outside was like playing dance with death. If you
survived the artillery shells and mortars, snipers on rooftops
shot at you for no apparent reason.
said they spent their time crawling on their hands and knees
through gutted buildings, waiting to catch their breath before
their next sprint toward the food trucks and water tankers,
hours and even days in the line-ups - sometimes only to find
out that the food had run out just as they made it to the
front of the queue. Some mothers came with several children,
each person gets rice, lentils and cooking oil while they
lasted, no questions asked.
was a good day, there were no snipers and there was plenty
of lentils and rice for everybody. One man gave me his rice
in exchange for a packet of Nutra-biscuits because he said
he had no stove for cooking," Yonis, the younger one said
with a smile.
often a battle who gets to the food and water trucks first.
Some shady characters with guns bring several boys to the
line-up and then sell the food at the makeshift kiosks at
inflated prices," Madina said, shaking her head with a dogged
disgusting. Red Cross and CARE officials sent a whole bunch
of people away last week after chaos erupted at the morning
line-up. Most of these people have been there in the blazing
sun for several hours, waiting for food and water for their
hungry and thirsty children," Marian said with bitter irony.
the aid officials drove away in disgust only to return after
the few surviving elders, with the help of young volunteers,
promised to police the area and to protect the food aid from
the freelancers and war-profiteers.
of rice had gone through the roof at the makeshift market.
Food items clearly marked: "DONATED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED
STATES. NOT TO BE SOLD" are openly sold at the Bakaaraha at
prices beyond the reach of most people.
the Bakaaraha, miles away from here, was a journey into a
shear horror. If you are lucky enough to survive the endemic
gunfire between the Habar-gedir and Abgal clans, gangs of
marauding robbers took advantage of the internecine and robbed
the hungry poor. And to bypass the string of barricades is
even more frightening," Madina chimed in exhaustedly.
there is the deadly landmines planted by Siyaad Barre's soldiers
during the insurgency," Marian chimed in.
this calamitous tales by his sister and her children, they
all waited for Keynaan to say something, to cheer them up,
but he couldn't find the words. So the five of them sat in
presents for them all and began distributing them as his sister
tried to clear the table from the colourful wrappings; Hersheys
and granola for the boys, and fruitcakes, almonds and dried
apricots from Loblaws for his sister and her daughter.
of steaming tea, he told them about video games, snowboarding,
ice hockey, curling, and basketball and how boys and girls
go to summer camps. He told them about the Raptors, the Blue
Jays, the Maple Leaf and the fledging soccer teams in which
young Somali--Canadian teams have been competing for the first
time in Canada.
me an hour to get to work by streetcars and subways," he said.
and their sister glared at him and the novelty of the story
hung in the silence between them. Keynaan explained the working
of the Toronto Transit system.
always arrive in time," he said.
all drive underground?" Madina wanted to know.
the subway trains operate under- ground."
when the children went to bed, his sister joined him in his
old den, now served as his temporary bedroom. She is the travesty
of the woman he remembered. She always looked like a princess.
Now, like her daughter she looked like an inmate of one of
those concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
is no electricity anywhere in the city. A smoke-blackened
hurricane lamp stood by the door.
are crushing hot. On a neighbourhood rooftop someone is firing
a machinegun into the air, non-stop.
very glad that you are here after such a long time," Marian
Berets killed her husband, a former bank teller, when he refused
to stop at a roadblock as the fighting against the military
regime gathered momentum. His bullet-riddled body was dumped
in front of their house. She buried him in front of her doorsteps,
with the help of some neighbours.
the den after Keynaan explained his plans to smuggle them
wondered if Lt. Franz Verra of the Luftwaffe (the German Air
Force) had felt like he felt now when he made his several
escape attempts from a Prisoner of War camp in Britain in
1944. Lt. Franz Verra was a Nazi ace pilot who was shot down
in England during World War Two. He was captured and made
a Prisoner of War. In the course of his stay in the allied
war camps he repeatedly tried to escape but to no avail. Undaunted
in his efforts, he finally succeeded where others failed and
survived the long trek back to Germany for another combat
believed that Somalis were also made of sterner stuff and
had survived under very difficulty circumstances. He slept
soundly that night for the first time in a week. Reality was
a pleasant change from Alice in Wonderland world of the Somalia
debacle in the past few years, he thought.
© By M.M.Afrah 2001 All rights are reserved