The recent Berbera scandal taught me more than I’ve learnt thus far about our country’s history. Seeing the online war break out on both sides allowed me to travel back in time to where the seeds of dissonance were planted by corrupt hands. Through the vicious comments of non-somalilanders calling the isaaq Zionists I had a terrifying glimpse into the rotten gremlins that fester beneath the dark skins that make us indistinguishable. Through the retaliation on the isaaq’s part, I saw obstinate denial and a crippling victim mentality.
But that’s not what shook me. After decades of civil war and a growing chasm along tribal lines, the hate is to be expected.
What broke my shell of blissful ignorance was that when I dug past the gremlins of evil and nasty maggots, I came face to face with raw pain. I was stunned. A feeling so human and innocent stared back at me and it all finally made sense; the gremlins,the putrid anger, the rotten hatred – it was all a front to protect that pain. The pain that makes each of us human but also vulnerable. So some shielded that pain with victimisation, and others with villifying.
It wasn’t about what qabil hebel did or who started what. It was individuals with dreams and struggles and losses who just want to figure out their own lives. Who just want to wade through the confusion of a post-war Somalia and find a safe spot where they can wait out the rain of blood washing over people.
People are hurt and they make all this clamour to be heard. This wasn’t about Berbera. Berbera awoke a sleeping giant of unprocessed trauma, and something tells me it won’t go back to sleep any time soon.
I say shellf o blissful ignorance because my parents left Somalia in the very end of 1988, and a year later, on December 1st 1989 I was born in a smaller city in southern Sweden. I wasn’t only their first born, but also their clean slate,their hope. They were planning on returning when I turned five, and they had plots in Kismanyo where they built castles in its sky.
I was 14 months when the war broke out and by the time I turned 5, the castles my parents dreamt about turned into dark clouds that blocked any one ray of hope to seep through. I don’t know if the decision to never talk to us about qabil was a conscious one, but it was the best decision they made.
They didn’t want to taint the next generation with disconnection, and they wanted bygones be bygones. That’s not to say that they didn’t struggle with their share of tribalism or prejudices, but if they did, they sure never allowed our ears to pick up on that.
I was in third grade when I first learnt of the concept of qabil. A girl, Idil Jaqadhaf, came up to me as we were walking to the school bus one morning and said
–you know, we’re cousins, you and I.
I furrowed my brows and tilted my head sideways at her. Cousins? How, I wondered.
She started explaining about some larger family structure we were supposedly apart and it had divisions and subgroups. It all went over my head and the only thing I remembered was ‘mahad’. I didn’t mind, I was just happy that I could call people cousins and form secret alliances. I went home and asked mum what mahad was. I believe she was chopping onions or vegetables, and she froze.
-Yeah, mahad. Idil told me that we are cousins and we’re apart of this family –
-Yes, you’re reer mahad, but that’s all you need to know, she interjected abruptly and just as fast resumed her chopping.
I shrugged my shoulders, because I still didn’t know who this mahad fella was or why I never saw him, but I had cousins now so it was cool.
I was in 6th grade when I had a disturbing encounter with the ubiquitous adeer on my way back from school. There was this fadhi ku dirir centre where somali men would go to discuss politics,listen in on BBC somali,play pool, and chew qat. And for some reason unbeknownst to me they’d flood the streets at 4 pm when they finished listening to the BBC somali news and stand outside discussing it. Except for on Fridays. So it must have been a Friday, because there was only that one adeer standing at the parking lot as I passed him by, not really noticing him as I was tired, engrossed in recollection of the school day, thinking about the books I’d read that weekend.
‘ Adeer! Adeer kaalay.’He beckoned for me to come. I hesitated but stepped in his direction.
I’ll never forget what he said
adeer, nin daarood aheyn wiligaa ha guursan!
🙈🙈😱😱Tf? I had no idea what or who darod was, but the mention of marriage had me run away from him before he concluded his creepy talk. I was disgusted! I was 12 and I was too shy to even talk about who my crush was, let alone a boyfriend or God forbid! marriage?! I was so disgusted and I vowed to avoid somali ‘adeero’ like the plague henceforth. Who on earth is darod? And why did he say that? I don’t remember telling my parents what happened because I’m sure my dad would have flied off the handle.
The first time I learnt about the intricacies of qabiil and with it, qabyaalad,was in the summer of 2004 when I visited Somalia with ayeeyo, for the first time. But by then I wasn’t as impressionable as a child who’s indoctrinated with qabyaalad. I just observed, learnt, let it roll off my back because I was a teen now, with my own views and opinions and I couldn’t relate to the emotional nature of qabyaalad. It didn’t compute that an entire extended family are all the same way as if evil is a genotype that people inherent. When they failed to convince me, they’d exasperatedly call me naive.
I think that naivety has served me good. It allows me to stand outside the confines of fear and see clearly what those imprisoned cannot.
I realized that emotions are stubborn wonders which will haunt until they are acknowledged. The more you resist, the harder they persist.
I see pent-up frustration and bottled up tears in the chests of angry somalis who just want to be heard. I feel the wailing and grievances of somalilanders who just want to have their tragedies acknowledged, just for once.
On top of that, everyone’s grieving the fall of their country and no one wants to live like fugitives in their own homes, running from their past.
For a while now, I’ve had the dream of going back to Somalia in the not so distant future,and go to every homestead,village,town that harbours a somali soul – from the west in Ogadenia to North-west in Awdal, to east in Bosaso and down to Jubboyinka,Bajuni island, Baydhabo and of course Xamar– and just listen to people. I want to listen to the stories hidden in between the suppressed memories of losing your world, running for your life but not from the lions and hyenas, but from monsters in human form, and those of going to a place where you’re like a newborn baby. No one takes you seriously and any attempt at expressing the pain you’ve endured is met with sighs and rolling of eyes that let you know in no terms unclear that they don’t believe you.
I want to allow people to vent and all I’ll do is listen with my entire being,feel the pain with them and give those memories a proper burial.
I’ve done that for years, without consciously setting out to do so. I learn how to read faces like ancient hieroglyphs and coax out the pain, to validate,to heal someone.
It’s how I’ve healed, it’s how I’ve grown – through sitting with others and admiring their tenacity.
“If you do a good job for others, you heal yourself at the same time, because a dose of joy is a spiritual cure. It transcends all barriers.”
— Ed Sullivan
And again and again, I discover the same thing; deep down, below the pain, we are all connected. It’s when we refuse to feel that pain that we shield ourselves from our own core and from our fellow human beings. It’s in vulnerability that we can love,heal,create,risk,innovate,belong,and forgive.
I’m not doing this in some grand Nightingale-like, holier-than-thou capacity. I still have a lot to learn and I’ve realized that I’ve greatly underestimated the Somalis. So instead of giving people unsolicited advice like I have, I want to be like the earth and receive. I want to receive people’s tears,and frustration and untold stories so that they can flourish and grow into who they really are,deep down. It’s inside the pain that we can find the strength to come together again.
It’s when someone processes the pain and feels heard that they can forgive.
“You can accept or reject the way you are treated by other people, but until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex, but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories, and make peace with them”
— Iyanla Vanzant (Yesterday, I Cried)
Somali waxay tiraahda; laf jabtay sideeda ma noqota.
Anise waxaan leeyahay; laf jabtay markay kabanto way ka adagtahay laf aan wiligeed jabin.
Everyone’s pain is valid and it’s only when we give each other a safe space to be heard and seen without ‘ifs’ or ‘shoulds’ or ‘buts’, but truly be seen and validated, that we’ll heal as a nation, as a people. And even if we’re separated by land or qabil, we will be united in heart.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
— Paulo Coelho (Alchemist)
So, I want all my Somali sisters and brothers to know that I am here, come rain, come sunshine. I’m not promising a solution or a guarantee that you’ll feel better, but a support and some sense of hope. Your pain is mine.
“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”
— Haruki Murakami (Norwegian Wood)