Though I was born and raised in the north, I have to admit that Mogadishu (where I only spent three years and had made two or three trips there as part of the so-much loved Regional Sports Tournament) has a grip on me. My sense of Somaliness was also formed in the seventies. And though it has sustained some brutal psychological bruises from early on, fortunately I have retained a healthy dose of pride that has never dimmed nor diminished. Consequently, whenever someone offers me a dish of nostalgia he/she validates me. Therefore, it’s was a rare treat when Mogadishu Memoir showed up for the occasion.
Mogadishu memoir- Hassan Three weeks ago, Hassan Abukar’s Mogadishu Memoir, a collection of personal essays, arrived at my door steps. In the book, Hassan informs and affirms, leisurely but authoritatively, with an assertive tone, that living in Mogadishu in his early childhood of the sixties to the late seventies of his teens was a treat. The beautiful “pearl on the Indian Ocean” Mogadishu was a city beaming with pride.
Peaceful coexistence was not only for Somalis but for Arabs, Pakistanis, Ethiopians and Eritrean, Italians, Muslims and Christians alike, living side by side. Hassan, a native son of Mogadishu—as a matter fact, a son of a Benadiri father—was a precocious child whose memory of growing up there would entice you to ask for more about the past and present time Mogadishu. He takes you to a tour through the city, neighborhood by neighborhood, and tells you who lived where, when and how.
Hassan also inadvertently illuminates a few cultural divergences of the south and the north. For an example, qudbo-sir (a secret marriage), isn’t particularly practiced in the north. Maybe now, but not when I was growing up. And while I am at it, I may add that we northerners are missing out on this one! Second, girls in one part of the south do something strange. After ciyaar (a traditional folk dance), they sleep under the same cover sheet with their dance-partners. That is unheard of in the north and, I might add, a loss on our side. Possibly, that is why I never learned my beloved Ciyaar Ceerigaabo because there was no incentive.
Wait a minute, so is the third! Hassan, in his book, tells us that in the Lower Juba region, people would walk over to the Indian Ocean and a few yards away, scoop pure rain water from a well. That, too, is not one of the gifts God has bestowed on the north. And come to think of it, we should have an issue with all these three issues!
And though, Hassan here attributes these minor matters to all Somalis, it simply forces me to hold a self reflective mirror so that I should be mindful of what all Somalis share as well as what makes us uniquely different from one other.
As I read the book, enjoying the sight scenes and sorted out memories, Hassan releases the pain recollections trigger. He shines the light on what I called the origin of Somali’s ease with bloodshed washed with tears. He takes on one of the gloomiest, earliest childhood memories of my time– that of which I would like to leave it in its shallow grave, but of course it refuses to stay there. It was on July of 1972 (as the author also reminds me the month) when an incident took place in Mogadishu, a thousand miles away from where I was. I was in the countryside of Sanaag region, the farthest anyone in Somalia could be from the capital. At the time, Mogadishu was like another country to me.
I was on my first summer recess, for I just had started school the year before and was inebriated with patriotism that was inculcated in me in school and subsequently fed to me through and by the national radio. My family had a radio which I have to admit was a kind of luxury that no one else in our area had. Suddenly, what was happening in Mogadishu was not that far after all. Radio Mogadishu and Radio Hargeisa would bring us the world and enough diet of songs to serenade us in our hamlet. The songs, above all, were about love, life and patriotism (even the sycophantic types that I would later came to know) were all so joyful!
That was the case, until one day a song with the lyrics of “Samadiidoow dabin baa ku xidhan lagu dili doono…” was on. I remember hearing it played what seemed like an eternity. Then, the horrifying news came: three high ranking military officers were killed by the regime. I was deeply hurt. Mind you, I am not related to any of these men.
As time went on, General Aynanshe and Colonel Salad Gabaydhe’s names stuck with me, but I kept mixing the third, Colonel Dheel with Qorshel, another victim of the regime. The chilling effect of the song has never left me nor has the dreadful feeling of how a nascent nation sacrificed the same heroes it had introduced to me that same year in school. My childhood innocence was sacrificed with them that day!
Consequently, I can’t remember whether I developed the distaste about the song because of the horrifying news that it had foretold, or just I was naturally repulsed by the tune from the onset. All I know is, I abhorred the song since then, but I am not quite certain which one I detested the most, the song or deed!
Regardless, what I knew then was what I had been told by my country: that those military men wore the uniform to defend the nation, thus were heroes. And I believed it. So I was quite baffled and saddened when that same country sacrificed the same men! I, even in a child’s mind, could not fathom any fact that necessitated taking their lives! I would ask myself over and over, why could they not be jailed instead for whatever ‘high crimes’ they had been accused of committing? That combined sadness of despair and grief has never left me.
The other question that had weighed heavy on my heart was, how would a young child feel about the tragic loss of his/her father?
As I grew older, this question remained haunting me. And no one has ever answered me, until I read this book!
In Mogadishu Memoir, Hassan reminds us of that infamous day of July 3, 1972, and the song Samadiidoow. He treads a line that states, “Imagine being a ten-year-old Somali girl coming home from school and learning that your father will be killed tomorrow at the pole. This is what happened to the daughter of Colonel Abdikadir Dheel Abdulle.” Hassan goes on to quote her as she told him once, “I was very close to my father and loved him dearly.” These eleven words alone, even today, send paralyzing chills of pain through my spine.
This simple quote validates my mountain high grievances against the senseless bloodshed that started that day and with no end of it in sight. How many more Somali children have to cry over their fathers or mothers grave? How many more? How many?
On that note, let me digress a bit and tell you this short story. Sometime in the last four years (I am deliberately being vague about the year), I got a call from a friend of mine who should remain anonymous. The caller relayed a message from one of the last four Prime Ministers, asking me if I would accept if offered the job of the Minister of Defense of Somalia. Despite the uncertainties of Somali politics and the short shelf-life of Prime Ministers, of course, I was elated that both the Prime Minister and my friend had thought of me worthy of that title! I also felt a sense of national obligation, a call to duty if you will. Frankly, I wanted badly an opportunity to fumigate the vermin called Al-Shabab from the Somalia soil. Here was my opportunity. But after long and hard thinking over the offer, I turned the position down. I have to admit it was an agonizing decision.
Therefore, I concluded that I could not take the job, the Minister of defense. Mainly (of course there were others, too) I could not, for the love of God, bring myself to face a child who one day may say to me, “You killed my father,” even if that father were the evil incarnated Al-Shabab.
That is what the power of writing does to mind. It clarifies the fog of memory and commiserates with a grief stricken soul! Mogadisho Memoir did that for me.
The book, Mogadishu Memoir, is a must read for any Somali child who grows up in the Diaspora but wants to know a bit about what life was like in his/her ancestral home in the late sixties and seventies.. It is even useful to non-Somalis who have come to know us through the media and would not mind taking a short trip back to our past!
A Book Review Publisher: Author House
Author | Hassan Abukar