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My Visit to Hargeisa:
I landed at Egal international airport about 4 o’clock in the evening. The airport was small but was getting bigger and better. The son of the man with the white spear is said to be doing very well and expectations were high. I left the airport towards the main town. The road was unwelcoming; it was rough small and dilapilitated. I could not believe that this was the road leading to the national airport. From the high grounds of the airport, Hargeisa looked just fabulous. The two hills Naso Hablood… the “breasts of Girls” overlooking the town from the north give Hargeisa a rare graceful look. However, regrettably one of the breasts has been damaged. Some suspected foul play, others suspect neglect.
At night, Hargiesa looked even more beautiful with its valleys and hills. However the town lacked three essentials… good roads, good running water and reliable electricity.
I landed at Imperial hotel in the vicinity of the old government secretariat. From my residence to down town Hargeisa, I usually took a bus. The bus system was frequent, cheap and lively. By the way Hargeisa has no street names, no street numbers and no traffic night lights. That took me unaware. On my way to down town Hargeisa, we went through an extremely congested road. The road was rough, small and completely potholed. People observe no traffic rules and do not see that as a problem. I saw donkeys, cows, sheep, goats and even monkeys on the road without anyone raising an eyebrow. The beast of burden; the donkey pulled a cart in front of us; however we tried, we could not pass. “What a mess,” I said to the man sitting next to me in the bus. He replied rather loudly, “this is Hargeisa; we are at peace with ourselves and with our animals. Do you want us to become like Mogadishu…my way or no way mentality?
“But is it okay for animals, cars and people to use the same road”? I asked. “It is okay with us. This is a democratic country; both people and animals have rights. The road is for all and nobody has the right to restrict its use or exclude others”. Another man jumped on the scene and said, “We made a lot of sacrifice to get to where we are, we don’t like somebody to tell us what to do and what not to do. But I said, “Is it not chaotic this way... is it not dangerous this way. I don’t mean to take away your rights or your democracy, but can’t you have some sort of order… some sort of rule… I mean democracy with an order”. While the discussion was going on, a flock of sheep passing the road stopped us for a while. Some minutes later, the car in front of us stopped and the driver went out to get some thing from a shop in the street. We waited for him too, but for him it was business as usual. Two cars approached us from the wrong side of the road and I was scared but no one else was. To them the situation looked very normal. “You have a lot of patience here,” I said. A woman sitting some seats away from me retorted, “Yes patience is our virtue here, otherwise life would be difficult. The only thing we have here is peace of mind. We don’t want to lose even that. You may not be aware, but I tell you; there is order in our disorder. We know both war and peace and we have chosen peace over war. We have seen powerful governments and weak governments; we have chosen a government that gets its strength from the people. A government that knows its survival depends on the support of its people not one that imposes its will on the throat of its people”.
While the discussion was going on, the bus stopped and I jumped out of the bus to see my brother in one of the hotels.
A monkey business:
I left the bus very cautiously because the door opened on the road side which was dangerous. I met my brother in front of the hotel and we decided to go to a tea shop and have a tea there and discus family matters for I haven’t seen him for more than thirty years. It was an emotional reunion. Before we went for the tea, he asked me to see his room to witness a monkey business for myself. A monkey slipped into his room and made a monkey out of his belongings. He destroyed his glasses, destroyed his diabetic medicine and a whole lot more of monkey business. What is the monkey doing in town anyway, I asked myself. We left the room and went to the hotel management. I asked him about the monkey business in the hotel. The manager calmly and coolly replied, “There are a lot of monkeys in the vicinity of the hotel and one must be careful not to leave windows open, other wise this monkey business is hard to avoid here”.
Judging from the damage the monkey has done, we concluded that the monkey was drugged with Qat. If anything goes wrong in Hargeisa suspect Qat. Qat is the real culprit in Hargeisa.
Set a thief a thief:
I stayed a couple of hours with my brother after which I retired to my Residence. At around eight o’clock my friends Dr Osman and Professor Hero came to me in the hotel. We decided to go down town and see Hargeisa’s main business centre. We took a car and went to the heart of Hargeisa’s business. We could not get a parking space for some time. But at last we settled for a small parking space far away from where we wanted to park. We walked through the narrow but densely populated streets. The streets were full of goods; all kinds of goods and in the open. The amount of goods lying in the open was amazing. We asked our selves how could all these goods be transported at night and returned in the morning. And do they have such big warehouses that can store all these goods. We decided to ask them. We asked the guys who were selling some electronics, how do they transport all those goods at night to safe custody. The guys gave us a big smile and said it is not what you think. Nobody in his right mind can take these goods to storage houses. It is both difficult and expensive. We don’t have even storage houses. We sell here and store here in the open. At night, when business comes to an end, we just cover the goods and leave it here. We come back in the morning and uncover it. That is all.
“Are you implying that there are no thieves here in Hargeisa”? We asked.
“We are not implying anything. We are just telling you facts. But since you mentioned thieves and theft, we are glad to tell you that we have made an agreement with the union of the thieves to take care of our goods in our absence. Since then our goods are in good safe hands… the good hands people… the thieves. The competition as you see is tough here and one has to be innovative to survive,” they said.
We left them amazed and in fact humbled. Hargeisa is a town that never seizes to amaze its visitors. I remembered the old British wisdom which says, ‘set a thief a thief’. I never thought in my wildest dreams that such a saying could work in Hargeisa before that day.
It is heartening to witness that Hargeisa has come to terms with its own thieves. The peace and stability that Hargeisa has chosen as a way of life, turned thieves into useful citizens. While Hargeisa has rehabilitated its thieves, in sharp contrast, Mogadishu could not even rehabilitate its Sheikhs.
Hargeisa is fishy:
One day my friend took me for lunch to a fashionable newly opened restaurant called Tourist Hotel. I never expected to find fish in Hargeisa’s restaurants. When we sat, the waiter came and my friend ordered fish for both of us. I had Qat the previous day and I did care less what type of food I eat, but fish has never been my favorite food. But when the fish arrived, it was spicy and delicious. I told my friend that the fish was superbly prepared. He told me fish is the most favorite dish in Hargeisa and that is why I brought you here in the first place. I knew you would like it. Hargeisa has gone a long way in its fishy diet. In my old Hargeisa, there were no fishy foods at its restaurants. The fish from Berbera has invaded Hargeisa, and Hargeisa has fallen in love with the fishy foods with good reason, it is healthy and it is one of our natural resources. It is a big addition to the diet menu of Hargeisa. The fish is now known to be friendly with the heart. The heart loves fish, because the fishy foods fight the enemy of the heart… the bad cholesterol. As a result the fishy fish was no longer fishy in Hargeisa, but became the darling of the heart and soul of Hargeisa and rightly so, the favorite camel meat has been relegated to second or even third position
A drug of choice:
I am not a habitual Qat eater. But if you are in Rome you will do what the Romans do. My friends invited me one day for a Qat chewing session. They took us where the Qat is sold. One of the amazing things about the Qat sale was, almost all the retailing was done by women. It was a common sight to see a woman selling Qat under an old umbrella and behind her sat and chewed Qat a number of men. The ladies did not chew but only sold the drug.
We took Qat by the kilo--- three kilos to be precise and went to a fashionable house to chew. The room was lavishly decorated with pillows and mattresses. Tea and lots of water were served. We sat and the Qat was distributed accordingly. I insisted not to chew the Qat. But I accepted one branch so that I could be made busy like the rest. After I accepted one branch, each threw one branch at me and I graciously accepted. Before the Qat was eaten, some insisted that it should be thoroughly washed to remove toxics from the pesticides which were used to protect the shrub from insects. If the washing did not remove all the toxics, then Qat chewing posed potential danger to our society. I started eating the Qat instead of chewing it like the rest. Within no time, I had eaten all the seven or eight branches. We began to talk. Every one wanted to talk first. The session was chaotic. They say Qat is a stimulant, at the beginning and a tranquilizer at the end. So Qat eaters undergo periods of euphoria and depression--- the Qat syndrome. I saw those periods in our session. At the beginning of the session every body wanted to speak. At the end of session, each spoke with the one sitting next to him in a low subdued voice. Qat is the drug of choice here; it fills your stomach, empties your pockets and shakes your mind. It is hard to live with it and hard to live without it. I was the first to get high and I started to lecture about female genital mutilation which I have written a book about, the dangers of irresponsible press, and of Qat eating. It was obvious to me that my lecture fell on deaf ears gauged by the cool response I received.
One of my friends jokingly said, “we eat Qat here otherwise we will fight ourselves, we mutilate the genitals of our daughters so that they don’t become wild, time will take care of our irresponsible press. So my dear friend, there is a method in our apparent madness”.
I left the session rather subdued and feeling heavy. I retired to my Imperial Residence to eat and sleep. But I was not in an eating mood for I lost my appetite due to the Qat. I went to my room to relax and sleep but I couldn’t sleep. All the Qat I have eaten was sitting in my stomach like a rock. I went to the toilet and threw all that I have eaten. I got a temporary relief, but some discomfort persisted. I was sure that I had a Qat poisoning. I called my Doctor for help. I asked him what type of medicine I should take. “Don’t take any medicine, because there is no medicine in the medicine here. Take a bottle of seven up. It is a better medicine than the medicine they sell here,” said my friend.
A friend of mine visited me the following day. I told him about my Qat poisoning. “I think you have not eaten enough. We have a saying here, Qat yaraan buu Kugu dilaa--- eat a kilo today and you will be fine. Take it from me; take it from the horse’s mouth, because qat was and still is an integral part of my daily diet and for heaven’s sake don’t accuse Qat for all of our ills. When I have a tree of Qat in my left hand and a packet of cigarettes in my right hand, I feel I have the whole world at my finger tips”.
I took that as a joke, but my friend was dead serious.
The Ethnic Purity:
Being away from Somaliland for a long time, you will be confronted with a crude reality; the ethnic purity--- the monoculture. In Hargeisa all speak Somali, smell Somali, read Somali, write Somali, eat Somali food and do politics the Somali way. But at the same time, they swear that they are all different. I sat in a tea shop to witness this one race one culture thing. But to my surprise I saw a lot of diversity within the monoculture --- at least in physical appearance. As I saw people pass, I saw women dressed differently, some wore the hijab; the Somali way; some the Talibani way; and yet others the Arab way. Some wore no hijab and were content to dress the old fashioned Somali way.
The men were equally clad with different dresses. Some wore the traditional Somali dress; others were dressed; like the Afghans; like the Arabs; like the Europeans; like the Americans etc. It looked to me that there was a multicultural diversity in Hargeisa contrary to my expectation. I wondered whether this type of diversity is a virtue in Hargeisa or whether it is real or artificial.
There are a number of telephone providers in Hargeisa. Since competition is fierce, the telephone calls are cheaper compared to any other country I know. As a result the per capita mobile phone holders are possibly the highest in the world. Every body I know had a mobile. So Hargeisa as I saw was talking. People talked while they walked, while they sat, while they ate, while they chewed, while they drove cars on rough roads and that was the most dangerous of them all. Hence “he took the mobile” was coined which means he ran insane. Think of a mobile society with mobiles. Wherever you go or wherever you are, a mobile is ringing with different tones, ranging from favorite Somali songs to crying babies. The one that struck me was the tone of a mother shouting at her daughter. The mobile holder who struck me unaware was a man I thought to be a beggar was making calls. That may be the way of future begging. “This is a ‘miskeen’ call. You can’t see me; I am a ‘miskeen’ I have not eaten for days. Please help me and send your contribution through Dahab Shiil near Daalo airlines. I have a miskeen account there. God help those who help others. Thank you very much for your kind heart. May Allah bless you”.
Think of twenty people or so chewing Qat each having a mobile. In every second there is a mobile ringing. Looks like a mad house. When the mobiles rang, some pressed the silencer, some said I will call you soon, even if they knew they will not call them back, some held the mobile in their hands and rushed out to talk in private. Mobiles made Hargeisa busy without business. When I left Hargeisa, Hargeisa was talking. It looked as though Hargeisa took the mobile. Or I may say; the mobile took Hargeisa. To be fair, I should not claim to know who took who, but definitely Hargeisa was infatuated with its mobiles and I expect the love affair to continue.
Female Genital Mutilation:
Subjecting young girls to pharoic circumcision is a heinous act perpetuated by mothers who want to protect their daughters. The criminal ritual is not rooted in our Somali culture or to our Islamic religion. Circumcised girls are known to suffer a life long; psychological, medical, and social trauma? The perverted logic is that the FGM protects girls from sexual intercourse before marriage. But we know that is not true. It has never protected a girl from being sexually active. In fact circumcision and infibulations provide false protection… try it, I am closed. It is also ludicrous to suggest that our girls are more promiscuous compared to girls say from Saudi Arabia who never heard circumcision as a method of protecting girls’ chastity. It is equally ludicrous to suggest that our boys want to have mutilated and destroyed girls as life partners. The ritual is banned in almost all countries of the world including our next door neighbor Djibouti. I asked a lot of people about the ritual, to my surprise nobody was in favor of it. In fact almost everybody knew the damage it perpetrates on our girls. But no one wanted to stop it for reasons I don’t understand. I asked an organization combating the ritual about the extent of the damage and I was told that the cruel knifing knife is still very much at work. They assured me that 98% still under go the cruel ritual. And to add insult to injury, girls from Europe and North America are brought to be mutilated and sealed... a process known as ‘reconditioning’. I want this weapon of mass genital destruction to be laid down to rest…it puts more than 50% of our people at risk. The best way to avoid sex before marriage is to teach our girls like the rest of girls in the Islamic world to say no; put the responsibility at their door steps.
Hablaha Tii Hanweine Hal adagba Haleyn Habadeede: Haye fudud, Haye, Habeenka lahaabay Hubsiimadu Habooneyd.
Girls’ protection is not about building walls, it is about responsibility…Haye fudud; easy yes to sexual predators, as the song says, is the real problem. Teach them to say just no. Mutilation of the genitals is destruction not protection. Mutilation is incompatible with the preservation of the integrity of women. It is a violation of human rights. A mother, who mutilates the genitals of her daughter because she loves her, sounds like the man who said; I killed my wife because I loved her.