Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From Somalia to Solitude

Rashid is a soft-spoken, slim, light-skinned Somalian. I met him on market day in Bantry. He was open and friendly, showing me his identity card, which gave his full name as Cadbi Rashid Sharif Xasan. He readily agreed to talk to me, and we met a week or so later in the hotel on the square, where they gave us the use of a quiet room. He was casually attired, wearing pressed jeans and a jersey. He had the whitest smile I’ve ever seen. His English is still very broken, but considering he didn’t speak a word before he arrived here eight months ago, it is some achievement.

I am from Somalia. I was born in capital city, in Mogadishu, on Indian Ocean. We lived near capital, in a village called Afgogoye. My family is still there. My mother. My brother. My wife is there too, with my two children.

Mogadishu is not very big, but modern. The population of Somalia is 8 million. In the city it is around 1 million. Before 1991 it was good. But then it collapsed. Civil war broke out. Elected new government, but war is continuing. Tribal war.

The bordering countries are Kenya, Djibouti, Indian Ocean, Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians come across the border. It’s not a problem. And we can go there.

So no problem with that tribe?

No problem.

Is Somalia multi-cultural?

Arabians, Europeans, different tribes, yes.

Somalia used to be a colony. North part was British. South part was Italian. It became independent in 1960. Now there is trouble everywhere in Somalia. Even before the war, people were leaving Somalia, but now everyone goes.

Is there a problem with AIDS in Somalia?

No. Not in Somalia. I never heard of AIDS until I came to Ireland.

The biggest problem in Somalia is the tribe fighting. My tribe is peaceful. Other tribe is fighting and they took your land. And property.

My religion is Muslim. So I was brought up with no drinking. We went to the mosque. Now we have Ramadan. We make a big pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in our lifetime. We have Muslim belief, and also traditional spiritual beliefs.

Inflation is very high in Somalia. US$20 is 2 million Somali shillings. Typical food for us is maize, which we grind with a machine, and we have it with anjira*. Like porridge. We roll it. Also pasta.

Many people don’t go to school. But we go to mosque. We read Koran. We learn to read at the mosque. There are no girls in the mosque. They have their own place. They cover their hair.

Tell me about your day to day life in Somalia.

Wife, she look after children, and cooking. And for me, working outside, farming. Typical day I wake up at 7 o‘clock. I get dressed and go to work. There is a river near my farm. I can use the water for the crops, cut my trees. They are called Kora, I don’t know the English word. I work there. Then I come back at dinnertime. 3 o’clock. I eat a big meal. My wife is there. We have maize meal and meat. After dinner I go back to work, and come back then at 5 o’clock, We eat a small meal. Then I go out to see my friends. My wife stays with the children. Then I come back at 8 o’clock, and we go to sleep.

What did you do for a social life?

I go to my friends. We go to parties, to the cinema. It is like Ireland, but no pubs. I never drink, ever in my life.

After Ramadan we have to celebrate. People come and we visit each other, and eat food, and give gifts. It’s like Christmas. But I’ve never seen a Christmas.

Your children, do they go to school?

Yes, a nursery school. I’m not going to school. But I want them to go to school.

I never went to school. I was farming. I grew maize and vegetables. I did this all my life, from a small boy. My father was a farmer. I worked with him. Our village, Afgogoye, was about 30 kms from the city. All the wives had their piece of land.

All the wives?

My father had four wives. He had 13 children. We all lived in separate houses. My mother was the third wife. It was difficult for the wives when he died. He was killed by militia. Their brothers take care of them now.

Tell me what happened.

We had trouble in 1992. The militia came to my home and took everything. They took all our possessions. Then they killed my father. My father had a small gun. When the militia came to my house, my father tried to defend. But when they saw that my father had a gun, they shoot him. I was there. I very angry, so angry. But if I try to fight, they shoot me. Many people killed in village. So we ran. My brother, my mother and me. Many people in the minority tribe are killed by militia. The government is collapsed. The militia take over.

When they killed my father, I scared. Then they took everything in my house. When they gone, we come back, and the next day we bury him. My brother came back from Mogadishu. My brother-in-law too -I have only one.

Now my mother is age. She is in her 50s.

The militia are a different tribe. My tribe is Daroed. Other tribe is Hawiye. They are the majority tribe. The other wives were OK. My mother and father are same tribe. Other wives are other tribe.

I left and went to another country. I go for Djibouti, a country north of Somalia. East Africa. When I go to Djibouti my uncle send me money. He was working in Abu Dhabi as a night watchman. Before the war, he got job. He send me money to get agent. I went to Abu Dhabi. From there I went to Ireland. Good people. I don’t know nothing before. My agent chose the country, not me. When we travel from Abu Dhabi to a European country, I said, ‘what country is this?’ and they said, ‘this country is called Holland, but you are in transit only. You are going to another European country, called Ireland.’ I arrived here 2005, January, by plane. We landed in Dublin. I had a passport for Holland. When I arrived in Dublin, they took it. But they didn’t deport me.

So your passport was illegal. How much did it cost?

US$ 4 000. My uncle paid.

When I came here a Somalian interpreter took me to this office. I asked for asylum. I go to a Somalian restaurant in Dublin. They told me where to go to get asylum. So I go to that office. I had an interview. In the interview they talked about Somalia, about minority tribe. They ask how it is in Somalia. Asked how do you come to Ireland.

I waiting for answer now. They sent me to Cork. I lived there for seven months, in a hostel.

I don’t speak any English when I come. I try to learn English in Ireland. I go to school called Welcome School in Cork. In Somalia no writing. Just Somalian language. Local dialect.

I am hoping to stay in this country. When I get asylum, then my family can come. My elder is 10 my younger is 8. I am missing them.

My English is small, so I can’t tell big story.

Can you tell me a little story about something that happened in your life?

I can tell you about one time, I was 12 years old. My uncle and my father fought with each other. Boxing. My uncle is older, and stronger than my father. When they were my father fall down. I tried to defend my father. But when I go to punch my uncle, he catch my hand and threw me. Then we made friends.

Why did they fight?

My uncle had the land. My father bought some of the land. Then when my uncle finish the money, he tried to get the land back. So they fight.

Tell me about your wife.

My wife is from the same tribe as me. She is from the same town. I choose her. I pay the family money. Not much. She liked me. It was love. But I’m sorry that now I’m living in Ireland, I’ve no contact with my family. I have telephone, but I’ve lost the number. They live in a small village. I have contacted my uncle. He told me he would find information about my family.

Kadija is my wife’s name. She was 16 when we got married. I was older. We got engaged and then the local chief married us. She wore a special dress. White, with a veil. We give the ring. But it’s not special. Just the family came. Her family and mine, together. My father had a house for us.

My brother is also married. His wife is from another tribe.

So it’s not a problem to marry someone from a different tribe. But the Daroed tribe is a problem for the militia?

Yes. The militia are separate from the president. He can’t control them.

Did you get circumcised?

Yes. I was 12 years for my circumcision. They cut some skin. It was painful! It happened to all the boys. They teach us to be a man. For one month. Boys, not a problem. For girls, it’s a problem.

So there’s female circumcision in Somalia as well?

Yes. It’s a problem for girls. It’s for religion. It happened to my wife. She was 10. For woman it is painful. They cut because in my culture, they say it’s a problem for women not to do that.


They do it because of sexual frustration. Other people say, ‘don’t cut the girls.’ But the parents, the father and mother, they want to do that.

Even the mother?


The girl has no choice. There is infection, bleeding. There are many problems. Takes time to heal.

Who circumcises the girls?

The nurse. Woman in village.

How do you find Ireland?

The weather is different! Before I come Ireland, I know difficult for weather. Cold. Windy. But I get used to it. I go to pubs. Everybody like drink. I don’t like. I drink coke, or something. I don’t have a problem with that. My problem is I don’t get a woman for eight months! I can marry again in my religion, but my wife won’t be happy. She will be upset, but what can she do?

But rules of Ireland, not allowed to marry. Muslims you are allowed. But I don’t know how it is here. It takes time to bring my wife here. Maybe three years. It’s a long time.

I don’t have any problems in Ireland. But sometimes I have trouble living in hostel with many people. When I come to Cork hostel, people were shouting. Not big problem, but frustration. We live four people in one room. Different countries: Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, Kuwait. Now they send me to Bantry.

I go to English course, we do writing, listening, spelling.

Now we are three in my house. From Nigeria, Kuwait. But the one from Kuwait has no English. He can’t speak.

I can’t do course, only English. |I can’t work. I go twice a week to English lessons. But otherwise I am just waiting. It’s lonely, no English, can’t talk to people. I found a job, but I can’t work. It’s boring, with nothing to do. Not much money, so can’t buy in shops!

I exercise every day. Otherwise, nothing to do. I like Cork better. Big city, more to do. Now I am in Bantry. Too small. Nothing to do. I go to library in Cork.

In Bantry there is no mosque. Only in Cork. We go on Fridays. Different people, we pray. I have met other Muslims. The imam comes and preaches. Women are there, but separate. Outside we talk.

Have you experienced racism or any trouble?

No, no problems.

When I get to Ireland, I need to stay here, to work. I don’t have experience in more work, but I want to work in construction. Or in cleaning.

I’m getting a good life. But my family, I need to bring to Ireland.

Do you miss your home?

I miss my home every night. When I sleep, I dream every night about my family. My wife and children are still in Afgogoye. My mother is with them. My elder brother is in Mogadishu. He works in small shop.

But not safe in my country. If I go to other countries I will compare Ireland. But now, this is the only country I know.

I miss my country. The place I grew up. I miss my family, (voice breaks) my wife and two children. The weather. It’s hot in the rainy season. Dry in the winter. We have trees. We have two rivers in Somalia. My village is on one river.

I never go another place in my whole life. Only Mogadishu, 30 kms from my place. Until now. My wife wants so much to come. Now here I am, far away.


In August 1940, Italian troops invaded British Somalia, to take the colony from the United Kingdom. Britain launched a return attack in January 1942, and by February, most of Italian Somaliland had been recaptured. In March, British Somaliland was again retaken by a sea invasion.

In 1949, the UN gave Somalia as a protectorate to Italy. The Ogaden province of Somalia was given to the now repatriated Ethiopian government by the British Empire. The UK kept British Somaliland (or northern Somalia) under its protection rule. The French kept Djibouti under colonial administration, and Djibouti would not gain independence until 1977. Though Somalis and other Africans fought hard on the Allied side in World War 2, they were re-subjugated soon after the conflict. Somalia finally won its independence in 1960.

The goal of Somali nationalism was to liberate and unite the Somali lands divided and subjugated under colonialism. However, Somalis were being expelled from Ogaden province, and Somalia, already preparing for war since the failure of diplomacy, supported the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and went to war with Ethiopia in 1977 and 1978. As Somalia had acted unilaterally without consulting the international community, which was generally opposed to redrawing colonial boundaries, they found no allies. Even the Soviet Union, a long-standing ally, refused to help, and instead backed Ethiopia, along with Cuban forces. The Somali Army was decimated. In 1978, as a result of many Somalis becoming disillusioned with life under military dictatorship, resistance movements sprang up all over the country, leading to civil war in 1991.

The civil war disrupted agriculture and food distribution in southern Somalia, resulting in famine. In reaction to the continued violence and humanitarian disaster, the United States organised a military coalition called Operation Restore Hope, which was successful in restoring order and alleviating the famine. In 1993, most US troops withdraw, leaving the United Nations operation in control, but the UN withdrew in March 1995, having suffered significant casualties. In the decade following the UN withdrawal Somalia has suffered ongoing conflict. The rule of government has not yet been restored.

Somalia was also one of the many countries affected by the tsunami which struck the Indian Ocean coast following the 2004 earthquake, destroying entire villages, and killing an estimated 300 people. In 2006, Somalia was deluged by torrential rains that struck the entire Horn of Africa, affecting 350 000 people.

A book called Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures)* gives true accounts of the experiences of UN staff in war zones. In one account, a Somali woman is in labour. ‘At first,’ writes the author, ‘I think she’s been burned, her vulva has that running-wax appearance of burned flesh. But then I see it and I understand. There is no vulva. There’s nothing there, it’s all been sliced off and sewn shut. The doctors now have to reopen her so she can give birth to her child.’ In the course of my research for this book, I asked one woman if she has been circumcised. She was shocked to be asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Maybe when I was a baby. In our culture, we don’t talk about such things.’

Sources: Wikipedia.org
Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures)


ULearn said...

This was a very illuminating blog post. Not least the interesting manner in which you met the Somalian man in the first place. It can be difficult for Somalians or indeed for any immigrants from the continent of Africa. It is interesting to note that most people in Europe would never refer to themselves as Europeans. They are fully aware that "European" is more of legal concept rather than anything that really binds us culturally. And yet both in thought and in action people in Ireland refer to "people from Africa" as if they were all born in the same country. This type of indiscriminate discrimination will likely lead to more problems in the future as certain nations in Africa emerge as distinct and begin to trade more with the West. I have come across many difficulties in this field as I work in an <a href="http://www.ulearn.ie/english_school_dublin>English school Dublin</a>. In the future, I hope we can all look forward to an overhaul of the legal system in Ireland with regard to immigration. But more importantly I hope we see a shift in attitude to better reflect Ireland as mixed society, for this will be the driver for legal and political change.

Afric McGlinchey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Afric McGlinchey said...

Thank you for your comment, ULearn. Rashid was such a modest, dignified man, and I really hope that things have worked out for him and his wife and children have joined him. I wrote this book to highlight the very distinctions you talk about, to show that a Somalian is as different from a Kenyan or Angolan as an Irish person is different from an English one. And also, paradoxically, to show that we are not so very different after all, from other nationalities. We're all simply human, trying to live, love, survive.