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After travelling for several hours, the family had just settled into their new location with ample grazing ground and access to water nearby. The mother was disassembling the hut, sticking the Dhigo and Udub firmly into the soil and in close proximity were the two young girls holding the harness of the camel on which their elderly grandmother sat. Just as the two girls approached the hut, they were ambushed by loud chanting and the cries of ululating women drifted along the cool breeze and landed on their ears.

This they realised was an emancipation of the soul (it is not very often that weddings take place in the nomadic settlements) and were quickly impassioned. Imbued with an intense passion to participate in that wedding, the girls exchanged giggles and elatedly talked of attending the dance session afterwards. And quite rightly so, for this was their chance to mingle with the locals and exchange some verses of poetry.

Their grand-mother who, due to infirmity of age was too weak to walk and had to travel on camel-back, heard all the girls’ excited wails from her resting point. She too, though, hears the voice of ululating women resonating from the dark plains, not far from where they were now settling. After the girls had discussed their plans to attend the wedding, the grand-mother interrupted them and said:

‘Girls, girls! Would you stop the camel so that I can dismount and join those ululating women…’

They girls were taken aback by this request and stared at each other in amazement, unable to decide whether the old woman meant what she said or merely spoke in jest. This feeble woman, they thought, could not stand the noise and the dancing that takes place.

‘O’ grandmother, are you joking or have you finally gone insane’ they said.

Their grandmother smiled and then laughed, shaking her head slightly. Little do the girls know about the feelings of the old woman and what she is going through! Little do they know that over half a century ago, in an evening very similar to this, the very place that they have now settled bore witness to their grandmother’s first wedding! And in a manner similar to this evening’s wedding that the girls were planning to attend, many people from all over the countryside attended her wedding too. It was even perhaps here where her firstborn’s umbilical chord was buried. But to all this they were unaware, over taken by the wails of the wedding nearby. Even before the start of their long journey to this place, the grandmother was well aware of where they were headed and the wedding taking place.

In a short, succinct poem, the old lady relates her complete life story to her adolescent grand-daughters, wistfully lamenting her ripeness of age and the different stages in her life. She said:

 

  • Beri baan, beri baan          
  • Wax la dhaloo dhulka jiifta ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Bilig bilig baraar celisa ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was newly born, lying on the ground

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I scuttled around tending to lambs

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Daba-jeex dabka qaada ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Rukun rukun, reeraha u wareegto ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was entrusted to kindle the fire

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when aimlessly I ran around the huts

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Raamaley riyo raacda ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Habloweyn had hadaafta ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a juvenile guarding the goats

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a strolling mature girl

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Aroos indha-kuulan ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan 
  • Mar curad marwo reerle ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a mascara-clad bride

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a first-time mother and a housewife

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Laba-dhal laafyoota ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Saddex-dhal sit sitaacda ahaa
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was an elegantly ambling mother of two

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a dazzling mother of three

  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Afar-dhal afo aada ahaa
  • Beri baan, beri baan
  • Shan-dhal sheekaysa ahaa 
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was the finest mother of four

    There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a gossiping mother of five

  • Beri baan, beri baan 
  • Lix-dhal liibaantey ahaa
  • Goblan talo aduunyoy 
  • Ma hadaan gabooboo
  • Laygu qaaday guro awr. 
  • There was a time; There was a time;

    when I was a triumphant mother of six

    Woe to you o’ world!

    did I now become old

    That I am carried on camel-back

 

Image by Photogenic. Story translated from Guri Waa Haween.

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old

time to rest

Everything in life has its peak then its glory fades. And we are no different. After a man’s life has reached its pinnacle, having attained all the sagacity and prudence it could, it starts to wane. Soon everything he possesses will start to either diminish or disappear. Whether he likes it or not, the dreaded wrinkles begin their assault on the once handsome face and the inevitability of age becomes certain. Then he starts to walk on threes, and finally on all fours. Like a toddler learning how to walk, the old man staggers and stumbles a multitude times. Hesitant and unable to walk long distances, he becomes confined to his resting place. Rendered immobile and almost out of touch with the community, he rests under the shade of his hut or a nearby tree and awaits any passerby to inform him of the events and news around him. Despite being hungry and weak, he is unable to eat and meals become almost unpalatable to him, except for whatever he could gulp down of camel milk.

As the sun sets everyday, his uncertainties grow – unsure whether he would be fit enough to see the break of dawn. And if he makes it to the daybreak, he becomes even more uncertain of its dusk! He starts to realise that soon, like his friends, he too will share a dark and dismal pit with the insects while the soil gnaws away at his fragile bones. If he was a poet it dawns on him that his friends with whom he would have exchanged banter with are long gone, as Dharbaaxo Jin said:

  • Raggiise aan la maansoon lahaa aakhiro u meerye
  • Raagihii mudnaa iyo Qamaan mawdkii baa helaye
  • Sayyidkii murtida sheegi jirey meel fog buu tegaye

 

  • The men I would’ve versed with have left for the hereafter
  • Death has caught up with the venerable Raage and Qamaan
  • The sagacious Sayyid too has departed to a far away place

In his feeble state, the old man become slightly petulant and develops an unpleasant disposition. The strident wails and laughter of frolicking kids annoys him. He is perturbed by loud noises and disturbances of any kind. Being in an isolated state, he often requires a constant companion to tend to his needs. And if not for a dutiful son or grandson or an unusually compassionate young man or woman to look after him, the old man if often left in his lonesome state.

When the poet Faarax Xasan Cali (farax Afcad) was in a ripe old age, he recited a poem describing the sort of woman he would marry, if he were to do so. He said:

  • Caanaha cidey kama bogto oo badey gugeygiiye
  • Hadba balaq midaan ii shubeyn waan ka boobsanahay

 

  • Cidey’s milks I am not satiated with as my years have increased
  • And she who wouldn’t readily pour me [milk] then I am wary of

It is also usual for an old Nomad in this decrepit state to completely lose his eye sight and/or become deaf or become partially sighted or partially deaf. When night falls and others are in deep slumber, he lies awake in his lonesome place twisting and turning, his groans and grunts filling the dark space. he is rendered sleepless at night and restless during the day, waiting for the angel of death to cast a shadow of gloom on his sombre existence.

Sheikh Axmad Gole was an erudite scholar, renowned throughout the Somali lands, particularly Western Somalia, for his understanding of religion. But when old age got to him, he was asked about his state and he replied thus:

 

  • Indhihii mid waa jaw                  the eyes, one is completely gone
  • Midna jeex yar baa haray           and a portion is left of the other
  • Jaaha iyo gacantii                      the face and the hands
  • waa wada jirkoodaas                  are but that mere skin
  • Dhegihii waxbaa jooga               a fraction is left of the ears
  • Waase sii jufmahayaan               But they are deteriorating
  • Ushaa ii jifada dheer                  that stick with the steel end
  • Waa jimicsigaygii                        is my tool for my exercise
  • Gol hadaan ku joogsado             if one a hill is step
  • Waan luqun jubaarmaa               I lose my footing and tumble
  • Dhul hadaan jadi maago             if on land I decided to walk
  • Waa badi jugleeyaa                    I stagger and fall on my bottom
  • Jidba geeljireentana                  if on my back I lie
  • Dhabarkaa I kala jaba                 my back would break
  • Hadaan jimicsi doonana             if I decide to stretch & exercise
  • Jiliftaa I kala baxa                      my spine splits into two
  • Hadaan jeenan waayana            if nourishment I don’t get
  • Sidii inan yar baan jalan            like a toddler I’d whine
  • Jil hadii aan qaatana                 and if I swallow a little
  • Waa jululuqeeyaaye                 my stomach starts to rumble
  • Jirkaygii hufnaanjirey              my once beautiful skin
  • Waa meela joolla ah                 is decrepit and old
  • Jismigii madoobaa                    my once dark hair
  • Hadmaa jookh cad lagu rogey   when was it encased in black?
  • Naagihii aan jeelkeenay            the women that I married
  • Way I jidi necbaadeen              have started to despise me
  • Wiilashaan jeclaan jirey            the sons that I used to love
  • Jawaab igama qaadaan             take no response from me
  • Odaygu waa jinoobaa               that the old man is possessed
  • Waaba lagu jalbeebtaa             they say and secretly gossip
  • Jiriidow Allahayow                   Oh Allah, you are Omnipresent
  • Kolba joogi meynee                 and we won’t last for eternity
  • Jidkii nebig na qaadsiiyoo       guide us to the path of our prophet
  • Jahanama hanoo geyn            and keep us away from hellfire

 

….To be continued

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Sorry

sorry copy

 

Dear Friends and Fellow Bloggers,

Please accept my sincere apologies for I have neglected this corner of mine for a very long time. Though I have no very good reasons to explain my long hiatus, I have been inundated with work and moving houses but will resume posting (hopefully regularly) from now on.

 

As many of you are aware, life as I knew it before has changed tremendously – The life I led as an unbound, young and vibrant man has now given way, justifiably some may say, to the perpetually petulant old bore that sits here guffawing. And in many ways too, that once spirited soul has now been replaced by its mature and more conscientious adult alter ego that is more concerned with fetching bread and milk from the newsagents than blogging.

 

Worry not though, there are many more interesting posts to come once the old bore gets his bearings right…

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picsunset

boaters sunset

Whenever I close my eyes I see her. Her ageing face, pleasant with a few incipient delicate wrinkles; her skin, dark against the resplendent multicoloured stole gently resting on her shoulders; her wizened eyes still bearing the same reprimanding look that she had always effortlessly maintained; her greying hair neatly tucked away under the pale black scarf, with a few protruding strands softly lapping at her brow; her cheerful disposition and her ‘always vigilant’ outlook on life. Now here she lies, withered and wasted, under the soil that constantly gnaws away at her bones; her throbbing heart had finally come to rest, her muscles have renounced the battle, her limbs lie unconstrained and her body tranquil.

It was a sombre March morning when I became aware of it, 19 March 2006 (two years ago today) to be precise. A forlorn mist ominously hissed past the damp and empty Greenwich streets. It seemed colder than usual. The car’s windshield had been frosted with a thin coating of ice and my friend Abdi, drove along the A406 with extra care. I gazed out the side window into the early morning mist; the yellow sun’s lingering rays were slowly emerging, with a few fragmented beams that thawed the thick fog on the bare-branched trees along the road and far into the fields. The fields themselves seeped of insipidity and a motionless mist had cast a permanent gloom over the grass. I was on my way to the airport that Sunday morning when I received the call that changed my life as I had previously known it. ‘Unknown’ said the little screen as my hand hesitantly held it up and answered it. A crackling noise, with half unintelligible words and half drowned by the fading signal, greeted me on the other end. My brother Mursal’s voice it was, I recognised. And though indiscernible it may have been, the message was deafening clear. She had passed away; my aunt Maryan.

Ever since I became aware of my surroundings and was able to determine right from wrong, I remember her as always being there – a statue-like figure, imposing in its appearance, permanently ingrained in my mind’s eye so that it constantly stared down at me like a silent sentinel. Like a majestic tree in its full glory she once towered over my life. Not like the trembling Aspen whose lithe frame and slender branches sway with the slightest breeze; nor like the beautifully soaring Beech with its vivid mosaic of colours and a canopy of foliage that falls off at the hint of autumn, but like the mighty Oak whose sturdy trunk and rigid roots, though furrowed with age, stand strong in the face of unsettled seasons. Such was her character – bold, brash and dominating. Now, drained and debilitated, the mighty Oak has, at long last, given in. Its broad leaves have now wilted and finally dropped; its inflexible branches, that once sheltered a variety of life, have now shrunken and its strong roots have shrivelled.

Along with the frost and mist, time too had frozen. The seconds slowly gave way to minutes and minutes to hours; faintly the tarmac rolled, like a giant carpet that was being pulled smoothly beneath me in slow motion; the wind howled past at great speeds; horns blared and brakes screeched, but I was benumbed by the news and deaf to the noise, and quietly insentient and oblivious to my surroundings. Her face had covered my horizon – her image draped itself on the canvas of motorway signs, her words chimed and swam soothingly in my ears and my mind relapsed to a time many years ago when I left her.  

Had it not been for a broken leg and the bouts of illnesses she had suffered a few years prior to her death, no age could wither her nor slow her down. At 66, she could walk faster than any man her age so her death was a bolt from the blue. Having grown from toddler to a man under her care, my entire life revolved around her. My parents, nomadic pastoralists, have entrusted me into her care at the tender age of five. So I was beholden to her for things too many to mention, but before I could be of any service to her and repay the kindness of her guardianship in my childhood with compassion and care, we became separated as I left for England.  

And as distance makes the heart grow fonder, everyday life’s little pleasures had started to dwindle without her presence to illuminate them. And now, all life’s subtle joys and attractions have abruptly been terminated when that stream of consciousness was ended by her death. The cool shade of the oak had been lifted and the cloud that constantly overshadowed and sheltered me from life’s trials, even in her absence, had, in that very instant, disappeared – it felt as if she had entered into a deep slumber, taking all she’s ever given me along with her. Know my Aunt, that the caravan awaits and I am coming too…  

My mind now solemnly gravitates towards the lost stream of consciousness; towards the unattainable past. Her malevolent scolding has now mellowed down to a mellifluous melody with a tuneful, comforting resonance. And her memory leisurely lingers to fill me with hope. The Mighty oak may have withdrawn its branches and departed with its abundant shade but it has dropped its acorns, and from among these acorns another mighty oak shall soon grow…

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numbi.jpg numbi2.jpg

Somali art, film, music & culture

DIALOGUES IN THE DIASPORA

Sunday, 4th November 2007
7pm-11pm
Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London E8 1EJ
Tickets: £15/ – £20 at the door
Booking: 020 8985 2424/ http://www.hackneyempire.co.uk

Numbi is the largest celebration of Somali culture and music to hit London.

This imaginative and passionate festival is to be held annually in London with a summer/ winter programme, in venues around London – an ongoing research project investigating contemporary arts practice from pre-civil war Somalia to the present day Diaspora. The idea is to invite artists from a variety of disciplines and diverse backgrounds to work as collaborators with practitioners and young people from the Somali Diaspora. Each artist-collaborator has something distinct to bring – our vision is to provide a platform to both emergent and established artists to explore new ways of creating work – in theatre, visual arts, music and film – that draws from the experience of Somali communities around the world. Cultivating cross-cultural artistic collaborations, the festival aims to deliver work that challenges perceptions, fosters genuine representation, and speaks to Somali communities and as well as a diverse audience of the general public.

Artists collaborating on the project include Kinsi Abdulleh, Rashiid Ali, Renee Mussai, Benjamin Samuels, Byron Wallen, Steven Watts and Concrete Stilettos.

Loosely based on the Numbi launch in October 2006, the line-up will include up to 15 artists who will create a unique cross-cultural fusion of contemporary spoken word, poetry, urban hip hop, traditional Somali music and dance, as well as a newly commissioned short performance piece directed by Benjamin Samuels. All work is in English.

Includes contributions from Xudaydi, The Pan Africans, The Nomadix, Jama Damalian Warrior, Mecca2Medina, Prince Abdi, Yusra Warsama, Wiilwaal, plus a special film screening of See Shells , a short film by legendary Somali film director Abdullekadir Ahmed Sead based in south Africa & 4R Knaan‚ + the Numbi Award.

For further info:
kinsi.kudu@talk21.com
079 4953 4402

http://www.myspace.com/kuduarts

http://www.kuduarts.com/

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wedding I would like to extend my warmest greetings to my friend Mohamed who recently got married while I was away on holiday and whose wedding ceremony I could not attend.

May your marriage bring you all the pleasures a marriage ought to bring, my friend, and may you have a never-ending supply of affection and patience which is vital in married life and may Allah grant you obedient offsprings.

And on a final note, may you have the ability to understand her and the ocean of mystery that surrounds a woman… ;)

image

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We left Bosaaso just before twilight set upon us. Accompanied by my brothers, we left my hotel at Al-Rowda, passed by Bosaaso Hospital, a thousand and one restaurants at the edge of the main road, countless hawkers by, cars, lorries heading out and entering the city, people, goats, sheep, soldiers, more hotels, carts and finally silence. Except for our short stay at Xalwo Kismaayo whilst we bought some sweets and mineral water, there was no commotion-filled, busy and eventful streets to be heard, no clamour of voices, no obnoxious Qat sellers, no loud conductors pulling you into their buses, just the noise of rubber eating away the tarmac. Arid, dry land occupied either sides of the road as far as the eyes caught. Further ahead, great mountains towered above the levelled ground. The enormity of such mountains loomed over the vast barren earth and formed a somewhat pleasing sight. By then I was all expectations. Every minute that passed brought me closer to an emotional reunion with a family I’ve left a long time ago and filled my heart with anticipation. I was starting to feel the goosebumps appearing.

The long stretch of road led us past the city control limits where the cars are checked for weapons, then past the villages of Laag, Karin, Kalabaydh, and several other tiny ones along the roadside and then just after we passed the dangerously serpentine road of Alxamdullilah, the driver came off the asphalted road and took a narrow rough path, through the arid land formed by the tyre tracks of cars and constant usage . The rough road rapidly rolled in front of us and the car bounced up and down at great speeds. We followed that route through an immense dark terrain, through Ballibusle, through Laag Xaariseed and after a gruelling five-hour journey set foot in the wilderness of Sanaag at 2 AM. A small hut erected in the middle of no where greeted us and adjacent to it, two thick fences made from the thorny branches of Galool trees formed two large rings. Inside the rings, animal dung had plastered the earth, covering the thin layer of soil. This is where the sheep and goats along with their lambs and kids come to rest after a day of traversing the plains of Sanaag.   

SOMALIA 104  SOMALIA 130

From the hut exited my young brothers and sisters and my step mother and from there started the emotional reunion. It was an occasion worthy of a celebration and fresh meat was immediately served. We stayed that night or whatever was left of it and slept in the open, watching the millions of glittery stars that decorated the sky and danced around the vivid moon to form an enchanting display. What a pleasant night that was!

SOMALIA 089SOMALIA 169

Waking up early that morning, I observed my surroundings. I noticed with enthusiasm the extent to which my vision was restricted to – as far as my eyes could see. With trees such as Qudhac, Meygaag, Galool, Damal, bilcil and Higlo along with some Dhirindhir spread sporadically along a vast flat land, the wilderness was as open as the sea and stretched out for perhaps hundreds of kilometres. Such a vast area of land is called Sool (not to be confused with the region of Sool). Sool means an area that comprises of mainly the trees I mentioned above covering acres of land. It was the Xagaa season and the land, being slightly sterile was rainless and dry. Small bushes, usually a few centimetres off the earth, known as Dureemo and others slightly bigger, known as Duur, covered the earth. Duur is used extensively for building huts and enclosures for animals. All this I observed whilst on my way to where my mother lived – a small village called Habarshiro, right in the heart of Sanaag.

 SOMALIA 178 SOMALIA2 189

Habarshiro, a tiny village lying at the foot of a small hill has Ceelbuuh as its nearest neighbour. Here, the vast land was, for the most part, unoccupied except for a few houses that conspicuously took up their rightful places in the middle of no-where. Barren and dry as it was, there were hardly any trees either, apart from the few dry trunks that stood like solitary soldiers assigned to keep watch and guard the village. Several wells surrounds the city known as Berkedo (sing. Berked). These serve as watering grounds for more than two thousand heads of camels, sheep and goats almost every day.

SOMALIA2 190  SOMALIA 177

As the car closed the distance between me and Habarshiro, my heart hammered heavily in her chest, threatening to crack my ribcage open. I even thought I heard its pulsating beats. A reservoir of tears gathered at the brim of my eyes, ready to gush out at the very mention of the word “hooyo” – mother! The car had not even come fully to a halt when I pushed the door open, jumped out, flung my arms around my mother and silently sobbed tears (though strongly repressed ) of delight, relief and excitement. A graceful woman with finely tuned features she was, though baked by the sun into a dark chocolaty complexion, and must have been without comparison in beauty in her glory days.

Gradually my heart came to rest and the thudding was replaced by a wave of comfort. The warmth of my mother’s embrace disposed of the inner restlessness, evaporating all concerns and worries into thin air and putting my troubled heart to rest. Everything else seemed insignificant then, my mind was for the first time completely free of thought! This was where I wanted to be and this was how I wanted to feel. At that very instant my life had changed and without regard for what perils and tribulations lay ahead, I’ve decided that this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my stay – under the shelter of my mother’s hut. The rest of my siblings were away, dispersed into the immense terrain, so whilst my father and relatives sat under the shade of the Higlo tree, I grabbed my younger sisters and mother and went inside the hut.

SOMALIA 161  SOMALIA 158

After a few days stay in Habarshiro, it was time to discover the customs of the nomadic tribes. I set out early in the morning towards the Berked to water and load the camels my brother had brought from his hut in Manshax – three hour’s journey away from the village. Every two to three days he makes the same journey and loading his camels with water, returns to his house. This is called Dhaan. So that particular morning, with a strong desire to walk the plains of Sool and discover the land by foot, I volunteered to accompany my sister Seytun who was to take the dhaan back to my brother’s house. Being the first time I have seen her in her 20 years of living, I wanted to be very much with her all the time. Little did I know what lay ahead and how much trekking I would have to do.

 SOMALIA2 175 Dhaan

We set out with five camels loaded with water for two families. As soon as we disappeared from the sight of Habarshiro, I stopped and looked around. Not another single soul in sight, except for me and my sister and not another living thing except for our five camels. The immensity of the terrain simply astonished me; you could be walking for miles and not come in contact with a human being. We strolled along at leisurely pace, talking passionately about our lives through all the years of separation. An expert trekker, having traversed the entire terrain in every direction perhaps a thousand time, she knows the location of almost every tree in the area.

SOMALIA2 177 SOMALIA 093

The evergreen Higlo tree.

We were walking for only about an hour and I could feel that my body was spewing out sweat in excessive amounts and my feet begged for some rest. That I gladly welcomed and sought the shelter of a Higlo tree at which point my sister teased me for being unhealthy. That is how I completed my journey – walking for about an hour in the open and then finding some shelter under a tree. We finally reached our destination by noon – two small huts, intricate in their design, in the middle of a vast open space – and unloaded the water. There I sat, fatigued and panting for breath, and accepted a fresh cup of camel milk from my sister-in-law. I dreaded the journey back to the village and wished for once that I hadn’t been so impulsive. A three hour journey awaited me and I had to make it before darkness envelops the land, for then hyenas own the night.

Luckily I did manage, greatly exerting myself, to return to Habarshiro as soon as the rays of the sun plummeted down the horizon. After a few days rest and the pain in my feet subsided, I was ready for another ‘excursion’ – a painful excursion.

SOMALIA2 006

to be continued…

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