Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Not many people would single-handedly stare down a heavily armed militia and live to tell about it.
Few small, soft-spoken, older women might care to even try.
that is exactly what Dr. Hawa Abdi did in May 2010, when gunmen from
one of Somalia's most fearsome Islamist groups put her under house
arrest for five days and shut down the 400-bed hospital she had
established on her family farm in 1983.
It had become one of the
few places where refugees from the east African country's two-decade
civil war could find medical care, and a camp with almost 100,000
displaced residents had formed around it about 12 miles south of
Abdi, whom Glamour magazine
later described as "equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo," visited the
University of Texas at Arlington on Monday to promote her new memoir, Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman, 90,000 Lives Changed.
She was accompanied by a daughter, Dr. Deqo Mohamed, who now runs the
hospital, and journalist Sarah J. Robbins, who helped with the book.
self-confidence and my belief in my God helped keep me calm," Abdi said
of the 2010 siege during an interview at the Fort Worth Omni Hotel.
the hospital and its equipment were badly damaged, Abdi steadfastly
refused to leave, telling the militants -- many of them teenage boys --
that if she died, it would be with dignity.
In the end, The New York Times reported,
hundreds of women from the refugee camp dared to protest, adding to a
flood of condemnation from Somalis abroad that forced the militants to
back down. Abdi even got the gunmen to apologize in writing.
camp and hospital came to be known as Hawa Village. Those who came had
lost nearly everything, and Abdi welcomed them with motherly love and
stern rules: Nobody could identify with clans, and husbands could not
beat their wives. If they did, a storeroom could be utilized as a jail.
"We have to support each other," Abdi said Monday of her philosophy. "We have to help each other."
Sunday was a bloody day in Mogadishu, the fighting has largely stopped,
said Mohamed, who received her medical education in part in the United
States. Explosions and gunfire are no longer common sounds.
"We are calling it a village now," she said of the site where about 40,000 people still live. "You can't camp for 22 years."
prime minister said Monday that several experienced foreign fighters
took part Sunday in the most serious Islamic extremist attack on
Mogadishu in years. Other officials indicated that the explosive devices
were more advanced than normal, a possible indication of greater
involvement by al Qaeda.
Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said
the presence of foreign fighters during Sunday's two-hour assault on the
Supreme Court complex showed that the attack was international in
nature. The attack included six suicide bombings and two car bombs.
The Somali militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the two-hour barrage.
Hashi, the deputy director of the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute
for Policy Studies, said the attack shows that al-Shabab can strike the
government at will and that the group can come quite close to
"decapitating" a vital government arm.
The Supreme Court was in session when the attack occurred.
attack "will force the government to revisit its priorities," Hashi
said by email. "Because if it fails to provide security to the citizens
in the capital, it will have difficulties justifying its demands in
extending its writ to other parts of the country."
A woman's voice
got her medical degree in the 1960s in the Soviet Union, which was then
allied with Somalia. She became one of the country's first
foreign-trained female doctors. Then famine and civil war engulfed
Somalia, and Abdi opened her farm to refugees from the fighting. She
believes some 10,000 famine victims are buried on her farm.
when the rebels moved onto her land, Abdi continued to work, turning
aside threats with a smile or an admonishment from the Quran.
told them the Quran says you cannot enter someone's house without their
permission, and I did not give you permission to be in my house," she
recalled in January 2011.
Mohamed said the book has two main
messages: that women often don't know their own power and that Somalia, a
beautiful, peaceful place before the war broke out, can become so
"All it takes is for one woman to say no," she said.
This report includes material from The Associated Press and Star-Telegram archives.