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A Season of Death

By Abdi-Noor Mohamed
Wednesday, October 31, 2007


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If you ask a schoolboy which month of the year is September? He would simply retort: The ninth. But in Somalia the month of September is more than that.


It is the beginning of a briskly sea trade for small boats in the Somali seas as monsoon winds come to an end around this time of the year.


Not only that but August marks the onset of a Season of Death as these boats do not only ferry business goods but also smuggle a large consignment of human cargo.


Time and again we hear tragic stories reported by the media in which hundreds of Somalis bound to Yemen have perished in the red sea waters.  


Some of them are clubbed to death or forced to disembark in deep waters by the smugglers while others just drown in the sea as their boat sinks.


Only few who are lucky enough make safely to the shores of Aden and other coastal towns. Some of those who swam to the coast find themselves awfully exhausted and die right away after arrival.


In the sweltering sun of the red sea coast, Yemenis in nearby settlements seldom discover bodies of Somali refugees strewn in the sand after the sea had washed them ashore.


The escalating civil unrest in Somalia is forcing these Somalis to flee from their country only to fall in the treacherous trap of smugglers who lure them to their unholy business.


In the past, it was those Somalis hailing from minority tribes who used to flee to Yemen as a result of chaos and strife sweeping across their locations.


It was these days of August 1998 when Makaay and her brother Ahmed decided to leave the country as a result of a dreadful mid-night raid carried out in their village by an armed militia.


That night Makaay’s father Macllim Dhaayow was shot dead on the spot after failing to open his seed bank (Bakaar) in which he kept few sacks of grain.


Macallim Dhayow, who only a week ago buried his wife, was in a state of utter sadness and shock as he was still in the ritual mourning period of Maymuna traditionally called TA’SI. He was a poor Quranic teacher who has had nothing of value in his possession.


His family seldom went to bed hungry especially when there was a crop failure and students in his school did not bring enough maize as payment of monthly fee.


But it was hard to convince or talk to militia who were high with the narcotic leaves of Khat and a host of other drugs.


They took the life of Macallin Dhaayow and forced Ahmed and Makaay to excavate the seed bank by themselves using their own digging tools in the house or else face the music.


“What should we do?” Ahmed said to his sister in a low voice, thinking that the militia couldn’t hear him. But they heard him and soon three bullets glowing in the dark waded into the misty air.


OOOhhhNOOOOOO shouted Makaay, covering herself with his body as if hers is bullet-resistant. “And my brother is shot dead, too”.


Ahmed was not killed nor injured. The bullets were shot upwards to warn him but Makaay though they had struck him in the head. 


Ahmed and his sister dug out the Bakaar carefully as if they were exhuming bones of a king for a descent burial. 


They unearthed a heap of maize, which the militia made away with. The next day they decided to sell out a plot of farmland owned by the family and leave the country for good.


With the money obtained from the land sales and few donations from a relative, Ahmed and his sister, then in their early teens, departed to the city of Mogadishu and proceeded to Bosasso where they boarded a boat. Their intention was to cross the red sea and enter Yemen to seek a better and more secure life.


In Bosasso they met with Jama Hassan who was also planning to leave the country, too. But Ahmed felt astonished when he learned that Jama originally belongs to a stronger tribe in the south and asked him why he was fleeing. “There is no future for educated people in our country” Said Mr. Hassan when asked why he was risking his life in a boat when his people are strong and armed. 


“Warlords feel safe when people around them are all ignorant. They don’t like people who can see things with the light of education even if these people are have close blood ties with them” Answered Ahmed coolly. 


In the soothing breeze of the sea, Ahmed and Makaay were taken in a small boat, which transferred them to another boat waiting few miles away.


But the boat was already losing balance before the voyage to Yemen has started. The smugglers have loaded it far beyond than its capacity, stuffing every space with goods and human beings. 


Ahmed and Makaay had a dream of a better future.  But their dream turned out to be a nightmare when the boat they were traveling with capsized in the middle of the sea, killing more than 80 people.


Among the deceased was Ahmed whose body floated in the shark infested sea just like others with whom he shared the same fate.


Fortunately Makaay survived the tragic episode but she remained unconscious for two days when she learned of the death of her brother, Ahmed.


Makaay stayed and lived as a refugee in the famous Basaatiin quarters (plots of land originally reserved for gardens but later on occupied by Somali refugees) of Aden for seven good years.


Becoming fed up with refugeehood,  Makaays contacted the UNHCR office in Aden along with a group of Somalis who were seeking for a voluntary repatriation.


After a hectic process of filling and signing papers Makaay was finally brought home by air with the hope that the circumstances that had forced her to flee did not exist anymore.


But insecurity did not last in Somalia as she thought. It was just hiding behind a thin veil of superficial quietness.


Upon arrival Makaay’s bitter feelings of being away from home have faded but the unpleasant thoughts of the hard life in Yemen and the memories of successive death’s of her mother, father and brother stayed and haunted her occasionally.


From scratch Makaay had to launch her struggle for survival in a city she knew nobody or had no relative to support her. She started with the 50-dollar money provided to her by UNHCR as part of a repatriation package.


With her un-swaying spirits she set up a small-scale business and became able to feed and clothe herself.


She was supplementing her income with money she generated from part time jobs. Sometimes, especially on Fridays when her business is closed, she went to Xaafadaha (sections) of Mogadishu asking families if they wanted their clothes washed or their houses cleaned.


And sometimes she went to the main bakaaraha market to work as a porter. Finally after three years of survival hardship and recurrent insecurity in Mogadishu, Makaay decided to marry.


She got a man of her age, a caring and lovely one, but unable to relieve her from the burden of eking income. Love has brought joy to Makaay but not bread.


In Mogadishu men don’t usually have jobs. Women are the bedrock upon which the stability of the family rests. Though married Makaay still remained as the sole breadwinner of the new family. 


Today Makaay, a mother of five who lives in the outskirts of Mogadishu  off the Afgoi road, is still chased by shadows of fear and despondency as war has displaced her from her house in Mogadishu.


She had fled from the mortar attacks and bomb explosions, which are shaking the city with sounds of terror and death.


She cannot plan again to take a perilous sea expedition nor can she flee to Kenya as Somalis are already stranded in the Somali-Kenya border.


Kenyan authorities have sealed it off, oblivious of the people’s suffering. They ignored the plight of people who can’t go back because of the bullet and can’t go ahead to enter Kenya due to border closure.


Makaay seldom begs Allah not to let her children undergo what she had tasted in life. “War denied me to enjoy my rights as a human being and it is the same war that the future of my children is at stake” Makaay says almost to herself as tears fill her eyes.


 Makaay’s hopes further dwindle when she ponders on the widening rift between the President and the Prime Minister.


The President and his Prime Minister do not talk each other or communicate in any way,and that is a recipe of a renewed civil war in Somalia.


If war spreads in the areas Makaay had fled to then it would be only Ethiopia where she can seek refuge as Kenya has turned back to the Somalis. Running from who and to whom is a dilemma Makaay lives with on daily basis.


Abdi-Noor Mohamed

Writer and Film maker

Mogadishu, Somalia

[email protected]

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