Wednesday, December 19, 2018
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HARGEISA: A Personal Story

By Mohamed Heebaan

After travelling nine consecutive days that we started from Malayko, with hundreds and hundreds of sheep and goats, we came to the border between Somalia and Ethiopia around 3 PM of the ninth day. Mohamed Sheikh Abdi Xuuble, the co-leader of our group, took brisk steps across the border, but stopped about half-a-meter from the Somali side. Then he put his feet together, and with a grin on his face, jumped as high as he could and landed into the Somali side, saying “Buluuglow calankayagow!” The moment we crossed the border was the first time we felt safe. In all the nine days we were travelling we were praying the Ethiopian soldiers travelling between regions wouldn’t see us. If they did, they could have confiscated all the livestock and sent us into prison, no questions asked. Travelling to Somalia or trading with it were major crimes.

The next day we arrived Balli-gubadle, a village near the border. And after all the years I thought and dreamed about Somalia, I must say I wasn’t disappointed. Everything I saw in Balligubadle appeared neat and clean and orderly. The sight of the Somali police was officer was, to me, the most impressive: A police officer that would not strike you, or arrest you or intimidate you. That was really something. In the afternoon I went for sightseeing in some of the shops in Balligubalde. The portrait of president Mohamed Siyad Barre, then very popular, adorned every shop. The caption of the portrait were in Somali, English and Arabic. I could not read the Somali or the English. But like every Somali who studied the Quran in childhood, I could easily read the Arabic. Understanding its meaning was entirely different thing.

After couple of days we arrived Hargeisa. We stayed at a flat that Sheikh Abdirahman Barkhadle rented for his guests. Next to the flat was a mosque built by Haji Abdirahman Gadhyare, a kind and philanthropic man. At the corner of the block was Abdullahi Yare’s restaurant. The grand mosque of Hargeisa is only stone’s throw away. This is the Ciidagale section of Hargeisa. In the morning while we were having tea at Abdullahi Yare’s restaurant, someone asked me and my cousin Ahmed Raabi Kahin, “where are you guys going?” I got closer to the person and said in a very low voice, “We are going to Mogadishu.” The strange look in the man’s face made me realize that I was no longer an oppressed in his own homeland. I was free man among my own Somali brethren!

Few days later, Ahmed and I got on a commercial truck and headed to Mogadishu on journey that would take several days. While on the truck, passengers all of a sudden started talking about Darod, not in a malicious or negative way, but in a rather casual way saying things like “Darods say this ……Darods say that…. and the like.” I was astonished! I came from a very local place where no one mentions Reer Cabdille, let alone Ogaden. And now, I was in the midst of people talking about Darod in such a distant manner. I thought to myself, “Oh my God! I must have come to the end of the world!”

After about a month in Mogadishu, I came back to Hargeisa, and started staying at Sheikh Abdirahman Barkhadle’s guest room. I prayed regularly at Haji Abdirahman Gadhyare’s mosque, which I alluded to earlier. Also, every day around 11:00 AM, I attended a lecture on the Tafsiir of the Quran given by Sheikh Mohamed Herari, who was from Harar, and who was a big fan of Ibnu Taymiyah and his ideas. That Sheikh’s lectures were very enlightening and empowering. When you listen to him, you will never be afraid of or worry about superstition, sixiroole, fooxle, khuraafi and their ilk. You would trust in God, and have a peace of mind.

In the same block, on the other side of the mosque, there was a pharmacy run by a man called Aidid, who happened to pray at this mosque regularly, and, I think, he attended the same Tafsiir lectures I attended as well. Before long, I gravitated to Aidid’s pharmacy, where I started hanging out between the Asr prayer and the Maghrib. Aidid was kind and welcoming. I listened the news and the BBC with him. And when he ordered tea from the restaurant, or his friends came by and he ordered something for them, he always included me. Aidid could easily see I was new in town. And for him, being kind to a teenager who prayed regularly and listened to Tafsiir every day, I guess, had its own satisfaction. He really made me feel welcome. And It was going so well for me.

Until one day, out of nowhere, a young man who appeared in his twenties, whom I never seen in the mosque or at the Tafsiir halaqa came to the pharmacy, and he asked Aidid a pointed question: “Aidid” he said, “who is that boy?” he is referring to me. Aidid knew what the man was asking. And he answered in a diplomatic manner that answered the man’s question, while avoiding the mess of Somali clan names, by saying, “He is a young man from Dagahbour.”

The man’s first question could be taken as mere harmless curiosity. But his second question was devastating: “What is he doing here?” He asked. Aidid found the question awkward, and uncomfortable. And he ignored it by simply pretending not to hear it. But I heard it. And as you can imagine, my heart sunk! Reflecting upon what the man said, I thought to myself, “May be I wasn’t supposed to come to this place in the first place?” I thought about it for a bit. Then I made a decision. That was the last day I went to Aidid’s pharmacy.

Hargeisa city

Not long after, I moved to Iftin to stay with my aunt Cudbi Heban and her husband Siigaale, and their children. Not far from my aunt’s residence was a mosque built by the Botan Family, one of the prominent families in Hargeisa. I prayed regularly at that mosque. One of the people I remember from that mosque was a man who was tall, lean, and well dressed. He may have been in his mid to late forties. But in the eyes of 14 year-old, he was an old man. The man appeared well-to-do. He may have had a good government job, or he may have been a businessman. The thing that made me remember that man was that any time that a needy person stood up in front of the congregation, and asked for help, that man would take upon himself to collect donations for him. I have never seen that man ignore someone who asked for help. Never. And because he was well respected among the masjid community, I am sure that many people had given donations, in part, because that man was collecting the donations. One day, a man who appeared from the countryside stood up and asked for help. Then before he sat down, the needy man said as an afterthought, “All of you, the children of Sheikh Isxaaq, I need your help.” The kind man who already stood up and started collecting the donations was visibly annoyed! “You should not have said that” he said in a lamenting tone. “These are all Somalis, and they are all Muslims. They will help you with whatever they can. There was no need to go there.” He said and then continued collecting the donations for the needy man. What a wonderful human being that man was!

Ramadan came, and I started praying the Taraawiih at the Botan family mosque. In the front row, on the right side of the Minbar, a certain man sat regularly. The man came to the mosque earlier than most, and was one of the last to leave the mosque. The man didn’t speak to anyone. He was either praying, or reading the Quran, or deep in Zikr and contemplation. There was such an aura of dignity and piety about him. I gave him one good look, and I was certain that he belonged to my clan. I liked him instantly! Ramadan continued, and the man kept his routine, night after night. Then one night, around the end of Ramadan, the man spoke briefly. And he spoke in a dialect that left no doubt that he was from Hargeisa and its environs. I was absolutely shocked!

After I recovered from my shock, I realized that in my youthful imaginary, the best and the most dignified belong to my clan. In the real life, however, the best of the best may or may not necessarily belong to my clan.

I don’t know whether there is something in the Ogadenis that makes them think they are more religious than the Isaaqis. My experience reminds me another story that an Isaaq man that I met in Sudan told me many years ago. He said he and his cousins were working on farm they own in the Geed-Deeble area. Around the lunch time when they stopped working and started eating, a man who appeared haggard and exhausted walked by the farm. The men felt sorry for him, and they called the man. When he came, they asked him were he was from? He told them he was an Ogadeni man from the town of Wardheer. The group gave the man food, water and tea. After the man recovered from the hunger and thirst, he expressed that he never expected such treatment from the Isaaqis! Aroused their curiosity, the men urged the man “Please do tell us. what was your view of the Isaaqis?” The man smiled ruefully, and said, “Do you remember what they say, ‘Curses rain down on Jews every single night!” The entire group burst with laughter!

I taught myself math up to intermediate level. My Arabic was perhaps much stronger than most high school students since I learned the SARF back in Dhuxun. When you learn the Sarf, you will learn not only the root of the Arabic words, but also the structure and how the words easily transform from one part of speech to another. Through my uncle Sheikh Abidrahman Barkhadle, I got appointment for an assessment with Abdi Ismail Farah, one of the top education officials in the North West Province.

Abdi Ismail was from Awdal, but from the Ethiopia occupied side. He was educated in Ethiopia and had a Masters degree from the United States. He briefly taught in Qabri-Daharre early on his career. When Sheikh Abdirahman Barkhadle and I met him in his office at the ministry of education for the assessment, he asked me few questions in Amharic, and I managed to answer them satisfactorily. He asked me where I lived, and which intermediate school was closest to me. I told him Guryo Samo Intermediate was the closest to me. Instead of asking his secretary to complete the process for me, which would have taken longer, he picked up the transfer form and filled it up in his own hands, and singed. Then he grabbed me by the hand, and started searching someone in the ministry compound. I later realized he was looking for the Principal of Guryo-Samo intermediate who happened to be at the ministry at that moment. When he found the principal, he handed him the transfer form and said to him, “I am transferring this young man to your school. I will send you the official documents later on. In the mean time, I want you to place him in Grade 7.” And the principal said, “No problem.” Ensured that I was now in good hands, he patted me in the back and left. That was Abdi Ismail Farah, a truly kind and capable man.

The principal of Guryo Samo was called Nuux. Students used to tease him as “Nuux dhagoole.” I don’t know where the epithet came from, for he was neither deaf, nor hard of hearing. He was intelligent, fair-minded, and very able principal. The teacher that students feared the most was the one who taught Arabic. His name was Ali Weheliye, who was from Mogadishu. Ali was knowledgeable, chatty and friendly, but also very strict. If you do not do your work properly, or do not master what you were supposed to, or misbehave in any way, he would take a little stick, ask you to raise your hand, and wack you so hard that you would never want to cross him again. Like everyone else in the class, my hands had their share of whacking, for one reason or another, form that teacher.

After I spend about two months in school, we had a major Arabic exam. Because I was new to school and had less distractions than the most students, I mastered all the Arabic material that the teacher taught. And the night before the exam, I went to the movies. The next day, just before we started taking the exam, I casually mentioned something that happened in the movies last night. A student called Jamaal looked me with astonishment and said, “Did you say you went to the movies last night?” I said yes. He did not raise any more questions. But the expression on his face suggested he may have put off his studies to the last day, and found himself struggling the night before the exam. The result of the exam came back. I got the highest in the class 98%. The second place was student called Mohamed Cali Cilmi (aka Mohamed-Carab) whose father owned a pharmacy near the Hargeisa bridge. The important lesson I learned from that exam was that if you study ahead of time, and master what you are supposed to learn, you can afford going to the movies the night before the exam, and relax the day of the exam, and still get one of the highest scores in that subject.

Jaamac and Aadan Geedi were good friends and classmates. And when I joined their class, I gravitated towards them, and the three of us became very close. Jaamac loved Somali literature and poetry, and Hadraawi was his favourite poet. I had no clue who Hadraawi was then. I didn’t even know it was he who composed the smashing songs like Hooyo and Beledweyn. But Jaamaac knew, I think, everything that Hadraawi composed because he used to talk about him all the time. Aadan Geedi was from a comfortable home. His father Geedi Qayaad was then a colonel in the Somali army when a colonel had both the prestige and the financial security that came with it. They lived in one of the prime areas of Hargeisa near the technical high school. One day, Aadan took me and Jaamac to his home, and showed us the encyclopedic poems of the Sayid, “Diiwaanka Gabayada Sayid Maxamed Cabdille Xasan” when, I am sure, most of Somalis didn’t even know the book existed. We had a fun time reading all those forbidden poems. Another day Aadan took the two of us to the officers’ club which was somewhere not far from Hargeisa club, I think. We saw various portraits of the leadership of the Somali armed forces, and Aadan nearly knew almost all the top commanders of the Somali armed forces saying, “This is general this….and this is general that…and that….” Jaamac and I were mesmerized!

It is never a good idea to give complete freedom to a teenager, no matter how responsible and dependable they may appear, because, sooner or later, they would misuse and abuse that freedom to their own detriment. I know that from experience. In my family, I was considered very responsible that I was treated as if I could do no wrong. Even if I cut school, my family somehow thought I Knew what I was doing. I was trusted that much. However, when I look back, and reflect upon how many times I abused that freedom specially in relation to my studies, I shake my head in disbelieve. I will give an example of what I am talking about here.

One day, while still at Guryo Samo intermediate, I woke up the usual time, and ate a breakfast. Then instead of wearing the school uniform, I donned my regular clothes and I headed to downtown. Why? There was no particular reason. I just felt like it! It so happened that the time I left home was the very time that all students left their homes going to school. Luck would have that I encountered my friend Aadan Geedi on the main road west of the Hargeisa bridge. Aadan was surprised to see me not wearing uniform, nor carrying books, and heading to a wrong direction! “Maxamed” He asked “where are you going?” I admit. I found that question difficult to answer. But I was determined and said “I am going to downtown.” Aadan took me to the side, as if not to block the path from other students, and talked to me in a quiet and thoughtful manner that was really way above his age, but in line with his character and personality. Pointing the finger at the waves of students crossing the main road into different directions to go to their respective schools, Aadan said, “Look all these students. Everyone is going to school, and you are a good student. Why my friend you waste your education?” My friend’s words hit me very hard! I was so embarrassed that I a boy of my age would counsel me about my own interests!” I turned around, went home, changed, got my book and attended school that day. I never forgot that for my friend Aadan Geedi!

The Botans that I referred to earlier had a beautiful girl that went to Guryo samo Middle school. She wasn’t in my class, but everybody knew who she was. In fact, boys used to fantasize about if only they could win over that girl’s heart, they would join the Botans and their lives would be set for riches. Some would even go one step further and claim, “So and so climbed the huge tree that shades the Botan family compound just to see the girl in her family setting. But he stayed up at the tree till midnight, at which point he fell sleep, and fell to the ground.” And the whole group would laugh. It may have been a made-up story, but it was a lot fun in those days.
Another student that I remember is Cilmi Yuusuf Dhuule. Angaaze, our science teacher, who was from Jowhar used to mispronounce Cilmi’s last name. He always called him Cilmi Yuusuf Dhugle. Cilmi was intelligent. He was also heavy smoker, and it made look older than his age. He would curse whoever it was that introduced smoking to humanity. “It is the one thing” he would say, “that puts you through humiliation and forces you to beg some change from a person of your age!”

It was the hey day of Socialism in Somalia. And the government was intent on mixing sexes. Some teachers were nonchalant about the whole thing, but others insisted on enforcing it. Every two boys they insisted a girl must sit between them, and vice versa. Between my friend Jaamac and I used to sit Kaltuum Axmed Warsame. In such oppressive socialist environment, Cabdiraxmaan Kaariye, our math teacher, started a new mission. He decided to give Halaqa on the Tafsiir of the Quran to the girls of the school, right on school days, during the breaktime. That is what you call determination. He chose our class, Fasalka X, for the Halaqa.

Cabdiraxmaan had a great smile and pleasant personality. And he had a unique way of attracting the students’ attention. When he wanted students to pay attention, he would point the finger, in quick succession, at three students saying “You.. and you ..and you…” And within seconds, the class would be quiet, and everyone would be paying attention to what he had to say. He started with few girls, then few more joined, and then more. Within weeks, he transformed the school. All of a sudden, so many girls have joined that the chairs in our class could not fit, so the girls started borrowing chairs from other classes and squeezed to find a place to sit. Every girl would bring a Musxaf(kitaab) and a prayer rug among her books. Through the dedication of people like Abdirahman, the movement of Waxadatu Shababul-Islaam exploded in all of Hargeisa schools: in high schools, in intermediate schools and even in elementary schools. Young Somalis started learning Islam, and about Islam. Abdirisaaq Siigaale, my aunt’s older boy, who was still in elementary school joined the movement. At fajr time, his friends who lived nearby would knock the window of the room we slept. He would wake up, and go with them, and the whole group in the area would go to together and pray the Fajr prayer at the mosque.

The government was all eyes and ears, and it launched a huge, ruthless campaign against the new Islamist movement. Numerous students from all levels of education, some as young as 13-years-of age were rounded up and sent to Mandera Prison. The government campaign did diminish the exponential growth of the movement, but could not extinguish the appeal and survival of the movement. Years later, when I was graduating from high school, there were so many girls and boys who still belonged to the movement at Faarax Oomaar high.

Most of the students were eventually released. Our teacher Cabdiraxmaan Kaariye, who was one of the first ones to be arrested, was not. I asked my cousin Abdirisaaq some years later whatever happened to the teacher Abdirahman Kaariye? He told me he was still in Mandera prison, and was writing a book in there. That was the last time I heard about Abdiraxmaan Kaariye. I often wondered whether Sheikh Mohamed Kariye in Portland is related to Abdirahman Kariye who taught at Guryo-Samo Middle School, or they simply share the name?

Mohamed Heebaan
Email: [email protected]


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