By Mohamed Heebaan
The long awaited telegram came from Addis Ababa around noon. His majesty Haile Selassie, the king of kings of Ethiopia, gave the orders to the Ethiopian soldiers to let the people of Qabri daharre go immediately, and all of them.
Those were chaotic years. I do not remember the reason behind it, but the Ethiopian government launched a huge campaign against Reer Dalal, and confiscated from them hundreds and hundreds of camels that were brought and held at the soccer field and the nearby empty fields. I have never seen that many camels in my life. There was no any contingency plan for water or sustenance, and all those camels were kept in the burning sun, thirsty and Hungary days and days and days. My aunt Maadhiin Muxumed Xaashi, my mother’s younger sister, used to pray for the targeted tribe with impromptu songs and poems, saying among other things:
Buuraha raggaa loo galee boogta lagu reebay
Bah-Xawaadle Eebow barii kuu baryootamaye!
A disgruntled Somali pilot defected to Ethiopia and took his plane with him. The loss of that plane made us feel not only as a betrayal, but as if we lost the most valuable possession in our families. The plane was small, and it had a red tail. We called Daba-dhiig. Every time we saw Daba-dhiig flying over Qabri daharre, we looked up and shook our heads in disgust and sadness: a Somali plane flown around by the hated Ethiopians. It was unbearable!
On October 15, 1969, President Cabdi Rashiid Cali Sharmaarke was assassinated. That was a sad day all over Qabri daharre. I remember the older boys who went to the Ethiopian school say, “We will not go to school tomorrow. We will share grief with the Somali people!”
By far, the best student in our Quranic school was a boy called Ina-Bile or Cabdi Bile, not the Somali track and field champion, but another one from Qabri daharre. Cabdi was gifted. He was also very hard working. It is difficult to beat someone who combines those two traits. In our Quranic school, no one bothered to compete with him. And beating him seemed beyond the realm of possibilities. He was truly a class unto his own!
Faruurow and I were very good friends. His father passed away early on. One thing that I remember about him was that there was so much goodwill towards him. People, especially his Reer Boon community were so kind and generous to him. People would go out of their way to do things for him, to show how much they cared about him. It was really something! I sensed that it wasn’t so much that he was an orphan, but a reflection of his late father’s place in his community. Occasionally, I used to go to Faruurow’s home. His mother was from Godey. And the towns of Qabri daharre and Godey, or more accurately the two communities that inhabit them had a long running rivalry that preceded even the establishment of the two towns. Such rivalry was often conducted in poetry, and occasionally at the barrel of the gun. I still remember some of the poetry from Godey side that I heard at Faruurow’s home in those days, including the following sarcastic one:
Baaruud baa Bombaano Soo wada
Berraa Ban-Tureed la weerari
Bah-Reer Sacad baa la baa bi’in
Anaa badan Baahalaan ahay
Ma beenoobay propagaankii!
Baaruud: Ugaas Baaruud, one of the most prominent chiefs of Qabri daharre then.
Of all the boys I grew up with in my childhood, in my mind, Xasan-khaliif had it all! Xasan-khaliif was easy going and likeable. And he was from one of the most prominent families in Qabri daharre. His father sheekh Axmed Nuur was the mufti of Qabri daharre, who led not only the Friday prayers, but also Ciid prayers as well. Pleasant and respected by all, Sheekh Axmed Nuur had a smile that would lighted up a whole place. Much of our knowledge about world affairs, including the rivalry between the Americans and the Russians, and many aspects of information about Somalia, we learned through Xasan-khaliif, who used to pass on to us the information he heard from his father.
All the kids that I used to hangout with or interacted with were from Qabri daharre or from the neighbouring regions. The only exception were Cali-hayaay and Ruush; Maxamed Gadabursi’s sons; and the Dool family boys. Cali-hayaay and Ruush were Issaaqis from northern Somalia. Cali-hayaay was skinny and easily excitable. If he saw something odd or unfamiliar, he would say, “Hayaay!” That is how he got the nickname. Ruush was determined and very brave. If circumstances put him in a difficult situation, he would not blink! Maxamed Gadabursi had two sons. One of them was called Nuur. They were a little bit older than our age group, but they were among the people that I knew and regularly interacted with.
One thing I remember about Maxamed Gadabursi’s boys is that during emergencies, when the community had to come together, and volunteers were needed, they were always in the forefront. This wasn’t my own observation, but it is something that I heard from the grownups talk about it and commending the boys for being such helpful young men. The Dool family was a well to do family from Jigjiga. They had several boys. Abdullahi Dool was the oldest and about four of his younger brothers that we occasionally used to play soccer with. One of the Dool boys was skinny. We used to call him Naf-yar. But he was assertive and in your face!
One of the funniest things about my childhood in Qabri-daharre had to do with how I used to spend my small allowances, and the candies that I got during the Eid, and the money that my relatives gave me for one reason or another. When it comes to spending things on myself, I was very frugal.
We children believed that the people who belonged to the Shariif clan were especial people, for they were part of the Aala-beit, and the descendants of Sayidinaa Cali and Fatima-ta-Zahraa. Thus, since, specially those of us who attended the Quranic school were often preoccupied with charity, and with doing good, and with hereafter and heaven and hell, we thought that if we were good to the Shariif people, blessings would head our way. I don’t remember how many of my friends took particular interest in this issue, but for me, I was very serious about it.
So, every time I got candies, as if I were buying shares in the stock market, I used to give the best part of my candies to a boy called ina-Shariif-Macaruuf, in the expectation that, he being Shariif, will ensure blessings to come my way. I did this not once or twice, but over and over. The odd thing was that, uncharacteristic for child, I used to feel so good every time I gave away my goodies and gave them to that boy.
It was not that the boy was poor, or he needed my help. On the contrary, I was poor. He wasn’t. However, in fairness, the boy never asked me to give him anything, candy or otherwise. It was I that was pursuing this venture of trading candies with blessings with unflinching determination. I would leave my home, and walk half-way through Qabri daharre to where the boy lived, knock on the door of his home, and just like a mailman, deliver my candies to him. And the boy would just take it, and who can blame him? Ignorance is such a killer. One of the main reasons that I enjoyed Sheikh Mohamed Herari’s lectures at Haji Abdirahman Gadhyare’s mosque in Hargeisa, that I highlighted in my previous article, was that he enlightened me about the correct nature of the Aqiidah, and, therefore, made me realize just how much candies I lost in the Shariif Stock Market!!
It was the summer time. And I went to the places where my friends and I used to hangout. But I didn’t see any of them. So, I went to enquire about them. “Where did so and so go?” I asked, and I was told he went to Dhanaan. “And so and so?” He went to Dhanaan. “And so and so?” He went to Dhanaan! It seemed everyone in Qabri daharre or the at least all the people that I knew went to Dhanaan. Dhanaan is a mid-size town that is halfway between Qabri daharre and Godey that people of Qabri dahare were crazy about at that time. I was overwhelmed with a strong urge to go to Dhanaan. So, I went to my mother and asked, “Mom, can we go to Dhanaan?” She looked me in the eyes and asked “For what reason?” That question, pretty much dashed any hope of me going to Dhanaan. I knew my mother was struggling to make ends meet, and crying about something that was beyond her means didn’t make any sense. So, I dropped the idea altogether. Interestingly, the opportunity for me to go to Dhanaan came from an unexpected direction.
One day, a boy called ina-Xakaar, whose family was from Wardheer and I were playing near the mosque. The boy was skinny, and a year or two years younger than me. But as I said, we were just playing. I tackled him and he fell to the ground. I stood there waiting for him to stand up, so that I can tackle him again. But the boy didn’t stand up. I waited and waited, and after about 10 seconds that seemed eternity, the boy let out a huge cry! I have never seen a human being in such pain and such anguish in my life to that point. Then someone said, “Oh! His hand is broken!” I tried to look, but I didn’t see anything. I thought when the hand is broken, the bone will stick out from the skin, but I didn’t see any bone sticking out. But all the boys that were surrounding the boy appeared positive that his hand was broken. I accepted their verdict, for, I thought, they must knew what they were talking about.
Overwhelmed with sadness and grief, I started walking away from where the incident took place. Knowing I had the blood of Muslim on my hands was devastating. The idea of going to hell was terrifying. When I walked about 100 meters from where the incident took place, I heard a woman say, “A Reer Amaadin boy broke that boy’s hand!” Reer Amaadin? I was confused! I thought I belonged to Reer Xirsi, my maternal tribesmen. But I quickly realized that it didn’t matter which clan I belonged. Having the blood of a Muslim on my hands was the problem. And I clearly understood clan affiliations didn’t help in that, in the least. I aimlessly wondered, and ended up at the small bridge near the police station. I sat at a dusty area on the west of the bridge. It was just after sunset, but the view was still clear.
I was consumed with sadness and my world was upside down. At that moment, a boy called Cabdirisaaq Sheikh Cali, the older brother of Gaabane-gudhuf, walked by and saw me. Cabdirisaaq and I were related. Our mothers were second cousins. When he saw me sitting there at sunset, all by myself, he realized what was going on. Never underestimate the importance of a kind word! He came to me and said, “Xamdi” that is the name everybody called in Qabri daharre, “are you worried about that incident with the boy?” I said “Yes” He said, “Don’t! The boy’s hand didn’t break. It just sprained!” That was the biggest and best news that I have ever heard in my life! I stood up, dusted myself, and went home, and never worried about that incident again. (It turned out the boy’s hand was broken. But my mother told me that the boy’s father took the issue up with Maxamuud Cabdi Bile, the Ugaas of Reer Amaadin in Qabri daharre, and the issue never affected me thereafter in any way.)
Not long after that, my mother said, “That is it. You are becoming a trouble maker now. So, we are going back to Nogob and Dhuxun, among your tribesmen.” I didn’t like leaving Qabri daharre, but there was a silver lining for me in the trip: I would visit Dhanaan, which had such appeal in my imagination, since the town fell between Qabri daharre and Dhuxun. We took a commercial truck to Dhanaan. We spent couple of nice days in Dhanaan. Then, we started the trip to Nogob on foot.
As soon as we left Dhanaan, my mother realized there was a problem she had to deal with: there was a conflict between my tribesmen and some of their neighbours, and my mother did not want me to become a collateral damage to a conflict that neither she nor I hand anything to do with. I was 11-years-old then. So, even though it was against etiquette of clan conflicts to target children, my mother didn’t want to take any chances. Thus, she thought about and came up with ingenuous way of ensuring my safety: She taught me the family tree of my cousin Axmed-Aleeli, the son of my aunt Cibaado Heebaan, who belonged to Sheekhaash, Reer Sheikh Wacays, and made me adopt his identity. So, I became Axmed aw Maxamed aw Maxamuud, and I could recite his family tree all the way to Aw-Qudub! Those were the days when the name Sheekhaash was synonymous with peace. It was before the Sheekhaashs got guns, and successfully carved up their own territory at gun point, just like everybody else. Fortunately, we haven’t encountered any trouble, so there was need for me to impersonate my cousin.
The day we departed from Dhanaan, I noticed different plants, flowers and trees that I hadn’t seen in Qabri daharre. So, every time I saw a new plant, or a flower, or a tree, I would ask my mother to tell me their names, and I would commit them to memory. Every odd shaped anthill that I saw, I also committed to memory. I knew I was going back to Qabri daharre after a while, so I wanted to tell all about them to my friends. When we reached Nogob, and saw Qarri-Jiqood, the famed mountain range, I saw more varied plants, flowers, trees, and mountains of every shape and plateaus, and I committed all of them to memory, knowing they would make my stories richer and more appealing.
Unfortunately, I never got to use the wonders of the environment that I accumulated in my mind, which I had been planning to share with my friends: I never went back to Qabri daharre. It wasn’t meant to be!
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