A Thorn in the Sole
Ahmed Ismail Yusuf
March 12, 2008

Mayxaano was a twenty-six-and-a-half-year-old revered writer, though I have to remind you there were many people that reviled her, too. She debated with men about politics, philosophy, and religion with gusto. She wore her hair loose, without the Muslim headscarf. She ran track and field, leaving most men in the dust, and, worst of all, it was rumored that she dared to write critical articles about the repressive regime in Somalia in newspapers abroad. Women vilified her publicly yet admired her privately. Men of all shades, however, would stumble on each other to have her attention for a minute.
So in his senior year, Ayaanle was bemused when she called him one day and suddenly asked what was new. After all, she knew that he had nothing to share. He was a member of the Sheikh High School Writing Club and she was on the advisory board; he was an “A” student and she was the best Somali language and literature teacher; he was seventeen years old and she was, you know, twenty-six and a half! After meticulously choosing her words, Mayxaano told him that she was willing to ;mentor; him. In what, she did not say.

Of course, Ayaanle had no clue what she was going to mentor him in, yet he was not willing to guess, lest it would abate the anticipated delight.


At 2:00 p.m. on Monday of the following week, Ayaanle had already forgotten about their encounter and what was said, when classes were let out at the end of the day. Like an army of locusts, teachers and students poured out, descending on the unprotected grass with a vengeance. The distinctive, legendary uniform of white shirts and khaki pants, worn by the secondary school students, conjured up heartfelt adoration from all corners of life, for they were a source of pride for Somalis. It was said that the soil, the trees, and the meadows that they harassed with their trampling were tolerant of the inadvertent neglect. And though the abuse would make it easier for the wind to blow off the rich soil on the land between the small town of Skeikh and the two schools (the intermediate and the secondary), no one seemed to mind at all.

Maxaano cat-walked on an imaginary fashion runway obvious to her but, of course, invisible to the throng of men flanking her minutes after the bell had rung, signaling the end of the school day.  Confidently, she walked with a graceful firmness, taking one step at a time at an accorded pace—not too fast, not too slow, and without too much panache. Teachers and students alike were vying for her attention when she suddenly veered to the left, emerging from the herd of men that had been gallivanting around her.

Ayaanle was on her path, among friends though, and, not wanting to appear too eager, was not willing to transfer all of his attention onto her. In his heart of hearts, he had appreciated her guarded interest, but he didn’t wish to have it paraded right in front of everyone else!
“Oh my God, is she coming to me?” he whispered to himself, casting his gaze away.  Realizing that she was heading towards him, he tried to trot out of the way.

She called out to him certainly, “Ayaanle, please wait for me.”

Ayaanle aborted his gait and looked around, as though wondering if there were other Ayaanles behind him.  But Mayxaano did not let him hide in his boyish body of ill confidence.
“You are my Ayaanle, are you not?” she asked. “I don’t care much for the other Ayaanles.”

A bit embarrassed, Ayaanle managed to turn around hesitantly, as his friends moved on. “Hello, Maxaano, good afternoon to you too,” he said.

She laughed as she picked up the pace a bit to catch up with him. “Good morning, Ayaanle. I mean good afternoon.”

Ayaanle looked upon Mayxaano approaching with her well-measured strides. Flaunting about half-a-dozen books on her right shoulder, she let her left hand dangle at her side.  Her crafted hips, a mapped-out middle, and a dark-dipped Afro accentuated the iron-starched blue pants and light amber shirt that she was wearing. As she got closer, he was arrested by the passion of her smile, revealing a set of milk-white teeth all artfully aligned.

   “I was thinking,” Mayxaano said.
   “Thinking about what?” Ayaanle asked.
   “Well,” she said, by now walking beside him, “I have been cognizant of your ability to recite Somali poetry, specifically what our generation calls songs . . . but I call it poetry, molded in melody. I am also captivated by that mellifluously magnificent voice of yours,” she went on.
   “Hold it, hold it, Mayxaano,” Ayaanle said.
   “Let me finish, please,” Mayxaano begged.
   “Well, go ahead,” Ayaale followed.

   “If you think that I am going to tell you to devote your entire life to it, you are wrong,” she said.
   “What do you have in mind, Mayxaano?” Ayaanle asked.
   “Well,” she said, bringing her books down from her shoulder with both hands and holding them up against her chest, “I would like you to collect a select group of songs, and I will do the same—so that we can, first of all, preserve them, and second, we can write a book about them.”

   “A book, a book, Mayxaano,” shouted Ayaanle.
   “Relax, Ayaanle, and just listen to me. What on earth do you think writing a book is about?” Mayxaano asked.

   “I have no idea what writing a book is about but I have to tell you, it sounds like an enormous undertaking, and, your Highness, may I remind you of my age, and if you have not already noticed— I am barely out of short pants,” said Ayaanle.

   “Come on,” said Mayxaano, bringing her books down further. Now holding them on her right hip and placing her left hand on his shoulder, “That is why it sounds so ominous Brother Ayaanle. But you have to let me explain.”
   “Why don’t you, please?” he said, looking at her while walking.
   “Okay, okay. Then you have to listen to me, and please, no interruptions.”
   “Okay, okay. I will not interrupt but . . .”
   “No, Ayaale, no. There are no buts.”
   “Well, thanks for making it clear that I do not have to think for myself. I don’t have a choice anyway, do I?”
   “No, you don’t. But you have to pay attention to me, Ayaanle, regardless.”
   “All right, Mayxaano. I am all yours.”

   “You see, Ayaanle, the only time that Somali men and women are romantic is when they are hiding behind the veil of poetry. And I’ll tell you why.”
   “Why Mayxaano?” interjected Ayaanle.

   “Well, the reasons are many but chief amongst them is the enduring legacy that poetry has on us. We revere it, enjoy it, and most of all, we fear it. Historically, poetry, such as the Series of Guba, the Blazer Series, spurred conflicts that ran for decades and claimed an untold number of lives. And, since its composition about a half-century ago, not even a page has been written about it. Even though the so-called government does not acknowledge it, it has survived the atrophy of the mind, the human neglect, and the biased tribalism, because people who loved it committed it to memory, preserved it, and passed it on for posterity.

   “Mayxaano, you are running away with the topic . . .” interjected Ayaanle.
   “You said you were not going to interrupt,” said Mayxaano, drawing her hand away from his shoulder and looking right straight at him, while they continued walking.
   “Sorry, Mayxaano,” Ayaanle laughed.

   “. . . because the series has a bit of everything that identifies us as Somalis: the tribal bravado, the potential wisdom, the provocative bragging rights . . . as well as the survivability of a classical paradox of peace and bellicosity.  In other words, Ayaanle, there is a treasure that we need to cherish.  We have just been through the most productive time in terms of theatrical poetry. I mean songs have come out at an unprecedented rate for the last few years and I dare to predict it will go on with the same pace as we are about to bid the 1970s farewell and usher in the 80’s. And I have to say that these songs are very powerful. But you are right. I am digressing and my thoughts are running away with excitement, so I have to try to contain myself.”
   “Thank God. It’s about time,” said Ayaanle.
   “Ayaanle, you gave me your word that you would not do that, remember?” Mayxaano winked.
   “Yes, yes, Mayxaano, I’m sorry. I forgot.”
   “And I’m sorry that I go on and on, but I just love this topic,” Mayxaano blushed.
   “So I noticed,” Ayaanle replied.
   “Anyway,” Mayxaano went on, “Let’s get back to my reason for seeking you out. I have asked you to help me by collecting a very specific style of song. These are songs that subdue, serenade, and sedate women. As your mentor, I am recommending that you begin your search with Cumar Dhuule.  His songs are the opium of love and life. If I am listening to a tape of his songs, I feel pity for other women around the world who are wrapped up in romance novels that do not have Dhuule’s melodic syrup, erotically ironic lyric, hypnotically heavenly voice, and the alliteration of his aligned stanzas. My God, how I would love for the world to have a taste of the romantic poetry in the Somali language!”
   “So, Mayxaano, are you saying that it isn’t only Cumar Dhuule, but we Somalis who are naturally gifted when it comes to poetry?”
   Mayxaano was already waltzing.

I am not a pronounced presence at your side
Oh, merciless one, I should sever my attachment with you
Though I am staggering under the weight of love
My feet can’t stay firmly on the ground
And this stomach has forgone haleness.

Haddaanan ku cuslayn dhankaaga cidla ah
Ciirsilay ana kaa calool go’ay

Culayskan isaaran ciir ciiro
Caguhu qabab waaye ciida dhulkoo
Calooshaan I caafimaadqabin


   Ayaanle, who had thought that he knew Mayxaano well, was stunned to hear her sing and was awestruck by the beauty of her rendition of Cumar Dhuule’s legendry bass voice, the clarity of her tempo, and the cadence of her delivery. Ayaanle, agape, stood staring. Never in his life had he heard such a pleasant imitation of Dhuule. Ayaanle froze for a moment.
   “And to answer your question, Ayaanle, yes, we Somalis are naturally gifted poets. However, I am saying that although there are others, of course, there is no one, no one like him, whose romantic poetry can command your attention with the same intense joy.   Now, what I am hoping to do is to embark on an effort to gather songs that have been composed to woo, compliment and cultivate love. If you pay attention particularly to those songs we call Darandoori (the closest translation in English is ‘duet’) where a male and female each sing a verse, you would be mesmerized,” Mayxaano went on. “As you know, there is also another group called Subcis, where a man or a woman leads but a choir follows with a harmonious chant. I have to tell you, this is some of the most gratifying, gut wrenching group of literary treasures that I have known. I wish I could share them with the rest of the world, but first we have to introduce them here in our own society. Oh you see, it’s now quite clear what I want to mentor you on, and it’s crystallizing before me the more I talk it over with you. All you have to do is listen to a bunch of Darandoori and Subcis songs, select a few of those you deem to be the best, and we will then compare them with the poetic songs of Cumar Dhuule, to see who indeed is the best. We may write together, but more importantly, we will gather memorable material for future generations.”
   Again, Mayxaano picked up Cumar Dhuule’s melodic syrup where she left off:

Coming to know someone can be lethal
Or a potent blessing and peace
I scolded myself for the day we met
And blamed my voice that failed to win your love. 

Love that struck me on a fateful afternoon
That seized a delicate part of me
Now I am trying to reach out for the ‘camel in the sky’
Oh, my soul that is keen on salvaging the untenable
You may neither complain nor remonstrate.    

Cakuyeey barashada mid baa cuduroo
Midbaa codcod iyo caano iyo nabad oo
Cashadaan ku arakaan canaantay naftoo
Waan ciil kaambiyaa codkaygii yeey

Cishqi baa i-haleelay goor casaroo
Waxaabuu cuskaday cakuyeey helistoo
Waanigan lacabaaya awrkii cirkoo
Nafyahay cawadaranta ciidamisa
Haycaban waxana hay callaali. 


Ayaanle was dazed. The pleasure of hearing Mayxaano singing left him with a tingling sensation throughout his body, teasing his brain to negotiate an ethereal leap to try to touch heaven. He did not say a word but halted his pace, and stared at the tip of a mountain where the horizon met a patch of sun-bathed trees. For the first time in his life, tears gathered in his eyes, a lump grew in his throat, and waves of affection tore at his heart. Yet he did not want her to see him cry. Crying was for women and weak men! Of course, there was no exception to this patriarchal rule, nurtured through the passage of time in this part of a particular world.

Wrestling with stirred emotions, Ayaanle stood still for a minute, but Mayxaano, lost in thought, moved on ahead, still elucidating her objective mission.

“You see, if I give you an example of our Darandoori romantic songs, I am one hundred percent certain you will . . .” she turned back to look, “join me... 
“Where are you?” Mayxaano saw that Ayaanle was twenty feet away.
“Ayaanle, have I been pouring water into the ocean, or have you been listening to me?” she asked, and stood still, as well, to wait for him
Now somewhat composed, but still reeling from the shock, “Mayxaano, who are you?” asked Ayaanle, as he caught up with her.

Though he had tried to mask his emotions with a façade of masculinity, Mayxaano immediately peeled the top layer off. “Ayaanle, I can’t believe I got through to you! Did you really cry because I was that bad or was I that good? Well, either way, I feel honored by your emotion, yet I am a bit disturbed because you look dissatisfied,” she said with laughter. Mayxaano held her books up with both hands and hit him playfully on the shoulder. As Ayaanle pretended to shield himself from the onslaught, she pulled her hands back, put the books on her right hip again, and held them there with one hand, while continuing to walk.

“Ayaanle,” she said, looking at him, “I did not know this soft side of you. I really didn’t.”
   “Well, I thought that I knew you too, Mayxaano. But, but then . . . I had no idea that you could sing. I think the angels will soon be filing requests for your music,” Ayaanle said.
   “Hey, hey, don’t chase me away from this world. It’s too much fun to be alive. Whenever the time comes that I hear angels filing requests for entertainment, I will know I am dead.”
   “Ooh, so you have known all along that you are too good for a human audience?” Ayaanle said.
   “Well, my younger brother, let us get back to the topic before you blunder yourself into a river of blasphemy.”
   “No, Mayxaano, I want to know how long you have known that you possessed another gift to share besides math and poetry.”
   “Sweetie, to be frank with you, I have always known that I could sing, but for a million reasons it remained hidden behind a cloud of doubt until today when my voice unexpectedly burst through that cloud,” said Mayxaano. “So lo and behold, today you have a front row seat. Now can we please get back to what has been gnawing at me for decades so at least I can get it off my chest?” she continued.
“Of course, your Royalty.” Ayaanle extended both hands and opened them up as though he was about to frog leap, like a ballet dancer, dispelling the notion of emotional frailty in his mind.
   “Did I present my case well?” she asked, playing along.
   “Well, your Honor . . .”
   “Hold on, hold on. I haven’t finished,” she interrupted. “Not yet.”
   “Okay, okay, you have the floor.”
   “Get you. I was trying to see whether you had been paying attention, and come to think of it, I have no complaints to lay on you. At least not now,” Mayxaano said.
   “So would I surmise from that conclusion that I can indulge myself with a rebuttal, a counter-argument, if you will?” Ayaanle asked.
   “Wait a minute! Whatever led you to believe that there is a counter-argument here? My proposal is dictatorial in nature. The only leniency is that you can take it or leave it. And let me tell you, you are not at liberty to bring up your rude, unrefined, counter offense!” said Mayxaano.
   “Seriously, Mayxaano, I think you are on to something but you have yet to get to the example or examples of Dardoori or to the Subcis songs you have been clamoring about. Are you aware of that?”
   “You are absolutely correct my sagacious Brother. May I take it as a compliment that all the history that I am pouring on you is paying off?” Mayxaano said, wiggling her lower part.
   “For the sake of your vanity, I say ‘amen’ to that,” laughed Ayaanle. “So let us hear a luxurious note or two from a legend in the making,” Ayaanle said, prompting imaginary applause from an imaginary audience by clapping his hands and turning to his right, then left, and behind him, too, and then bowing.
   “Well, Darandoori. Which one should I pick?” she asked, looking at Ayaanle.
   “Here we go again,” said Ayaanle. “How on earth would you expect me to know? I am not in . . .”
   “Hold it, hold it, its coming to me, one of my most favorites, Salad Derbi and Saynab Cige. Please listen to this Darandoori.”

She: oh, my hero (my love)
There is a desire (that is a like a wound)
That these words would not be able to heal
You speak of your burden
But you are not frank with me
Search deeper for the cause of your distress
And don’t cover it in a deer’s hide. 
Halyeeyoow waxaa jira
Meel hoo u baahani
Hadal kuma bogsootee.

Halkan aad ileedahay
Waa hawlo kugu maqan
Waanaad iga hodooshee.

Hoos u dhaadhac
Waxaad hiban
Garag cowl ha-saarine.

He: oh you Haldhaa (the precious one)
There is a shady tree that is an asset
That has so much fruit for which one hungers
Yet one does not dare try to pick
Any son of a mother makes a mistake sometimes
But I am urging you to join forces with me!

Haldhaayee waxaa jira 
Geed hadh waynoo 
Hanti aad u leedahya.

Hoobaanta midhahaa
Kuu hayso gaajo                                                                                                    
Aanad kuna hagaageyn.

Nin habari dhashay
Hal ma seegiwaayee
Howlahan bal ila qabo.


Ayaanle froze again. Every muscle was locked. His larynx refused to vibrate and his lips quivered uncontrollably. He stood staring. In his mind he had just traveled through a tunnel of joy, but he remained frozen, unable to participate in the singing. He knew the song well. He had sung along with Saynab Cige and Salaad Derbi over the radio. He had seen them live in concert more than ten times and he had always been moved by the lyrics and their golden voices. He tried to join her but could not command the will to utter a note. Ayaale was in awe of her angelic voice and he was also overpowered by internal emotions. Now he no longer needed to disguise his feelings, nor did he try to disown them. Tears, drop by drop, rolled down his cheeks. With a heavy heart, Ayaanle lowered himself to the ground, put his left hand and knee on the earth, leaned on them, and held his elbow on the other knee with his palm to his eyes.

Mayxaano stopped singing, put her books on the ground, bent her knees, held Ayaale’s chin up with her right hand and tried to wipe the tears with the other.  Ayaanle shifted his weight onto the other knee and hand, turning away from her. Mayxaano began to stroke his hair. “Ayaanle, is my voice so bad that it causes you such pain?” she teased. “Hey, gather yourself or else I will continue to let my wailing wear you out. And I’ll have you know this time, I will hold nothing back.” Mayxaano stood up, dusted her knees off, and taking Ayaanle’s right hand, pulled him up to his feet.  Mayxaano picked up her books and started walking. Ayaanle standing, wiped the tears from his eyes with one hand, dusted his pants off with the other, and walked after her.
   “I am sorry,” he said to Mayxaano.   

Beneath the marveled beauty and multiple talents were hidden layers of pain laden with grief. Both Mayxaano, herself, and Cumar Dhuule, the man whom she was self-sworn to write about, were kin of the Midgaan, one of the most ostracized minority clans in Somalia. On top of that, she was a woman. Thus, she was well aware of why her protégé was overcome with emotion. She knew that Ayaanle had shed her tears for her. She was well aware that he knew why she had kept her voice behind that cloud, never allowing it to ring out in public. Being of the social class and clan that occupied the lowest rung in society, she was saddled with injustice. By calling attention to her sensually serenading voice, she would be accused of exercising lascivious, lewd behavior thus maligning her otherwise impeccable integrity.

She knew that it was not lost on Ayaanle that all those men swarming about her like bees were trying to have her for dessert. No one, not a single one of them, would have been courageous enough to take her for a wife! In their eyes, she was not worthy of their matrimonial crown. In reality, though, they were the ones who were not worthy of her shoes.
During the next few minutes, they walked side by side, with the solemn silence broken only by steps determined to press on. As they approached the shadow-skirt of the small town, the footpath they were on diverged and each chose a different rut. Both proceeded with a cautious gait that did not violate their unspoken oath of keeping the bond of love between them beneath the surface. No, no, not the kind of love in which a man lusts after a woman or the kind of love when a woman’s emotions are lacerated with pain when she is jilted. Theirs was more than that: it was the gentle kind. It was real, yet it had transcended human love, built on pure faith and trust. Their bond was so strong that people of persuasion in their particular village spread a rumor that they belonged to a spirit world (Jinx group) that was said to be just below the mountaintop to the north of the small town. And if you were so bold as to ask why we could neither see nor talk to these spirits, you would be pelted with stones, or worse, the “sagacious” religious sect would have you caned.
Really, though, theirs was an unadulterated love, a mutual admiration for writing and an irrepressible affection for Somali poetry. They had not an iota of romantic inclination for each other, and they both knew it. They grew up in the same neighborhood in another village, and their age gap of half-a-dozen or so years would have caused a riot of laugher, ranting ridicule, and a ravenously irrational rush toward self-destruction.  But they knew that, too.
Mayxaano was well aware of Ayaanle’s ability and passion for writing. He adored Somali poetry, and nurtured a tender bond for the newest poetry: songs. Mayxaano knew  that Ayaanle had already memorized more than a thousand songs and she wanted him to  feel the weight of his talent. She wanted to bring his organized thoughts into the open so he could learn how to profit from his labor of love and see him share the fruits of his desire shared. Yet Mayxaano was not sure whether she had chosen the right moment to plant the seed for success and she remained somewhat concerned by the outpouring of emotions that Ayaanle had shown earlier. So for now she was willing to let his labors lie with the hope of resurrecting them at a later date! 
Mayxaano was turning to a corner when waves of wafting music greeted her. She stopped and looked back to see whether Ayaanle had heard the same modulated, melodic voice that would have caused world dignitaries to beg for more.  Ayaanle, too, had heard the lilting notes coming from two or three blocks away, on the other side of the small town. He turned around and tossed an enquiry to Mayxaano that was about the joy of hearing the hums of Subcis. “Mayxaano, did you hear that?” Ayaanle shouted.
   “Yes, I did, but who is it?” Mayxaano shouted back.
   “Who cares who, it’s beautiful. Let’s go and see,” said Ayaanle, trotting back to her. In earnest, they moved to where the blissful melody was originating. The closer they got, the calmer and the more soothingly captivating the harmony became. Soon they encountered a half-dozen or so boys and girls of high school age behind an abandoned building, under the shade of a huge eucalyptus tree, singing the mesmerizing tune.

It was the rain that fell on Raydad-khaatumo!
That defeated us and drove us apart

Oh Dhudi, would you dance with me?
I am sincere, so please dance with me.

There is a thorn in the sole of my foot
Of which I cannot escape the pain
Dear God, is there another path
That my soul can pursue?

Please Dhudi, would you dance with me?
I am sincere, so please dance with me.

You are the one who is taunting me
I am not in search of anyone else
You men and women, don’t you gang up on me (just to laugh at me).

Please Dhudi, would you dance with me?
I am sincere, so please dance with me.

As God is my witness there has not been a soul that I have loved
And searched for more than you,

Please Dhudi, would you dance with me?
I am sincere, so please dance with me

Roobkii helay Raybad-khaatumo
Luguma raaye waa ina-kala raray

Ila dheel, Dhudiyeey ila dheel
Ila dheel waa dhabeee ila dheel

Ragaadayoo roori karmaayee
Rubatee Alloow yaa dhankale karogoo
Raacdeeya naftaydan raadka la’

Ila dheel Dhudiyeey ila dheel
Ila dheel waa dhabeee ila dheel

Adigay ruxayee ma raadinayee
Rag iyo dumar hay rafiiqina

Ila dheel, Dhudiyeey ila dheel
Ila dheel, waa dhabeee ila dheel

Rabi baygu og ruux aan ka jeceloo
Aan raadsho la iima soo rogin

Ila dheel, Dhudiyeey ila dheel
Ila dheel, waa dhabeee ila dheel

First they thought there was a lead singer with a golden voice, but then it occurred to them that each student at a time would take a line of Cumar Dhuule’s Dance with Me Dhudi. Each one would reach a crescendo, end it, and in chorus, the students would follow with another verse. The chorus would end, and then another solo would erupt, taking yet a new verse, with a cascading croon that could calm a seething angry king. The accompanying musical instruments were as simple as a lute and a drum. Yet the joy of this concert was a thousand-fold, giving reason to Mayxaano’s plea to collect Cumar Dhuule’s treasures.

As the impromptu corner concert came to an end, Ayaanle realized that the most venerated Sheikh of the town was in the audience. It was this Sheikh that Ayaanle had heard numerous times vociferously preach against music of any kind.  It dawned on him then that the entire population of the small town was present, given the fact that even the slothful, lazy minded Cambaro-shaal, who had never been seen civilly seated, was now seated in an armchair, totally absorbed, keeping her only goat beside her by holding tightly to its ear. So when people began to disperse, Ayaanle turned to Mayxaano, and lifted his gaze to hers. “Mayxaano,” he said, “you just got yourself an apprentice, but I hope the market will be big enough for both of us.”
Mayxaano graciously laughed, turned around, and walked away. At about a thirty-yard distance, she looked back. Ayaanle was still standing where she left him. “Ayaanle,” she cried out to him, “he who waits for inspiration only harvests the pain begotten by time wasted. . . . So Cumar Dhuule is your choice, I gather.” She turned on her heels and moved off.

* Ahmed Ismail Yusuf is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis MN. He can be reached at:yusuf006@umn.edu

* This piece was first published in Bildhaan, V 5, 2005: an International Journal of Somali Studies; Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota
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