By Abdihakim Marayare
Editor’s Note: This is a vivid, poignant, fictionalized portrayal of Al-Shabaab’s vast infiltration of Mogadishu. The militant group has long waged a war of terror in the capital, killing politicians, journalists, entertainers, and other innocent people. This short story, translated from its Somali version published on WardheerNews, captures the fear, trauma, and ambivalence faced by a young man’s life in Mogadishu.
I was born in Mogadishu. The day I was born was the same day the Somalia government collapsed, I wonder if it was running away from me!
Since my father died before I came in to this world, I was born an orphan. It was my dear mother, Amina, who alone welcomed me into the world and cared for me with struggle. With such unimaginable struggle, she brought me up well and made sure that I got a proper education. My upbringing and school years were mostly marred by constant wars and senseless violence. I remember certain days where the scary ramblings of heavy caliber guns suddenly startled us while sitting in our classrooms. In those cases, which were many, our teachers had no but to let us call it a day and head home for safety. Almost all the roads leading between our school and homes were pockmarked by many trenches manned by opposing warring factions. That was how fear and uncertainty ruled my daily life for a long time.
During the last 25 years of my existence, I witnessed many wars with different aims. Some were between warring clans, some between warlords and militias, and others between local and foreign invading armies. I am not sure yet what all those wars were about and why so many innocent people from my family and neighbors were massacred mercilessly. But, the most dangerous war of all is the one we find ourselves in the midst of it nowadays, which is waged by the so called “terrorists.” Such terrorists target no specific individual or place, thus making them unavoidable imminent danger at all times. The city’s hopeful expectations have never been bright for a long time. Whenever flowers were about to blossom, they were knocked out by merciless enemy boots. Whenever we tried to smell the sweet winds of peace, the whizzing bullets denied us such rare luxury. So I was forever running right in the middle of the line of death, thought I never gave up. I always had, and still have, great hope for better life.
I got married recently and started a decent job fit for my family’s daily livelihood. I am now responsible for my mother and wife’s care and their expenses. It is a dangerous job in which many of my work colleagues have lost their lives recently. It is a type of work where both my actual location and face could be known easily. My work has really many enemies. My personal telephone is lit up daily with many bloodthirsty and hateful messages. I am literally stuck in between two very difficult choices, to quit my dear job or get killed in the line of duty. However, I do this work in order to sustain my family’s economic wellbeing, and in case I quit it, it is almost guaranteed that we will have nothing to eat in our house. The most absurd thing of all is that I do not know the authorities who are dictating such a dreadful decision to me! In addition, I have not committed any crime against any one at all.
In Mogadishu, many people live there who put their lives on the line every day for their meager jobs. These are heroes whose tear ducts have been running dry for so long but resolutely decided not to surrender. This is also the city that hosts both those who witnessed the cruel murder of their loved ones, including parents and siblings, right in front of their eyes, and the perpetrators who committed such heinous acts of violence who are still yearning for more bloodletting. Thousands of residents, similar to today’s population, have left the city heading for safety to all directions and continents of the world. Whether capable of paying their way out or not, “escape” was the common denominator.
Just recently, one day while I was heading home from work, suddenly a vehicle blocked my way at the Dabka main intersection. Then, armed men came out and kidnapped me forcefully. Though this was not my first encounter of such a menace, this time I felt my deepest fear. All I thought about was the last dreadful message I received on my phone the day before, and now this reality was at hand. That message carrying the forever unsettling dust of sorrow was headlined WARNING. Yes, in capital letters.
I suddenly realized that I am in the hands of sort of a cannibal gang and hope of surviving their cruelty seemed as far as possible. Worse than losing my life was the pain such tragedy could inflict on my vulnerable family, whose survival will be in great jeopardy without me. I pleaded with the criminals that I was just an innocent man and a lone bread winner of my family, but all I got in response were threats and bodily torture. They quickly drove me to a house in Mogadishu which was probably a large fronting base for “Al-Shabaab” forces.
As one steps into this dreadful and scary looking criminal den, one is rudely greeted by heaps of vehicle parts, oil drums, iron or steel scattered wantonly all over the place. Ironically, “Beitullah” is the name given to this compound, though all signs of satanic demons are present. Take two or three steps farther inside and more haunting signs are in store for you. Over a wobbly table located at a distance flies a piece of crudely cut black cloth with white inscriptions proclaiming “there is no true God but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger”.
Way into the veranda hangs another piece of similar black cloth with the same white inscriptions. The whole place is filled by an all hooded army with face masks. For a person new to such ordeals, the closer one approaches this peace forsaken residence the more a paralyzing fear grips first only to overtake at last. No one could imagine that such a hellish residence could exist in the heart of Mogadishu.
The occupiers of the residence are not all Somalis, but a considerable number of Ugandans, Pakistanis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Kenyans, Yemenis and many other people of both black and white complexions frequent the rooms, in and out, back and forth, all day round. Each room is specified for certain job and occupants have each a particular task to fulfill. You would think of pure magic when it comes to what and how these specific tasks are carried out to the details. One of the rooms is a store for different types of arms and ammunitions. Another one is called the “shaping chamber” and from here one can hear the terrible cries of victims. That was the room I was brought in first. Another room is marked for certain death operations! There is also this special room where only several so called “Amirs,” both Somalis and foreigners, are allowed to go in or out. Only very few confidants sworn to complete secrecy know what goes on in that room. One room is a mosque, but not that all pray in it. Only those new prisoners getting ready for death without reason make up most of the congregation there.
This is a place where sanctity of human life is violated and hated, happiness is alienated, flowers stink and love is exiled. It is this compound where hate is appreciated most, grudges are cultivated, and death and destruction are both celebrated. In this house, the very word “Life” is considered a blasphemy, while the word “Death” commands blessing and praise!
Among the many victims are those who undergo immense torturing to the point of death, some are brainwashed, some are force-fed with herbal medicine and prescription drugs where, when hallucination takes hold, they suddenly proclaim ”ALLAHU AKBAR!” out of nowhere, and yet others are bribed handsomely. The last group is known for their hard work and continuous commotions. They are sometimes seen wearing the official government uniforms, while other times they don on religious jalabias and headgears. These are hard to understand, the real magicians of the compound. The “Amir” is a tall man with bloodshot eyes, no sense of humor at all and long bushy beard, whose orders and commands are never to be disobeyed.
After I was kept several days in this compound, I was threatened by death to my mother and, at my then pregnant wife, if I do not work with the mujahedeen. I was surprised to see there many faces that I have known through my job, some of them I thought all along were government employees and others who were my relatives! I was ordered on the spot to spy on the enemies of God and the apostates, and that my dear family and I will pay a heavy price in life if I do not do as commanded. To tell the truth, they got me there helpless. They hit me in my weakest point. My dear mother and wife. My family. That was the first time I realized that in Mogadishu a single person could hold several jobs and therefore almost no one could be trusted, even your closest of friends and relatives.
Besides being a symbol for death and destruction, inside this compound go many gross violations continuously, including rape and other limitless ferocious crimes committed by these men claiming to be mujahedeen!
All that matters now is that I am still alive but my life hangs in the balance running a continuous marathon on the Mogadishu’s line of death.
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