By Abdisamad Nur-Bidar
As one gets older, it is only natural to look back and reflect on past experiences, the blessings of life, and the triumphs and tribulations of time. Childhood, upbringing, schools, neighbors, friends, struggles, setbacks and successes, particular and pivotal moments events in life — all are retrospectively re-interpreted and re-evaluated in a new, different context with the added benefit of time and space and, hopefully, the maturity and wisdom gained over time.
Over the years, I wrote and kept notes here and there on specific experiences, occasions or events that had left indelible marks on me, or shaped my worldview and thinking. Now and then, something in the news will trigger a particular memory, often relevant to the topic at hand. And boy! Lately, my mind has become ever more active, as I read somewhere that Somalia generates more news per capita than any other country in the world!
As news of a political rift among Gulf countries, and Somalia becoming collateral damage, polluting the air the Somalis breathe, I remembered a particular event I witnessed as a young boy in the VIP room at Mogadishu International Airport. The year I am a little unsure of, perhaps 1980/79, or sometime in that timeframe. The late President Mohamed Siyad Barre (AUN) was traveling to the Gulf countries. He and his comrades were bantering, chattering, some smoking, laughing. Loud and informal small talks, typical of Somali men gathering. All of a sudden, a loud laugh erupted across the room; the late President (AUN) said something along the lines of calling the Gulf countries companies or firms. (“Waxaan ugu yeeraa shirkado!”) I did not understand what was so funny about that line, and still don’t! Why the laughing? Must everyone pretend to have liked the jokes of the big man?
My memory of that day draws a different conclusion. These men of power probably thought they were “better,” and being compared to a company is a lesser compliment than being a “country.” The atmosphere was a bit rowdy, with people talking over each other regardless of rank. Some were having a conversation with folks across the room, with the big guy right in the middle. I sensed some ignoring him altogether to engage others. There was no distinctive decorum as one would imagine in the company of the powerful President. It was no different than any other gathering of Somali men: loud, noisy and lively.
Being small, invisible, and standing in the corner of the room, my eyes were trained on the late President. The laughter and loud talk slowly dissipated and the room got quieter as the President’s voice and tone took a serious and reflective tone, neither loud nor forceful. He spoke of the friendship and the shared and common interest with the Gulf countries.
He effusively praised their leaders, all of them. He spoke of their affinity for the Somali people; he seemed to have a soft spot for Sheikh Zayed of UAE for whom he mentioned several times in what seemed an impromptu, unrehearsed talk. His comrades were nodding their heads in agreement. He also spoke well of the Amirs of Kuwait whom he said come to Somalia often. And to be inclusive, he had kind words for both the Qatari Amir and the Saudi King.
Looking back now, these powerful men were ordinary and average Somali men in their social outlook in that specific setting. Their disposition, demeanor, and interactions with each other were no different than you would observe in today’s Somali men’s gatherings: informal, loud crosstalk, and a bit of the Somali nomadic egalitarian tradition that all men should talk regardless of one’s expertise and competency or the topic at hand; in other words, it’s free for all!
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