The fear of insecurity disconnects people in the neighborhood. It creates unspeakable walls between us. We meet and exchange greetings, all very short: Asalaamu alaikum. Wa alaikum asalaam. We do not get to know each other by names. We have lived here, a district in Mogadishu, for almost two years. Every day I take a walk around the area with my mother.
When we meet people in the area, we just see each other. We do not talk with one another. There are different barriers between us. Some are internally displaced people, some are people who moved in other people’s houses in 1990s and whose children who are now grown ups, some are security guards sitting in the shadows of the walls of big fenced houses where NGOs, government workers, CIA, AMISOM, UN, others whom we do not know for whom and for what they are here for reside in, and us, exile returnees renting our own houses in the area. Why do we rent our own houses? These houses are occupied by people who believe that they are the owners. Some of these houses have been sold in many times that the current owner does not know how it happened though, in Somalia, everybody seems to know the reality somehow. We are renting our own houses.
The fear amongst ourselves has different faces. The way you dress, walk, talk and what you say. Whether you have cars, or if you take the minibus or tuk-tuk. If you visit governmental offices or not. If you go to Bakaaro, or just move and do your shopping in secured areas, such as around Maka Al Mukarama street. If people who visit you have security guards or not. If you look like a ‘moderate’ Muslim or not. If your appearance has other attributes that can be associated with such and such.
When you move around the city, you wonder if you have been studied by people following your movements. You wonder if you have been bugged or not when you communicate electronically or use your phone. You wonder if some of the people you call are on hidden recording lists and that mark you as belonging to certain networks. You constantly fear something dangerous watching over you like Big Brother.
You know that you are living in your own country at the same time you are restricted from moving freely. There are areas you are prohibited to enter. You are moving in the city without knowing if you are watched. The danger for your life is unknown, though felt. You know that you are not a danger to anybody but are conscious of being bullied into accepting this fearful life condition: that other people’s perceptions about you can cause your death.
The city of Mogadishu consists of 16 districts and not yet recognized districts built during the civil war. There are IDPs produced by the war. Before the civil war, we did not have townships like other cities in Africa. These districts are disconnected physically, socially, politically, economically, and even in security. I have been here since 2012, and yet there are districts that I do not even dream of going to because of fear for my life. People of the same family are living in different locations in the same city, disconnected, like apartheid. We are in labeled life circumstances. People who believe in the same religion do not pray together. Like churches of different denominations in Europe, people go to different mosques when the prayer time arrives. They even call for prayer at different times. All these things are very new for me.
Being here has different meanings, as the environment creates doubts and fears. Very elementary questions such as why we do not communicate about our common future as a nation is considered foolish to think about. After a while, when most of your questions seem to be out of line, you become dull and stay in deep silence in your thoughts.
As a good listener, you gather a lot of information given to you freely by your surroundings. People talk loudly and have opinions on every aspect of one’s life. People give you advice on even things you do not have in mind. You wonder if your normal differs from what is normative for other people. You enter a mentality of questioning yourself and your private business. You are caught in a flow outside your sphere. You sit back and start reasoning with yourself on what is going on. Still, questions of your existence are devalued.
Being an assertive humanist working for the wellbeing of society and advocating for human rights to be respected and implemented demands vigorous effort. This, along with being a conscious feminist, can cost one’s life. Demanding a better life for all and respect for humanity is a deadly stand to take in a society ruled by ignorant and aggressive men who fear losing their patriarchal power. In such a society, the ability to negotiate is hindered.
The society I left in the 1990s is gone. The society I returned to in 2012 is in a trance after experiencing war and its traumas. This country and its people have been experiencing a severe civil war since 1991. The truth of the war and its wounds have not been healed or dealt with. You feel it in the air that people are longing for peace, though peace is an abstract concept for the young generation. There is also fear of facing the truth and reconciling with one another. People have been armed for a long time and have more trust in the gun than with one another. They have been humiliated and forced to live harsh lives. They have lost their dignity and integrity. The world has largely forgotten Somalia and its people.
Dispatches is a regular series of posts from Collective members traveling or living in East Africa.