Letter from Africa: Somalia’s Christmas birthday celebrations and also shed memories

Letter from Africa: Somalia's Christmas birthdays and lost memories

A man walking past a war memorial in Hargeisa, Somaliland

photo copyrightAFP

photo subtitleA memorial honoring those eliminated in the airborne barrage of Hargeisa in 1988

In our collection of letters from African reporters, Ismail Einashe takes into consideration the relevance of memory for those that shed every little thing in the disorder of battle.

Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and also Valentine’s Day are days you’ll discover numerous Somalis commemorating their birthday celebrations. This is not as shocking as it seems, it is simply that really couple of Somalis understand when precisely they were birthed therefore select even more unforgettable days.

Somalia has a dental society – most Somalis are more probable to be able to inform you the names of the last 20 generations of their predecessors as opposed to the information of their birth day.

And Somali just came to be a created language in 1972 when main documents started to be maintained – yet really little remains of these archives due to the fact that the nation has actually been abused by civil battle.

‘Dresden of Africa’

Actually following year marks 3 years given that the Somali state fell down leaving numerous family members like mine without their essential files or images.

We were required to take off the rising physical violence which started a couple of years previously in 1988 with airborne barrages and also ground strikes by the regimen of after that-President Siad Barre.

Hargeisa, where I was birthed, come to be referred to as the “Dresden of Africa” as the city was completely levelled in the dispute.

I invested my developmental years staying in what was after that the globe’s biggest evacuee camp – Hartisheik in Ethiopia near the Somali boundary.

photo copyrightUNHCR
photo subtitleThe evacuee camp near Hartisheik in Ethiopia was as soon as the largest on the planet

Like much of the numerous hundreds of individuals that went through the camp, which at some point enclosed 2004, I was removed of all documents of my life prior to the battle without birth certification or ticket – depending just on ephemeral and also short lived memories.

It remained in quest of these that I determined years later on to go back to Hartisheik to see what stayed of the camp that was as soon as my house.

I intended to attempt and also obtain a feeling of where I had actually originated from – to recognize my ground in this globe in change.

‘An limitless Martian area’

On a warm mid-day I took a trip eastern from Ethiopia’s resources, Addis Ababa, to Dire Dawa, the nation’s second biggest city, though it truly felt much more like an enchanting, drowsy community with its attractive old train terminal that is no more in operation other than as a house for a household of apes.

An old carriage lay outside the grand entry where a couple of guys rested beneath the wheels, while others protected there from the sunlight eating khat, alcohol consumption tea and also cigarette smoking.

After leaving the evacuee camp I had actually quickly resided in Dire Dawa so I saw my old haunts with passion prior to heading additional eastern to Hartisheik.


I was much more worried concerning making that lengthy trip on an old minibus. It was worsened by the routine army checkpoints and also the a number of hrs along a harsh roadway from the community of Jijiga in the direction of the Somali boundary.

I bore in mind the camp exterior Hartisheik community as a messy, remote and also unrelenting area – a countless area with a fractured Martian color.

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When individuals showed up there 30 weird years ago they located hideous problems -there was no sanctuary, water, food or medication and also many numbers passed away of cravings, thirst and also illness.

But the camp swiftly came to be like a community with a huge market where you might purchase various points and also with locations to rest and also consume tea.

Often individuals believe evacuee camps are just positions loaded with anguish and also despair.

Yet as a youngster I remember I usually had a great deal of enjoyable with my buddies running around having fun with rocks and also shrieking in woozy enjoyment at the periodic UN aircraft that flew over us to supply much-needed help.

However, the dirt that was engrained in my memory was not to be located on my return – I was surprised to discover an eco-friendly, lavish and also attractive landscape many thanks to the wet period.

No headstones for the dead

It really felt odd to me that such an attractive area with its fish ponds, trees and also lengthy lawn as for the eye might see had actually been so packed with individuals’s anxieties all those years earlier.

image copyrightKate Stanworth
photo subtitleA couple of farmers can be located on the website of the old evacuee camp

I really felt rather let down in my memories.

There were absolutely nothing to note the even more 600,000 evacuees that as soon as lived below at its optimal – no headstones for the dead and also no main celebration – the planet had actually recovered all of it.

Mohamed, who was once caretaker of Hartisheik refugee camp in Ethiopia

Kate Stanworth

I identified a senior Ethiopian guy, Mohamed, that it ended up had actually as soon as functioned as the caretaker of the camp – a location he bore in mind as teeming with the discomfort of battle”

Ismail Einashe

Then I spotted an elderly Ethiopian man, Mohamed, who it turned out had once worked as the caretaker of the camp – a place he remembered as being full of the pain of war.

He currently deals with his family members in a “bull”, a small traditional house and they have cows, goats and farm what little they can.

He told me a few camp buildings were still standing, including what might have been a hospital that a woman called Sahra showed me around with her young granddaughter.

image copyrightKate Stanworth
image captionThis old camp building now serves as a shelter for goats

Painted in seemed to be the UN colours of blue and white, there was a stench of decay and goat dung as it was occupied by animals belonging to Sahra’s family, who had once lived in Wajale on the Somali-side of the border, but now farmed here.

I thought of all those who must have lost their loved ones inside this building.

Of course many of the younger people I came across, like the young cattle herder Jimale, did not remember the refugees at all.

image copyrightKate Stanworth
image captionNomads now wander over the vast expanse of the camp which was closed by the UN in 2004

I also met a group of Somali-speaking nomads following their camels in search of fresh grass and water, who offered me, a tired traveller from London, fresh and pungent camel milk.

As the sky tinted orange I decided to return to Hartisheik town before the sun set – leaving the camp for a second time, this time as a man, but a changed man slightly dazed and confused by the tricks of memory.

It brought to mind another memory – me aged about five finding a small tub of discarded Vicks ointment in the camp – which I naively rubbed all over my face.

Inevitability it ended up getting into my eyes and a fountain of tears rolled down my face as I ran dazed and confused across the camp in search of my mother.

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Related Topics

  • Refugees and asylum seekers

  • Somalia
  • Ethiopia
  • Refugee camps

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