Somalia, the land of forgotten dreams: Victims reveal the horror and anguish of war

Lovely blue skies, warm air, unaffected terrains and the beautiful sounds of playing children.

That was what they woke up to every day. Then all hell broke loose, the streets were soon spattered with blood of loved ones, no one smiled anymore and everyone viewed the other with suspicion.

Then they had to leave the place they called home and were suddenly thrust into a new world.

The neighbouring country where they finally found some semblance of peace. But they still can’t be as carefree as they would like.

The sins of their land pursue them. They are regarded as the face of terrorism and plunder around the world.

Khadija Ahmed, 49, wears a careworn face. Her brown skin is etched with lines of worry. She offers the crew her bed, there are no seats in the dimly lit room.

An abode in Nairobi’s Eastleigh where she now lives was offered by a Good Samaritan after she left Daadab earlier this year.

Before 2009, she lived in Somalia’s southern port city of Merca with her brother, three nephews and four children.

Her eldest daughter had moved out. Life was relatively calm. Until it wasn’t. “Insurgents forced their way into our neighbourhood and started beating us up.

I took my youngest daughter and fled.” When the insurgents left, Khadija crept back to salvage whatever she could.

“When I entered the house, I found the bodies of my three teenage nephews on the floor. The poor babies had been slaughtered. I couldn’t find my children and husband. So shaken, I took my baby, got my mother and we fled. We made the long trek (500 km) across the Kenyan border to Daadab.”

She pauses to wipe her tears, and despite the anguish in her big brown eyes, you can see the unrelenting strength. The resilience in her slight frame. They weren’t alone in the trek, they were with a thousand others.

And in October 2009, they were registered into the camp and received their ration cards.

But Khadija’s mother couldn’t handle her new life. “She asked me to take her back home. She wanted to be in her birth country. I wanted her to be happy, but I was scared for her safety.”

Being the dutiful daughter, she heeded her mum’s request, but the ending wasn’t happy. And Khadija now openly sobs, the pain seemingly still raw. “She died on arrival. The journey took its toll.”

Some of her neighbours, who had opted to remain in Somalia, took her remaining daughter from her, saying that she was too destitute to take care of her.

Khadija eventually returned to Daadab and her little girl, now 14, is still in Somalia, living with another family.

Khadija is currently on medication for hypertension and she still doesn’t know the whereabouts of her husband and three sons.

She lives with her 10-year-old grandson, her eldest daughter’s son, who was sent over from Somalia by her daughter.

“He just showed up at our doorstep. His carer just said. ‘This is your kin’. I pray my husband and sons are alive and well, and maybe, I will see them again,” she says with a brave smile, tears running down her face.

Would she ever go back home? “Never. It holds painful memories for me.

I remember my little nephews, I would never go back home.”

Many flats away, is Farhia Mohammed, 38 and a mother of nine. The eldest is 20, the youngest, three. She sits on a low traditional Somali stool, tugging at her black hijab as if to conceal her face further.

Her dark eyes are filled with sadness and fear, and she hardly looks at me in the face. She was only 13 when the war in Somalia started in 1991.

“We were living in Kismayo, when one day armed thugs broke into our house and started stealing our belongings. My mother tried to stop them, so they killed her,” she says absently.

The abusive in-law

Her father, who had been absent when the incident occurred, moved her and the younger three siblings to Mogadishu. There, life was alright and Farhia even got married and became a mother.

But then, the country was plunged into mayhem again and three of her elder brothers were killed. She finally decided to leave when her husband was killed by a rocket propelled grenade.

In a bid to escape the skirmishes with her seven children, they decided to go to Daadab.

But on their way, unbeknown to her, her husband’s brother had followed her and wanted to marry her forcibly, so she had to run away without informing UNHCR.

This time she settled in Kakuma in June 2009. “I didn’t want to marry him. He said that he wouldn’t give me my share of my husband’s property but I didn’t care.

It was alright. I successfully transferred to Kakuma but after a few months he found me and stole two of my children in 2013,” she says.

Farhia moved to Nairobi in January 2016 and the kidnapped children were finally spotted in Somalia and with UNHCR’s help, were reunited with their mother.

Her brother-in-law, despite having been arrested in Daadab and in Kakuma over the issue, followed her to Nairobi and later came to her house, threatening her.