Born at an unknown date between 1927 and 1932, my mother comes from a family of nomads somewhere in the northern bush of Somalia. Her father was a proud nomadic lord, owner of many camels, sheep and goats. Despite his social position and the glorious family name he bore, he was not a happy man. His wife gave him more girls than boys (nine girls and one boy) my mother was the last one. Curiously her mother gave her a name that had nothing to do with religion or with the nomadic tradition which give children the names of their ancestors, but a Western name : Celine. Where did she find it and what did it mean to her ? Mystery ! At the age of two she lost her mother, who was pregnant with her eleventh child.

Her older sister became head of the family, as was the tradition which continues today in Africa. And when the eldest daughter gets married, it's the following one that usually takes over. Around the age of four or six, my mother who was asleep against her older sister in the family hut was attacked by a wild beast, who, putting its nose through the branches of the hut, caught her by the face and pulled out to run away with her. Her older sister, awakened with a start fumbled around in the dark and found the ankle of her little sister ready to leave the hut. She pulled inward while the animal was doing the same in the opposite direction. The older sister managed to hold her sister but in the light of day, the show was sad ! The child was torn throughout her face by the canines of the beast, and she was unconscious. The older sister flew in every direction, calling for a thread and needle to mend the little girl's face but the people in her entourage caught her up thinking that she had gone mad and said that it was not worth going to the trouble for her because she was either already dead or about to die and the father was absent. But the next day the child regained consciousness with a head so swollen it looked like a balloon. The big sister realized that she was going to die of infection. She isolated her in a hut, forbade him to drink water as well as cow milk as nomads say that there's nothing worse to infect serious injuries than drinking water or washing. They also advise not to drink the milk of cows because these, by dint of always drinking water, have a milk that contains more water than milk than any other animals. After forty days of isolation, she was cured but disfigured forever !

When she was between ten and twelve years, the father also disappeared. Old uncles who are always there when there are legacies to share, appeared at the orphans'. All the girls who were still single and who were of marriageable age, that is to say from fourteen to sixteen, were sold to men many years their senior, married and often with several women already, who could afford to pay the high dowries demanded by the uncles except my mother who was too young to be married. Her brother, two years her senior, was also promised to a girl older than him and should wait the age of sixteen year to marry because the girl's father did not want the young boy's dowry to pass under his nose. The future father-in-law also promised to be the guardian of the boy and his animals until he became a responsible man to lead his family. As for my mother, they gave her two choices, while waiting to reach marrying age in her turn. Either she would live with the family of one of her married sisters, or she should follow her brother. She chose to follow her brother because it was her duty to help him become a man, she told me later.

Around the age of eighteen or twenty, the young man who had become a strong man and the father of a two year old boy, decided to leave the family of his stepfather to join his own tribe, that resided in another region. It is a very common practice among nomads who believe that the duty of a man is to live within his community. The stepfather gave him no difficulty to recover his possessions, he did take his wife and child and of course his sister and farewells were made. After ten days' travel, camping out one night, they lost one of their camels that was used as transport. As it doesn't fit a nomad to abandon his animals, let alone a camel, they remained in this camp for five days, each morning the young man went in search of the lost animal, while the two women kept the other animals and he would come back home at night to guard his property against wild animals, no matter the distance travelled during the day. But the two women noticed that the young man, exhausted by the long march, fell into a deep sleep at night, next to the enclosure of his animals instead of staying on his guard. They decided to make the rounds themselves, taking turns. Then one night the young man saw when he opened his eyes one of the women walking around him. He said they were putting their lives and the lives of the children at risk for nothing, he took the biggest thorn tree he found and blocked the door of the hut, once they were lying. In the night, they heard the terrified animals and strange noises. Ready to rush outside to see what was happening, they stumbled on the tree. After struggling for a long time to emerge, they discovered an unbearable sight : a lion was eating the carcass of the young man he had probably caught while sleeping. They had to fight a tough battle for the lion to release the remains of the man. The next day, after burying the rest of the body they had saved, the wife decided to return to her father with her child and her animals.

My mother went to take refuge with her elder sister, married into another tribe living nearby. In this camp there was a man, fifty, or maybe more - nobody really knows their age among nomads - neither rich nor poor, married and the father of seven children (four boys and three girls). Two of his daughters were already married and mothers. He was also recently widowed. This man is my father. A week after the arrival of my mother in the camp, he proposed marriage.

She had no say for her pride. Instead, ugly and full of scars as she was, she should have felt honoured to have found a man.

Two years after my birth, he left this world in turn. She barely had time to mourn her husband when she saw the famous old uncles land again, her children this time, and they have laws for widows under their mouldy turbans. One of these traditional laws known and respected by all the nomads says this : any widow without a son will be disinherited at once and kicked out of her family, regardless of the number of girls. Yet this law compels them to wait for three to four months to see if the unfortunate widow is not pregnant.

Then, if the answer is positive, the widow is entitled to remain in the family until the birth and if she gave birth to a boy, she is saved and stays in the family forever. She is even honoured to remarry with one of the uncles, the eldest in general, that is to say, the oldest of all the uncles. This was the case with my mother. The marriage to my old uncle added another mouth to feed to the seven already existing, until she fought like a tigress to get a divorce. Then, having become increasingly poor because she lacked a strong shoulder on which to lean on, she had to do all the jobs that exist. I knew her in turn become a carrier of milk, charcoal burner, a wood chipper, carrying water, hay, etc.. Today, Mom is still working, not to support her children but rather to remain active within her family.

Today, I would like to tell my mother, thank you Mom, for all the trouble you took and all the sacrifices you've made all your life to feed us and clothe us.

Your daughter Hawa

my mother, march 2010

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