Tribute To The Somali Women Of Ogaden
By Ogaden Online Editorial
Nestled in the heart of the Horn of Africa a woman walks across the Savannah, with her child grasping one hand and a precious water container nearly filled to the rim in the other. She scans the landscape for signs of danger taking the form of Ethiopian troops on patrol. She knows that if she encounters even a small patrol, the chances of being raped, beaten and even killed are high. Despite this realization, her children must eat and drink and so she walks, albeit cautiously, driven by the undeniable love a mother has for her child. She has suffered much; her village has been reduced to ashes. The members of her family killed by the Ethiopians are too numerous to recall. During the harshest famines, she has gone hungry to that her children may eat. Her land is rich by all measures, yet she is poor as her mother was before her.
As she walks she sees movement in the distance. She pauses, just to be certain her eyes had not seen something which is not there. Yet, to her horror, her eyes had not deceived her. A slow swarm of figures is approaching her position. They are barely noticeable. There clothes blend into the country side. She quickly glances around for brushes big enough to give her child cover. She has done this before and her child knows to remain silent until her mother removes her hardened hands placed across her tiny dry cracked lips. She sees the brush she is looking for a several meters away. She walks quickly, nearly running, dragging her child. She keeps her head low using the diverse assortment of vegetation which fills the country side as cover when she approaches the lifesaving brushes. She wishes she had drawn water from the well faster so that she had started back sooner, avoiding this place at this moment in time. She is so close where her family is settled that she considers making a run for it but that thought quickly leaves her mind as she knows there is no way she can make it in time and safe her child.
Will she once again live through this day? Will her child grow up even if only to experience the same fear when she collects firewood or fetches water with a child of her own years from now? The mother can only pray. She rushes into the brushes, ignoring the scratches of the dry bush which has not soaked life giving rain for months. She sits still, with her child beside her. Silent, they sit fearing the worst but still hoping to come out this ordeal alive. Even the soft sound of her breath and her rapidly beating heart seem too loud for her liking. She waits, and waits. They are close now, so close you can hear there voices although there words are unrecognizable.
Then suddenly and without warning, there is movement behind her. Someone is approaching. Could she have missed one of them? Was she too late? Had her worst nightmare come true? She cannot bear to look. If this is indeed the end she prays it comes quickly. She moves her hand from her child’s mouth up to her ears. Even a moment before death she cannot bear to let the loud crackly of rifle shots startle her child. It is her last act of love before leaving this world.
“Walaal” a male voice says. She turns without wanting to and sees a hand stretched out, a kind smile and eyes so gentle; they could only be a blessing from Allah. Her breathing slows, she removes her hands from her child’s ears and stares at a young man wearing a green fatigue with his rifle securely balances on his shoulder. “Walaal” he says again, and this time she knows she is safe. This time she knows she stands before one of her own. She may not be so fortunate another day but today she feels she hit the lottery. Today, they will survive, because today she stands before the only ones who have sworn to protect her. Today, she is in the presence of the defenders of her dignity, and the dignity of countless others like her. She exhales and says “Xaqle” as the young man smiles. She moves her child towards him as he separates the thick twigs to ensure the child is not hurt coming out of the brush. She emerges from her hiding place, and sees those same gentle eyes all around her.
Time is forgotten as the young men talk to her while sharing there rations. When the time comes, she says goodbye to her brothers and, to her pleasant surprise, her sisters of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), she picks up her water container and walks the short remaining distance to her family with a smile on her face.
Tomorrow she will go out and fetch water again. She will do this despite the dangers she may encounter. She tells herself it’s a matter of survival, but deep down she knows it is more than that. It is her own personal defiance against those who have brought so much misery to her land and her people. She will not be a prisoner in her own land. She will not yield to the wishes of her occupier.
That night, as her child sleeps, she softly recites a poem of defiance. The same poem her mother recited to her years ago. It is a poem recited by mothers to their children all over Ogaden. It is a poem conveying the message of struggle.
She is a Somali woman from the Ogaden and she is the custodian of our hopes and the symbol of our struggle.
Ogaden Online Editorial