wedding took place in a villa owned by one of the
clan elders who was related to both bride and bridegroom
and a close adviser to the warlord. The young couple
said their vows in front of a turbaned sheikh and
two witnesses, seemingly full of love and hope for
But instead of the lavish wedding ceremonies and gifts,
as in normal times, Araksan was given 500 dollars
as a "community start up," in lieu of gold
and jewelry and clothes. It was a welcome relief because
the family did not have much money. They made do it,
moving to a windowless and door less villa whose owner
fled the country at the height of the bloody uprising,
and shared a cement alley for a front yard.
Young Darman squealed with joy and loved to listen
to his stepfather weave classical Somali poetry and
fold tales. What's more, Ahmed taught him how to dismantle
an AK-47 and G-3 assault rifles but advised him not
to use them. "Only for self-defense," he
told the boy.
One day he was introduced to a man who said his brother
smuggled people across the border into neighboring
Kenya - at a price. But his thought returned to informers
and scam artists.
"Your brother?" he asked, wasting no time.
"He does it all the time. If you are willing
to pay we can arrange the necessary transportation
and three armed escorts to get you and your family
out of Somalia before you know it."
The man whose nickname was Ganey (Broken Tooth) lowered
his voice to a whisper. "He has been doing this
for a very long time. Takes people across the border
"How much does it cost for two adults and a boy
"Five hundred dollars, US ONLY;" he emphasized
the last two words. The US Dollar is the Grand Daddy
of international currency, even in war-torn Somalia!
"When can we leave?"
"Any time between Thursday and Friday."
Ganey explained the plan more fully, stressing two
points in particular: speed and secrecy was essential
before clan elders become suspicious enough to alert
the warlord and his death squad. Obviously Ganey was
right. Thursdays and Fridays are Somalia's weekend
when clan members usually sit at a marathon khat session.
Khat or qat is a narcotic drug chewed by peoples in
Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen and Kenya and shipped to
Somalia daily in small planes. It is the green leaf
of the Catha Edelis plant, flowering evergreen shrub
native to Kenya's Meru District. Other varieties are
grown in Ethiopia and Yemen. The active ingredient
in khat produces effects like amphetamine when chewed
"Okay, you've a deal, you're on," Ahmed
While elders still under the influence of khat, it
is estimated that the family could make to the port
town of Kismayu, about 500km to the south, before
anyone realized they were gone. They would reach Kismayu
on Sunday or Monday, weather permitting, Ganey explained
in his hoarse voice.
"We will hire a 4-wheel-drive Land Cruiser mounted
with a .50mm Browning machinegun and three guards
and the road to Kismayu is all yours,"
He agreed to meet him on Wednesday at the gutted police
station to introduce him to their driver.
"And don't forget to bring the money with you.
And of course in US Dollars," he said, showing
unusually large gap in his front teeth, hence the
nickname Ganey. No one remembers his real name or
his tribal lineage. But a childhood friend with fantastic
memory for faces confided to Ahmed over cups of Araksan's
spiced tea that the man had lost two of his front
teeth in a nightclub brawl and is a former Red Beret
officer, the military dictator's crack bodyguards.
"But since he was one of the few Hawiye Red Berets
in the service of Major-General Barre, he defected
to the insurgents with other Hawiye army and police
officers. The Hawiye elders gave them clean bill of
health," he said as he sipped the steaming mug
of tea. "His real name is Jabriil and is now
engaged in all kinds of shady deals, including drug
Trafficking and forgery of passports and birth certificates
for people who wanted to get out," the childhood
"People smuggling is sort of his side business
and with the help of his elder brother. But for some
reason, the brother remains a silent partner,"
he went on. The Hawiye insurgents targeted non-Hawiye
politicians, army and police officers, businessmen,
foreigners and anyone belonging to the President's
own minority clan, the Marehan as well as other Darod
subclans. Foreign diplomats and their vehicles did
not enjoy diplomatic immunity from the warring factions.
Only the Isaaq clan from the Northwest enjoyed immunity
from the Hawiye wrath.
Returning to the villa that night he shook his wife
"I have decided?
"Enough is enough."
"What's going on?"
"We will be leaving soon."
"Any where - far from the tentacles of the clan
elders and their war machine."
She nodded in agreement and they both started counting
their cash and other valuables. They discovered they
were richer than they first thought!
Several trips between the disused borehole, where
he stashed away his booty, and the open-air arms bazaar
in the North of the city that still functioned, were
necessary to dispose them. This included several dozens
of automatic rifles, ammunition boxes and half a dozen
of Soviet-made hand grenades.
Many of his cronies looked at him strangely, but nodded
their heads and did not question his sudden yard sales,
believing that he needed the cash to rebuild the villa
for his new family.
Next day Broken Tooth showed up at Araksan's tea stand
at the corner of the gutted police station with an
older man who sported hennaed beard and moustache.
"This is your driver. He will take you as far
as Kismayu. After that another man would drive you
across the border. I have send a radio message instructing
our man there to take you close to Ifo Refugee Camp
inside Kenya," he declared.
The man seemed to inspire confidence, but Ahmed was
restless, remembering the words of his childhood friend.
"What if the plan fails?"
"Don't worry. We've done this before and never
failed. It's foolproof."
"There's always first time."
"Our bush telegraph is very effective and reliable."
Quoting a line from the Hollywood movie Jerry McGuire,
he told Ahmed, "Show me the money." This
sounded very encouraging and Ahmed gave him the green
backs with high spirit. Ganey counted the money. He
counted it again, turning both sides of the American
green backs. Then he suddenly pulled out an electronic
gadget from the breast pocket of his safari suit and
fed the crispy bank notes into the counterfeit detector.
He smiled, trying to cover the gap in his mouth with
the palm of his free hand.
Today every businessman in Somalia carries this gadget
in his breast pocket.
"They are genuine Benjamin Franklins," said
"I mean they are genuine American dollars."
"Who is Benjamin Franklin," Ganey asked
"He was one of the past presidents of the United
States. His picture is on the hundred dollar bill."
Until now Ganey didn't care much about the pictures
on American bank notes. All that matters to him was
their denominations and their authenticity with the
help of his pocket counterfeit detector. But now he
began to take keen interest in Benjamin Franklin,
with is receding hairline, which the Somalis call
Bidaar. Then he pulled out several crumbled dollar
bills from his custom-made safari suit and read the
names: GEORGE WASHINGTON, GRANT, JACKSON, LINCOLN,
"Am I missing something here?"
"Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George Bush
and Bill Clinton?"
"Well, the American constitution does not allow
the images of living presidents to appear on their
currency and postage stamps. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter,
George Bush and Bill Clinton would be given that honour
after they pass away," Ahmed said. He himself
was not sure about the US Constitution on the subject
of monetary policy
"Would they give the same honour to Richard Nixon
with his Watergate scandal?"
"I don't know. Perhaps they would."
"Everything is OK," he said, with two thumps
That night Ahmed and his family gathered in their
now bare dwelling to reflect. Supposing…? What
if…? They knew that to try to escape from the
tentacles of the warlords was like signing your own
Ganey said it was the duty of the driver and his armed
guards to get them to Kismayu, while the other driver,
whose name is Karama would take them out of Somalia
close to the nearest refugee camp in Kenya's Northeast
Province. After that they will be on their own. Good
SHORT STORY IN SIMPLIFIED ENGLISH FOR OUR YOUNGER
To be continued…