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TALKING POINT : THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY - PART THREE .

The 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 their future.

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."
"Can he?"
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 safely."
"How much does it cost for two adults and a boy of 12?"
"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 or ingested.


"Okay, you've a deal, you're on," Ahmed said
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 friend added.


"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 awake.
"I have decided?
"Decided what?"
"Enough is enough."
"What's going on?"
"We will be leaving soon."
"To where?"
"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 Ahmed.
"Huh?"
"I mean they are genuine American dollars."
"Who is Benjamin Franklin," Ganey asked suspiciously.
"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, HAMILTON loudly.
"Am I missing something here?"
"W-What?"
"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 up.
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 death warrant.
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 Luck!


A SHORT STORY IN SIMPLIFIED ENGLISH FOR OUR YOUNGER VISITORS
To be continued…
By M.M.Afrah©2004
afrah95@hotmail.com


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