ROAD TO KISMAYU IS HOT, DUSTY AND ARMED TO THE teeth.
It seems like everybody is killing everybody. From the
right, from the left, massacre after massacre, senseless
and grotesque. Bodies riddle with
bullets, limbs left on the roadside, pregnant women gutted,
bodies stripped and decorated with fragmentation grenades.
The wide scale slaughter in the Juba Valley once Somalia's
bread basket, were so brutal that survivors later would
remark that they could barely recognize the bodies of
their loved ones.
It does not matter. It was the will of God, or it was
written, they would say.
Those massacred never allied themselves with any of the
warring factions or guerrilla organizations. Just God-fearing
Somali Bantus who worked from sunrise to sunset in banana
plantations owned by absentee landlords. Militia gunmen
from the Central Province and Mogadishu gunned them down
with machineguns mounted on battle-wagons, the ubiquitous
customized vehicles known here as Technicals. Later their
dead bodies were picked up and loaded onto the Red Cross
rusty Death Truck and donkey carts, their dead bare legs
dangling out of the back and jouncing along the bumpy
People have lived with clan warfare and anarchy for so
many years they don't care. Nearly every family has lost
someone. And in some cases a whole family has been wiped
Visiting Western journalists from neighboring Kenya were
baffled that the killings in the region had little to
do with the opposite side in a civil war. In fact the
clan militia rarely clash. Only a handful of them died
in mutual skirmishes, and this probably over the ownership
of the narcotic drug, khat. No. It is the Somali Bantus
and other minority clans who are dying and no one in the
world seemed to care. The Belgian contingent of the international
task force based in Kismayu remained in their garrison,
oblivious of the carnage under their watch.
As they drove through streets strewn with dead bodies
and deserted plantations and hamlets Ahmed asked his wife
if this was what she wanted.
"Yes," she answered. "I want to get out."
There were tears in her eyes.
"I love you both," he said. Then he turned to
"Be brave and I promise to send you school."
"I will," the boy said solemnly.
Sometimes well after midnight, the driver slowed the vehicle.
A makeshift road barricade appeared in the middle of the
narrow track and the driver stopped.
Half a dozen wild looking gunmen glanced inside the Land
Cruiser and pointed their guns at the faces of the frightened
passengers. But when they saw the Browning machinegun
and the guards perched on the hood of the vehicle, with
their forefingers on the trigger, they waved the driver
through the town of Kismayu.
"That was close!" the driver said to no one
in particular. The guards began to sing Magool and Ahmed
Mooge's love songs.
They were high on khat!
Soon they were speeding past more deserted farms and villages
farther away from Kismayu. Before long the road became
bumpy, but the driver did not reduce his speed, waking
up the family with the jolt of the vehicle.
Finally, late in the afternoon they pulled up to a tiny
village on the edge of a country road. A middle-aged man
opened the door of a circular hut. He appeared very friendly.
He greeted them with a smile, a rare commodity in war-torn
"My name is Karama. From now on I will drive you
across the border, God willing," he said with a salesman's
smile. He was wearing a hand-embroidered scull cap, like
a sheikh, and a small white towel wrapped around his neck.
"So you must listen to me carefully," he added.
They all nodded in agreement. After filling them in about
the road to the border town of Dhobley and the things
they should expect, including the shifta (bandits) who
rob the refugees, he left them briefly and returned with
a steaming kettle of tea, stale bread and fresh bananas,
Their old driver, who rarely spoke unless spoken to, harangued
with Karama in a language Ahmed did not understand, but
which sounded like Kiswahili spoken throughout East Africa
and parts of Somalia's Juba Valley. After this, their
old driver and his three armed guards disappeared without
saying anything to Ahmed.
Later in the afternoon Araksan shivered at the sight of
armed border police, but was quickly reassured by their
smiling driver that everything's under control. True to
his words, Karama spoke to the sergeant in charge of the
border post in his softly, softly approach and Ahmed watched
money change hands.
"Okay," the sergeant screamed in his parade
ground voice, "but hurry up, you're blocking the
A few miles inside Kenya's arid Northeast Province, where
Karama said bandits frequently robbed refugees; he pulled
his vehicle into an empty space used by UN refugee officials
to process the flood of refugees from Somalia. But now
no one is in sight. He dropped them off and after distributing
cups of warm water from a much-battered Jerry can and
offerings of sweetmeat, he walked them to the shade of
a thorn tree and left
them there to fend for themselves. He was still smiling
as he disappeared behind a cloud of red dust, watched
longingly by his terrified passengers.
They were now on their own - strangers in a strange land!
It was as if the bush, too, felt fear. The wind dropped
and the birds stopped singing. There was quiet, an overwhelming
calm. Not a single leaf stirred. They could only hear
their own breath and the drone of a lone airplane overhead.
They were clearly sitting targets, waiting for the robbers
to come and slaughter them and make away with their money
"Come on. We've got no time. We've got to slip into
the camp as soon as it is dark enough."
An hour later the family walked into the squalid Ifo Refugee
Camp in the outskirts of the tiny Ifo Village and easily
mingled with hundreds of new arrivals waiting to be registered.
Ifo Village that formerly served as nomadic encampment
or caravanserai is as barren as the surface of the moon.
Within days of receiving their registration cards as bona
fide refugees, they decided to hire a van to Nairobi,
Kenya's sprawling capital, some 950 miles away.
Araksan was uncharacteristically silent and preoccupied
but her husband reassured her.
"Don't worry. We're going to be all right,"
To be continued
SHORT STORY IN SIMPLIFIED ENGLISH FOR OUR YOUNGER VISITORS