My Sister and Mother
Maryan, now a little girl, was very distressed. She could discern that her mother was sick, her father blind. Sometimes she would sit in the sun, crying. This however did not change anything. She started to help in cooking, and keeping the home.
My mother and sister took on the lion’s share in bringing us up. They stood against vicious challenges, surviving all bruises left on them. Many are the times they had sacrificed their pleasures in order to help us stand on our feet.
This is very common in Dadaab. It is often the women, especially mothers and aunts, who take the lead in keeping the families strong, often standing against societal barriers which call for a masculine presence. But the men had either died, or they have been left behind in Somalia.
As a child in Dadaab, I have seen strong women, including my mother and sister. They carry jerricans full of water on their backs across long distances, collect firewood from the forest and take their children to schools. In return they get raped, their integrity is scurrilously attacked, and many girls are left out of school.
Maryan was one the first children to go to school in Ifo refugee camp. Her performance was outstanding, her dreams far-reaching. She however received sexual advances accompanied with extreme coercion from her male tutors. She either had to succumb to their pressure, or drop out of school. She chose the latter.
Maryan took the spunk to bring us up. The little food provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) was not enough, so she started to sell paraffin to eke out a living for the family.
Girl on the Run
Maryan grew into a fine girl as the years wore away, and suitors were now coming to ask for her hand. Then my father decided to marry her off to a man whom she did not find attractive. And she fled away from home to Nairobi.
Nairobi city was too large for a refugee girl, but Maryan was too strong. She quickly made friends, and soon started selling tea on a street in the Somali-dominated Eastleigh estate to make money. She always had her parents in mind. This motivated her to work hard.
Maryan was at last married in early 2003. She soon had her first child, but our family was also shortlisted for a resettlement to the United States, and she was called to come home to meet her parents.
Just a year later, Maryan left to the United States, a place she calls home today. Now her children go to school, and the future looks bright.
‘I tell my children to work hard to achieve their dreams. I often tell the girls that if they become doctors they will be able to help the women who are dying from easily treated diseases in Somalia,’ she says.
‘My concern now remains keeping the children away from drugs and negative influence,’ she adds.
Maryan is now an American citizen. She says she expects to see her children in different careers- from engineering to medicine- in the next half a century. Only hard work is needed since they have similar opportunities as any other American citizen. Perhaps they will also help their ancestor continent, Africa.