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How to fall in love in a failed state

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Medium
Idilay Bilan
Tuesday March 7, 2017



“These label you shove in my faces like …’Qurba-joog’, ‘ Feminist’, ‘African” “Wadani”, don’t mean fucking shit here. Here you wear only one label; the one your father wore, his father, and his father before him. No one gives a shit if you don’t believe in ‘clans’-the clan believes in you, because it made you. Every identity you flaunt before your kin is words you learned in the white man’s school books. In the classrooms of the white man you burden, who took you in, after ‘they’ chased you out. My dear, these labels are nothing but clean shirts worn over the letters embalmed in your chest. If you remove each layer of shirt, and lay bare your ungrateful flesh; You will find only four letters: SSDF. That is your bloodline and your nucleus, a bloody fucking Majerteen. You will do well to remember that, as it will be that nucleus that will save you when all other labels fail you.”
A soldier in Kismayo, November 14th 2014
Today is my first year wedding anniversary, which i only repeat because Facebook was gracious enough to remind loving friends, who woke me this morning with verbal vignettes of this event, one year ago.
I was reminded how deeply i love the commemoration of significant dates, and how friends and family in the era of oversharing observe, review, and reflect on sentimental data on their special days. Unfortunately, my husband and I both lack the sentimental gene, and will spare my social media friends parochial and tender paragraphs we only care about, as most will indulge me out of polite guilt and customary solidarity.
Instead, I’m penning the prose you find titled above. A title inspired by a close friend’s quip that I had “fallen in love in a failed state, you owe Somalia taxes now!”. I won’t overwhelm you with long-winded details of our courtship, as personal recollections of insignificant events are only interesting if Trump is tweeting it.
But I’ll start at the beginning, as I begin to piece together how our intimate love stories, promising friendships, and budding unions across geographic and clan lines are a necessary component of Somalia’s recovery. That personal relationships, irregardless of their particular make-up matter when rebuilding Somalia.
On a cool Mogadishu night, three friends, myself, and my now-husband gathered for what was to become a contender for the, ‘most awkward first date in the history of Somali love’. Somalis (ugh..forgive me, here come the generalities) dating norms usually consist of unions formed through our familial networks, and close friends. My cousin, who also served as my husband’s then neighbour, was our mutual connect, the opening sentence of our courtship.
Dates here are often in group settings, where new parochial ties are formed, and ours was no different. We met at my cousin’s restaurant, where close friends joined us for our customary weekend shenanigans-largely composed of violent debates, bashing of governments, highly inappropriate clan jokes, and the naive assembling of blueprints and treatises on how each one of us would ‘fix’ the perpetual problem-child; Somalia.
‘It’s the bloody Wahhabis, once we we drone the shit out of these cretins, Somalia will be restored to her glory days,’ declares a guest of my cousins, who I’ll call Hussein. My now-husband, visibly annoyed by this reductionist interference leans in his chair, visibly invested in the missing links and echoes of Hussein’s arguments.
‘Siyaad Barre was the last statesman this cursed land will ever see, and you negros are still suffering for it. And the treachery of Hawiye, the manipulative political aspirations of Majerteen (Hussein points at me accusingly), and the delusions of grandeur on the part of the Isaaq is why we have an enviable coastline doubled-up as training camp for half-wit Islamists, instead of being the Pearl of Africa, we once were. SNM, SSDF, and USC is why the whole world wants to push us into the sea”
He finishes with his invasive voice, now evolved into a stream of absolutist truth claims and exclamation marks. My now-husband, trying to conceal his frustration, replies, “ Hussein, it’s Hussein right? What do you mean the treachery of Hawiye? you mean USC. What’s the treachery we’re guilty of? overthrowing a megalomaniac?”

“Yup, USC, the United Sociopaths Committee. They’re guilty of widespread looting and setting us back three decades”, Hussein proudly rebutted.
“Ok now you’re throwing insults around, let’s have a civil discussion. Caadi iska dhig”, the cousin interjecting, always the perpetual fence-sitter and resident peace-maker. Normally I hate how he takes the complacent, UN Security Council route in these decisions, but today, I was thankful. Arm-chair pontificating amongst Somalis is a dangerous sport where feelings are hurt and dreams lost.
“What’s with the emotional attachment to USC, that era predates us, who cares if he insults them. It’s just banter”. I joke
“Because that’s my family he’s calling a union of psychos” he retorted, skeptical of my efforts to silence his concerns.
In our initial introductions, during the ‘let’s make sure we’re not cousins’ phase, consisting of interrogations about one’s clan, designed to prevent one from unwittingly courting one’s own cousin, I came to know he was of the Habar Gidir clan, and I, Majerteen. Two details that make little difference to our material lives, but continue to be premise of many jokes, yet nothing prepared for me the conversation that came next.
“Btw bro, Habar Gidir ya ka tahay?” my friend Awil asked.

“Sacaad”
Ahhh…..it now all made sense. “So you’re a USC sire, no wonder you were annoyed with Hussein”. I uncomfortably joked, hoping to defuse the climatic air in the room.
Hussein is now reduced to silence, awkwardly shifting in his chair, fearful his comments may have offended someone with a standing army.
“Yeah, I’ve never mentioned it, but my father is …….”.
*Everyone gasps*, deafening silence invades the room like Ethiopia given the ‘get those Somalis’ green light.
I won’t disclose my father-in-law’s name, or his family, but distinctly recall announcing to my father,
“Aabo, remember I told you about the young man who wants to marry me. Yeah, him…. remember how i told you he’s Habar
Gidir…..well…”
“Yes…..and……” my dad pausing for the plot twist to unveil itself.
“Well, he’s Sacaad”
“Oh. Hahahahhaa….Oh boy. Leave it to my mooryan Umar Maxamud kid to find a Sacaad boy in Xamar, the Tom & Jerry of Somalia can’t just leave each-other alone huh”, he guffaws, with a hint of relief, as if expecting I was about to reveal I was infact betrothed to the leader of Al-Shabab.
“Wait, I’m not done. UMM…..ok….Do you remember the film Black Hawk Down? well, maybe his family was kinda of a subject of those events in the film, and well, it’s that family. maybe…sort of…”.
Silence on the other side of the phone in Gaalkayco.
“Dad, are you there? say something? I thought qabil meant nothing to you?” I pleaded, hoping to advance my guilt trip before he has an opportunity to betray his true feelings about this situation.
My dad laughed.
“I know that family. you’re commitment to political drama is awe-inspiring. Honestly, this will not be easy for you, as your beloved’s family is kinda the antagonist in the story of Darood. Abo, marry him. And may Allah give you a child that inherits the political cunningness of your kin, and the bravery of his, and thats unite the two most problematic clans in Somalia. I give you my blessing. You’ll need it”. He laughs again.
My father left me with words I needed to write down that very moment, so I never forget my ancestors and sires; majestic Somali men, critical thinkers, who despite centuries-old cultural conditioning, were committed to a belief in a world where love is the silencer of competing political histories.
As my father foreshadowed, war had come to Gaalkayco. Our wedding date, yielded to the political ambitions of politicians who sent young men to die by the dozens. Our wedding plans sporadically pausing to answer the phone calls filled with feverish and urgent updates from displaced relatives.
“Wallahi Habar Gidir will never change, the perpetual shit-starters. These people are the god-damn Wildings from Game of Thrones. Galkayco looks like 1991 over again. Can’t believe you’re about force them as our in-laws. Idil you’re so fucking naive”, a distant cousin complains, rolling my eyes at his nascent effort to re-direct blame, while basked in victimhood.
“ Puntland is gonna learn today we’re not the ones to play with”, a Commander complains to my husband, as we sat in a restaurant, sipping on watermelon nectar and naive hope. A waiter overhears us discussing this, and interrupts…
“Cursed Majerteens and Habar Gidir, Somalia will never rest till we put both of you to sleep. What the hell is in Galkayco worth fighting over? Bloody Reer-mudug, the cancer of Somalia. Someone should deport you guys to Middle East, where you’ll never run out of reasons to fight”.
We both laughed. We knew he was right.
“You know this marriage won’t work if your clan annihilates my clan right?” I joked. I was half-kidding.
“I know”, he sighed. His sighs reeking of a man in love with the enemy, with little interest in reviving old wars, burdened with the load his last name carries, and overwhelmed by the men that turn to him for answers to the questions emerging in a, ‘post’-conflict Somalia.
Our pending union became the punchline for my circle of friends, who declared that our wedding should occur in the green zone in Gaalkayco city that divides our clans. Their jokes answered, when one year ago, my now-husband, met with my father, at the green-zone of Gaalkayco.
Tense soldiers, atop armoured technicals pointing at their equivalents behind the line. I was married in a green zone.
So this brings me to the events of precisely one year ago, the wedding of two people, who only represented their formed identities, but stand for labels older than our nation state. As the late night hours waited for the sun to light Mogadishu, we danced. An impromptu after-party celebration, housed all our loved ones doing every traditional dance found in the shores from Zaylac to Ras Kamboni.
I sat in an uneventful corner to let my feet recover from the afrobeat tunes, and watched my friends and beloved dance. I thought back to the comments that angered me once in Kismayo. A wounded and tired soldier, at odds with a changing Somalia in theory, but still living amongst it’s ghosts of yesteryear. I was chastised for rejecting my clan, and declaring ‘I don’t believe in tribalism”, what i now see as the equivalent of ‘All Lives Matter’ rhetoric.
He was right. I am my clan. And the real work of reconciliation isn’t palms placed heavily atop obtuse eyes, feigning political blindness, but owning the histories of our ancestors, both their pain and crimes.
To heal means doing the difficult work of confronting, listening, and unclothing on a table, all the things we burned together. To wash aside the folks who won’t let go, is to let discontent, injustice and grudges slow cook till we repeat the anniversary dates of our failures; 1969, 1988, 1991, 2006. That young man taught me the fault lines in empty denouncements of one’s clan, and the necessary work is to dissect it, inform it, critique it, heal it, educate it, engage it, rewrite it.
I wish I had some grandiose philosophical exclamation point about the healing powers of love and embracing other clans, and riding off into our polluted sunset, but I don’t because I’m from the Mudug region, where our hearts are made of glass and lion tears. But I do know that one year ago, in Mogadishu, in the early hours of a smouldering hot March morning, Some Darood heads, a few Hawiye coordinated feet,two Rahan-weyn hips, and .5 hands, danced and bobbed, and laughed in celebration of a brief and massively insignificant moment in Mogadishu’s history; Two children of war falling in love in our beloved, messy, frustrating, heart-aching, and complex and the world’s favourite failed state. 


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