Have you hugged your ‘ayeeyo’ lately?
Amina Mohamed is 77, the mother of seven, the “ayeeyo” (grandmother) of 42, and the great grandmother of seven.
“In reality, I had 10 children but three died,” she said. “My youngest daughter was killed in Hargeisa during the civil war.” She was standing in front of the family house when she was struck on the heart by a wayward bullet. “No one knows the perpetrator,” Amina said, a hint of sadness in her voice.
Amina was born in Hargeisa and her mother came from Jigjiga, a city in the Somali region in Ethiopia. Her father came from the Awdal region in northern Somalia. Amina and her husband spent most of their lives in eastern Ethiopia, where all her children were born. However, she speaks only a smattering of Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.
Amina has fond memories of the Somali region in Ethiopia and talks about it nostalgically. “Somalis there are cohesive because they live in a multicultural environment,” she explained. “What defines you there is your ethnicity, not your clan.”
Amina witnessed firsthand what Somali clans did to each other during the civil war, in the north and south. She saw innocent people killed and even elderly woman molested. “I saw a woman in her sixties raped,” she said, with tears in her eyes, “just because she belonged to the wrong clan.”
Amina was fortunate to have escaped harm in Mogadishu because she told the armed militias that she was from Hargeisa.
During the 1977-1978 Somali-Ethiopian War, Amina and her family fled Harar, Ethiopia, to Somalia. In the ensuing panic and chaos, her children scattered and for a while, their whereabouts were unknown. Amina, one of her sons, and two grandchildren escaped to the bush and trekked for 18 days toward Somalia to avoid the Ethiopian army.
“It was the most dangerous and emotionally draining trip I have ever taken,” she said. “I was worried about the well-being of my two grandchildren than my own.”
Amina experienced starvation, constant fear of wild animals, and — after a snake bite — a week-long sickness. The fleeing group of relatives saw hyenas near Harar eating corpses. After 18 days of walking, Amina came upon an encampment of the Somali army inside Ethiopia.
The family was placed in an open truck and taken to Hargeisa. “I was told my husband and children had perished,” she recounted. Fortunately, and to her great joy, she later discovered all her children had resurfaced in Somalia and her husband was safe in Harar.
Starting from scratch, Amina began working to support her big family in Hargeisa. “I traveled throughout Somalia as a businesswoman,” she said. She was relentless in ensuring her children received an education. Four have graduated from university and two have even earned advanced degrees.
Amina is cheerful and affable. “I sacrificed a lot for my children and some of my grandchildren,” she said. Unfortunately, she rarely sees most of her grandchildren even though many, like her, live on the West Coast of America.
“Today, many of the younger people are focused on their daily lives and have no interest in connecting with their elders,” she said. “Who has time for a grandmother?” she added, laughing heartily.
Amina is a walking encyclopedia of Somali culture and experiences. She has personally known several former high-ranking Somali government officials and a handful of famous singers and poets. Her conversation is littered with anecdotes and proverbs. “I do not have an education,” she admitted, “but I have a vast reservoir of personal experience.”
Amina is well versed in the current political situation in Somalia. She listens to the news on BBC World Service every day and has little patience with today’s leaders, whom she describes as more interested in personal enrichment than serving the nation.
Referring to the Barre regime, she lamented, “Once upon a time, we had a functioning government, but we intentionally and deliberately destroyed it.”
Amina would rather have a bad government than anarchy and what she calls “dullinimo” (humiliation).
Although Amina cannot speak English, she has many friends, including neighborhood children. One five-year-old Asian girl calls her “my friend.” Another child, whom she met at the Social Security Administration, connected with her instantly and asked her mother if she could go with Amina. “I pay close attention to children,” Amina said, smiling.
For the younger generation, Amina has a few words of advice: “Invest in family relations today before your loved ones are gone tomorrow.” She added, “After God, your family is the most important thing you have.”
Hassan M. Abukar is a freelance writer and Sahan Journal contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.