Monday, November 10, 2014

Of new wives,babies and The End

Its official I'm a coward the one who smiles and hides that she has very difficult things to say. I have a lot of things that I'm not scared of I live in Luuq that makes me one of the bravest people I know :-) :-)..........................kujipigia debe is allowed once in a while but currently I have end of contract notices that I have had for the past 10 days with me.

I speak everyday to the guys that I'm supposed to give them to and I say to myself kesho is another day now all the fighting spirit I have to say contracts are ending is gone  :-(  this is just too difficult.

What makes this really difficult is that all of them have families and big responsibilities. Allah has all the provisions for us and holds our futures but can I pull a religious line on them? If it was this young unmarried men read people with zero responsibilities I could have done this by the first but ...................

One  just got a second wife and the wedding was fun we ate(pilau camel meat,cakes and halwa) and drank a lot of milk shake(sharubet milk) he has more responsibilities and I'm guessing he took this big step because well he has a steady flow of income read contract.Weddings I'm sure are expensive affairs so probably he is in debt and very broke.He seems genuinely happy how do I tell him this news and break his new marriage happiness.

The other one is on off/some sort of local arrangement as he is planning to marry a 19 year old(how I know this he tells us all the time of how young she is) and he says he is looking to impress and got stuff from Nai(the equivalent of Dubai for us Luuq peeps I guess) .His new wife is his obsession,she is  a beauty and he has a lot of pictures on his phone that he keeps on showing to us.Kweli hii story ya ilianza na kaselfie is real people but I digress.So I'm assuming he is doing all this because he hopes that income will be there for him to take care of this pretty little thing he is getting himself and do a grand wedding.How on earth do I break this to him??

2 have pregnant wives that are getting babies anytime and from the experience with my little niece raising babies is expensive they need milk,diapers,baby food and these things for all those wanting babies and I am at the top of this list, cost a fortune save up people. How do I tell them??

I figured dropping hints like we need to finish all the close out  stuff by end of November will work but these peeps are too fixated on end of year timelines that they think December we all go on leave (me crying) and come back in January next year Insha aa Allah

I thought of passing this difficult task to my boss he seems better at sharing bad news.So I tell him why don't you tell them that the contracts are coming to an end and he says wacha tu until end of November and tell them then.aaiiiiii this is worse than me and my 10 day delay, that would be too mean what if they make plans on how to use the December salo.

So I have thought and figured we do a field lesson learnt as a final close out activity and during this I just say our work is done and do a slide titled THE END

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Of phone calls from the AS and adventures at the border

The AS whom I now know are also called the youth live around are part of the town and are among these 'normal' people we see everyday forget me thinking I could identify an AS member easily and run for it ,there is no way as an old guy I was talking to a while ago told me these guys are like snakes they can even be in your house and yet you do not know so be cautious whom you talk to about them, this person you might be telling how bad the AS are might be one of them.Just the other day a driver(casual driver) was arrested by the local authority because he was a suspected AS member and some cook working for UNOCHA no less was found to have links with these famous youth so much for me thinking I can spot them from their trouser length and beard.

Sunday before Idd and we are all rushing through our work so as to ensure we leave Luuq for Idd and much needed break from work.The many reasons the field where the office has only 4 people rocks is that you can go on free breaks without anyone knowing.So Sunday Idd begins yaaaaaaaaaaay and the plan is to get back to office on Wednesday :-) :-)

But on this day peeps are delaying  and its usually me who is ready last and sometimes they have to start making noise they way I'm wasting their time.They tell me its because they have something they need to sort out in town.I think of starting to use their  usual lines about wasting time on them but figure its one against three what are the chances I'll manage to drag them out.Later after they have sorted out the issue(or so I thought) they come and tell me whats going on.

Shide: Rahma you know the AS have been calling us and have said that they need a certain amount of money(4000 USDs).

Me:Why didn't you tell me before

Everyone: Because we know you.1)you'll panic and 2) you'll inform the Nairobi guys and it will make this small issue bigger than it is and you'll run to Dollow Kenyans are cowards.

If it was normal days I'll be stuck on Kenyans are cowards and argue on that but.................

Me:Has this ever happened before? what do you think we should do?

Everyone:Yes it happens all the time. We go for Idd and come and sort this out after that but you should solve this we have tried and unfortunately we are unable to solve it.

Me: Ok (in my head thinking now who are the cowards letting me solve these difficult things on my own)

We leave the office and head to Beleth Hawa/Mandera for Idd. The drama at the Kenyan border in Mandera is just crazy first my colleagues who are Somalis(no Kenyan IDs) but live in Mandera start practising their speeches on how they'll ask the police at the border to let them in and how much we are willing to pay them as bribe because it doesn't matter how Kenyan you are you'll still have to bribe those guys for them to let you in.There is this guy in the office who keeps asking me if the chini kwa chini dance in the Faulu advert is the Kenyan national dance I tell him that he'll have to dance for the police at the border so as to go through.Dude is bit scared but all the times we have seen that Faulu advert he can surely pull it off in the very unlikely event we are told to prove our Kenyaness by doing the national dance.

We get to the border and after lengthy negotiations/explanations, I just wish the guys manning the border could save all of us this because we know they want a bribe and we can't offer because they'll pretend to be offended so we have to wait for them to hint eventually he hints and we give him money for 'mboga'.

Idd was fun!!!!!! ate way too much,laughed and generally had a good time but nothing beats Idds in Isiolo therefore the plan is to Insha aa Allah be at home for the next Idd.Somehow I thought and figured out the AS issue over Idd.My 'well thought out solution' if they want taxes to be paid then its not us to pay but the project vendors,house owner,car owners and other project suppliers who in essence are getting /benefiting from the project.

We informed the project suppliers about this issue, I thought they'll like fight a bit but they have never been easier to talk to they agreed and the taxes were paid.I pray we do not hear from these famous youth again(fingers crossed) keeping in mind they had threatened us 'you think there are areas you can work in and others that you cannot we control all the villages,the AMISOM controls only the bridge and the police station and don't think there is anything stopping us from coming to your office if we want to we can come and at anytime!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Luuq is insecure(well according to me things have gotten better) and because of this people read the bosses will give you the shortest amount of notice that they are coming to the field seriously who calls at night to tell you tomorrow we are coming for a monitoring visit.I thought as standard practice people should inform you of intent to visit like a week in advance or so but this manenos of calling at 8 PM and saying we will need to visit some villages see the works ongoing,talk to some beneficiaries and see the DC seriously don't we have work-plans and stuff we already have planned to do??? I love the fact that  finally they'll get to see the feeder roads and water pans that I talk/report about so much but an advance notice would have be really helpful.

I call the mobilizers and we do most of the mobilization on the phone at 9 PM!!!!!!!!!!!! I guess the village committee chairmen officially have confirmed that yes in addition to talking too much I am also slightly crazy.

I thought about putting up a show or just letting it be and do what I call free-styling i.e just show up and have the normal fights with beneficiaries:

Me: So  you have done these roads(they do not look really done)


Me:How comes there are still stumps and the road is still uneven

Foremen: We have no tools and therefore we are using the  few tools we have and are we tractors to even out these roads

Me:Tools are coming soon(hopefully this soon fikas really soon) and once they come you might have to re- do the sections of the road previously covered to ensure that its up-to standard

Foreman: Ok.

Me:Thanks : -)

So do we let the boss see this normal day to day of our lives or do we create some ideal situation............after some discussions we agree lets just go for normal day to day but ensure that all beneficiaries show up at their areas of work in the morning with all the tools they can get (we aren't really badly off I guess and honesty is the best policy in this case 90%  truth).

We leave the office early pass by the villages and ensure that the beneficiaries are mobilized and everything is according to the plan,all beneficiaries are present and working (with all this acting if all else fails I could get directing roles :-))

We do the visit: the beneficiaries,the foremen,the village committee and even the DC do not disappoint they say the way we are doing a good job and they are happy but there will always be these beneficiaries who'll launch complaints because they think that these visitors will miraculously solve them like why in the hell didn't they ever say that some of them got bags of rice that had water and why now so many days after the distribution but me being the obedient person note the complaint and follow up with vendor.

A few days later we get the mission feedback and before I read it I'm thinking maybe some good and some bad reviews but apparently my boss was impressed yaaaaaaaaaaay :-)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Conflict sensitivity

Just the other day we had this Do no  harm  training/desk review, I always thought I knew what this is but to say the least I was in the dark. I never thought its any thing to do with conflict but just ensuring that projects implemented are aligned to the common community practices  such that you do not maybe cause inflation or increase wage rates because the project you are implementing is paying more that the prevailing wages in the market or overlooking local markets and bringing in stuff that can easily be bought and the supply is sufficient or something close but no its a conflict sensitivity analysis tool(quite timely for me considering how many small conflicts I have been in)

We had these discussions on Luuq and now I can hold a decent discussion on the clan dynamics and power play in Luuq town Marehan Vs Rahwyn , who feels more aggrieved and how we can make it better by fighting/better dialogue with the DC aka Sanjeh (see Somalis love nicknames).Sanjeh means one who has this war marks on his mouth dude was in the army and still wears combats on some days, in totally unrelated stuff even Kagame was in the army which means not all former warlords are bad leaders.

One of the many things that I have come to appreciate is always asking so how is the town mostly I'll get the situation is normal and calm but sometimes very scary news like  7 prisoners escaped from the prison and the Ethiopian forces have arrested the OCS and deputy OCS  because of this and like 2 days before this I heard that 5 women who are wives to the al-shabab were arrested and were in jail so maybe they are amongst those who escaped (how do you marry a guy who is an AS this is something I have to find out) and apparently its not by force and they have very pretty wives as supposedly women like danger really??

I now listen to BBC-Somali ok maybe not out of free will  but because everyone else listens so I just sit and we listen together and news has never been scarier members of parliament were killed in Mogadishu,some guys were be-headed in Baidoa and closer to us a well-known peacemaker was shot dead in Beleth-Hawa :'-(

Talking of do no harm there is a conflict likely to come up in Beleth Hawa that is  revenge killings  people from the clan of the peacemaker will revenge by killing some guys from the clan of the people they suspect shot the elder.This is war gentlemen there are no rules!!!!!!!! (relevance of this statement to this story none but I have always wanted to say this) so clans are dividers(local capacities for war) and in Somalia amongst the first things people will ask you is what is your clan and I always say  Marehan and I wonder why they never believe me.

There is this mosque near our office and everyday in the morning the imam makes dua in Somali I always try to make out what he says,he mostly prays for rain(rob) and peace(nabad) and of late I always hear him mention shabab in his dua and I think to myself 'guy doesn't fear these people.There is a lot of respect for religious leaders and elders and they can therefore easily sort any conflicts hence they are  connectors(local capacities for peace)

Since now I'm more aware of connectors and dividers hopefully I do not get into any conflict or get into them knowing how to get out easily(the power of knowledge :-) )

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Taking stock :-) :-)

So the first 3 months of the year are gone(Alhamdullilah) soon we will be in June InshaAllah and it will be mid-year and soon after December.Lazy me has been unable to finish writing her resolutions for this year.I began in December set a timeline to be done by January 15 and still I'm unable to, not that I don't want to but every time I sit down to do it I think let go and live what harm will it do you..................... I guess its me silently hoping that Allah will surprise me by answering all my prayers without me having to write them down and looking at them every 3 months to see how I'm doing(yes I'm that/used to be that focused)

These three months have been an experience to say the least I have learnt to sleep with both my ears open,fought with the DC(this was a crazy thing to do) looking back I shouldn't have but I have learnt to pick the battles I want to fight and the ones I think are not worth it/too big for me which is a good thing.

I have grown in my appreciation of  listening more and talking less.There is so much you do not know and there are times that all the things that you have read on implementation guidelines cannot work so flexibility is key and asking/listening to people who have done it here( in this case Luuq) will always be helpful. Like now I know as one of my workmates put it silence is good if you are unsure about dates say of food distribution never ever gives dates based on anything be vague and say in the next two weeks this will save you a lot of agony lesson learnt the hard way if I had listened to peeps I work with I'll have not insisted so much on putting all the information out there as much as its a good thing sometimes it comes back to haunt you.

I spent some time in Mogadishu and now I know why its called Xamar  :-) (dream come true) I'll say this the town will surprise you in a really pleasant way it's really nice, has tarmac roads and even traffic,free internet at the airport, buildings with really nice rooftops that you could sit on the whole night,very nice people and for me very nice food.You'll not believe the large number of Kenyans living and working in Mogadishu.So maybe just maybe the GoK should go easy on this deportation of Somalis(just saying they might be doing more harm than good)

Hargeisa is another Nairobi(read city)  talk about having a KU,JKUAT and Takaful in Somaliland these people should watch out soon it will Tuskys/Nakumatt halafu Equity and then kwisha its a Kenyan town.Seriously though guys working in Hargeisa are having an easy time they go to the  field on tarmac roads!!!!!!how unfair is that? us guys have very bad non-existent roads such that each time we take different routes because there are no roads so anywhere can be a road provided there are no houses,we live in constant fear of the AS and there is the local authority made up of former warlords to deal with.These people are having the time of their lives(ok maybe not but definitely easier than us).With this said I think its only fair that we should never be compared in-terms of achievements simply put they are in some fancy high schools and us guys are in those schools where the only thing happening is the will of the student to pass with flying colors.

I have saved the best for sister got the most beautiful little girl.Thanks Allah for blessing my family with little Rilwan the joy(read very happy sleepless nights) she has brought in our lives cannot be explained and may she grow up to make all of us proud :-)

So after all with or without resolutions life goes on and so far this year has been beautiful Alhamdulillah, I became an aunty, travelled a lot(all the villages I visit count as travel right?) laughed a lot,cried a bit,met so many  new people,made new friends and watched 6 seasons of how I met your mother :-) so lets see how it goes from here InshaAllah but I have decided no resolutions just be happier, give my absolute best in everything I do,listen more,be kinder,pray more,be a better muslim and have a lot of fun while at it.....................clearly old habits are hard to shake off maybe I finally finished on my resolutions :-)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Somalia-three months on

Officially 3 months in Somalia yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.The amount of challenges I have faced can make for very good stories for many days.I always knew working in Somalia is complex but hearing about it and actually implementing here are two different stories.

I have grown in my Somali wisdom, courage(you need to have some level of courage to work in Luuq trust me) and most definitely understand this context better now.

Amongst many things these 3 months I have learnt silence is good in-terms of giving out project information to beneficiaries and everything else.So me and my beneficiary transparency and accountability did sensitization and told them all about their correct entitlements and now drama that I have to take care of.........................only Allah knows,the overall project boss is on my neck,the rains are coming,targets are so un-met and I have to answer why(A lot of prayers needed here)

I have the poorest negotiation skills on the planet(ok maybe not) just that I cannot read people's mind and can't actually tell when people are lying to me.I over think stuff and take forever to make decisions and sometimes I change my mind for the record if you are implementing in Somalia key lesson you need to learn is you'll need to make decisions quickly and never ever change you mind.

Nothing ever goes according to plan so forget about work-plans, strict timelines and just go with the flow.You'll make the best plans and one week into the work-plan issues arise like beneficiaries refused to work,the local authority doesn't want to see you,insecurity and such issues.

Gatekeepers are real and will stress your life if you do not agree to what they say.So trying to do things the right way with no influence from external parties has caused me more headaches,sleepless nights and worry like I have never seen in my life.The local authority has interests,powerful traders have interests,beneficiaries have trust issues and then there is me and my transparency/accountability which I have learnt as much as its key you have to learn how to do so that it does not cause more harm than good.

I have had my moments when I have considered calling it quits but I'm not that kind of person and there are all these people who are rooting for me to do an amazing job on this project so I'll face my challenges head on and pray that Allah makes this project a success and my days here easier :-)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Reflections at the airport

I'm on transit from Dollow to Hargeisa at the Mogadishu airport,the waiting time is a whole 4 hours.........................I'm too lazy/my mind just wants to wander and do random stuff rather than catch up with work or do anything that involves actual thinking plus I have learnt the value of living in the moment(with age comes wisdom) so somewhere in between facebooking and reading random stuff on the net I actually did some work related stuff(4 hours is pretty long) and spent time just thinking and looking at the other passengers(weird of me right?)

I see mothers who are travelling with their kids there was one that had five small kids, mothers are the official stars of each family getting tea and snacks for their kids(the airport in Mogadishu has a coffee place how cool is that :-) ) and trying to convince them that they do not need the sweets and the chewing gum that some lady was selling but finally buying them because the kids insisted.The kids joyfully chatting about very interesting stuff,checking out the planes and just having fun and recording stories they'll go tell their friends in very interesting ways I'm sure.Conclusion reached the joys of motherhood are immeasurable(I have always known this) what beats these small people who want your attention so much they keep on pulling on your clothes so that you look at them when they are talking to you.With this said I'm getting a really big family InshaAllah.

Home will always be should see the Somalis from the diaspora at the airport I could tell because some had these passports from other countries, others from their dress code and others well I could just tell from how unused to the heat they were like there was this dude whose shirt was soaked in sweat and it was a relatively cool day.Somalis are so patriotic each of these people spoke in Somali.

There are women soldiers in the AMISOM!!!!!! I saw women soldiers with the AMISOM uniform at the airport..............shock what!!!!!! I always knew there are women in the army but the fact that they sometimes go to very dangerous missions like this one I didn't know so maybe me living in Luuq isn't too bad.

Lastly seeing people waiting to pick their loved ones made me miss the days when my mum would come pick from the bus station when I travelled home now I'm too old I guess but she still cooks for me chapatis each time :-) so cherish all the little things because someday you'll realize they were the big things.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Somali-Dadaab connection

So its been roughly one and half months in Somali and I have learnt stuff like the local authority rule and the DC is king and lest I forget they are the ones who 'provide security without any payment'(the DC's words)...........I wonder what peace but still they rule and the local authority has individuals heading different departments and even one who is head of programs and as part of accountability to them we are suppose to provide them with monthly reports(seriously) their key interest is money and  more money but they'll most definitely get these reports and stamp them without even having a look I'm sure.

The planned repatriation of Somali refugees back to Somalia is ongoing and the transit place where the willing refugees will be brought as they wait to go back to their original homes is Luuq(yaaaaaaaaaaaaay lucky me on this account) hoping atleast more people will come and be based here to make the place bearable and maybe even fun.I understand negotiation meetings have been held with the community and a piece of land has been identified and even cleared in readiness of making the transit centre.

I decide to find out the general feel of the people about the returning of refugees from Dadaab and after my 'research' held in my non-existent Somali I have established/proved my hypothesis(yes hypothesis this was an oral research though) that 'the refugees living in Dadaab are not willing to return to Somalia'.

 Findings of this research  include:The people who live here have strong ties in Dadaab like the lady who cooks in the Dollow guest house has nine kids and all of them are in Hagadera getting an education and some old lady I spoke to who says you know my children are abroad..............they are in Kenya(Dadaab) studying :-) even Kenya can be abroad for those who ever doubted this. Recently we posted some job advertisements and you'll be shocked at how many Somali nationals applied who have studied in Dadaab and worked as incentive staff for agencies in Dadaab almost 95%.

My conclusion on this is based on the guys I spoke to they love Dadaab because of the services offered  there and especially because of the free education opportunities that see parents who live here send their kids to Dadaab to study and better their lives,also the access to good health care is a big pull factor to Dadaab.So will there be voluntary repatriation and will the piece of land that has been cleared in Luuq  to make space for the transit centre be used my oral research says not soon.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Of sleepless nights

So far(until a few days ago) it has been happy in Somalia no fear after all the village I live in is controlled by the Ethiopian forces and the brave guys as I have learnt the AS are called here are scared of them as the Ethiopians can do bad things to you this must be true because so many people have said this to me on different occasions and that if you are on the wrong and you try to bribe them they might even shoot you(Our armed forces should go to the same training school as these guys)

I have also learnt how to spot an AS..............characteristics include trouser length that is above the ankle,certain style of tying the imama (headgear for men-arafats) and always have a beard.If you are ever in the bush and you see someone like this run for it,the down side of this I always look at people to see the length of their trouser.

A while ago there was an explosion in town and people talk about it like its no big deal(me kinda scared and starting to wonder why did I come here), a few nights later as I sit and do my random things the guys come and tell me that you know tonight things are really bad and the AS are planning to attack the town at night and their first target is usually agency offices/guest houses.You'll never know how much fear these words can actually elicit unless they are being told to you and they are true.

So what do we do? There is no way we are sleeping here,they call their friends in town and a colleague is kind enough to let me sleep at her place.Since the place is really hot she asks if I want to sleep outside........seriously?? there is no way that is happening but I simply say no.

All the night I kept on thinking is this worth it,why didn't I ask more questions on accessibility and the security of the place before I came.Longest night ever.I was expecting to hear these war stories in the morning but no,apparently the Ethiopian forces kept them out yaaaaaaay.

I call the security focal point and relocate to Dollow for a week.Dollow feels like home I wish I could explain this but its a huge relief being there.I'm the kinda of person who can sleep at 7PM and in Dollow I can if I wanted because there is some sense of security and you don't feel the need to listen to hear if there is someone forcefully entering the gate in the middle of the night.

Slowly getting used to this and learning to differentiate between AS rumours and actual AS stories.Weird enough I listen out at night to hear if the neighbours are talking and their children crying/making noise if they are I know there is no fear but if everything is quite I start calling people to ask what is happening tonight and yes they attack at night only(I have to confirm if this is true or just another rumour)

Friday, January 10, 2014

First impressions-Somalia

The office closed on the 20th and everyone is on leave up to the 5th and I have to go to the field on 24 how unfair.The  'misfortune' of being new and therefore on probation you can't argue/negotiate.......... like please can I just stay and go on the 6th.Well substantial amount of work has been covered in the past few days so all is not so bad.

The Adan Abdulle airport in Mogadishu is really nice and by the sea :-) you will be surprised at how beautiful the sea is here. Its controlled by AMISOM and me being me, think all the AMISOM are KDF and  decide to say habari zenu blank stares???????(thinking to myself sometimes I speak too quickly so probably they haven't heard me)  then I inquire and find out that they are Ugandan but Museveni speaks Kiswahili how come they don't?

The travel to Luuq is somehow long because there is no direct way, you have to travel to Mogadishu then Baidoa then Dollow and finally Luuq.I reach Dollow at around 11.30 am and everyone else is picked expect me what to do I can't call anyone, so I ask for a ride from one of the cars there and I go to the office and the guys go like no one told us you are coming but no worries atleast I got the lift. The admin guy here is really nice and gets me a hormuud line and airtime as a way of saying sorry for not showing up to pick me :-).

Dollow looks like Takaba without the hills the houses are very colourful and they even accept KES in the town so maybe an extension of Mandera............There is an IDP camp on the outskirts of the town and as expected WFP has this huge tents to store food.The IDPs here do not live in tents but they have houses made out of iron sheets :-)

The travel from Dollow to Luuq is 3 hours and its the usual field travel bad dusty roads although now I'm pretty scared thinking the AS are somewhere on the road.

Luuq town is like some small island that is surrounded by the river Juba, its controlled by the Ethiopian forces and has only one entrance(this is what I'm told) at the bridge.There you'll have to get off for inspection by the soldiers manning the bridge.They inspect the car and conduct physical searches for men since they cannot conduct physical searches for women you have to like shake your clothes(like shaking water/dust out of them) its called Arguf :-D.Inside the town so many outside tea places and road side vendors which also includes money vendors who keep their cash in metal boxes..............So I exchange my upkeep in the field into Somali money and now I'm officially a Somali Millionaire(to put this in perspective a cup of tea is 30,000 so this Somali millionaire  has just enough money to cover a lot of tea :-) and Somalia(Rural Somalia) so far apart from the ocean is just another Mandera/Wajir.