Witness: Nairobi, Kenya

I am in bed today, in Nairobi, with BBC on the television and Dr. Hawa Abdi, a 65-year-old Somali ob-gyn and humanitarian, on the cell phone in the next bedroom. I have been living in this apartment for more than three weeks now, with a goal of getting the last of the material I need to write Dr. Abdi’s memoir. It has been rough going, but over time I have learned that any sort of progress in the face of so much chaos—personal, political—is a victory.

Last night I came home from an evening out with a group of expats, discussing their contracts with UNICEF or their jobs at the World Bank. We sat in a beautiful garden, and I drank a beer, soaking in their faces and their words. Some asked me about our book. It is tricky to explain, this living and writing someone else’s life, but the more I discuss my project, the more real it seems. How flattering, to speak with these people who have been on the ground in Somalia, and to feel as if I’m understood. I ate delicious samosas, played with their children, and said goodnight.

Back in the compound, I met Amina, Dr. Abdi’s youngest daughter, at the foot of the stairs. She was on her way home from work at her women’s health clinic in the Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh. I greeted her, still glowing from my day off, showing off the chocolates I brought back as a treat for her four-year-old son. As we walked up the four flights of stairs together, Amina told me in an even tone that the kangaroo court of the fundamentalist militia Al-Shabaab, which recently merged with Al Qaeda, had that afternoon ruled that they would take a portion of Dr. Abdi’s land, which she’s owned since 1978. “Mama Hawa is going crazy!” said Amina, a serene smile on her face showing either disbelief or a polite gesture on my behalf.  Continue reading “Witness: Nairobi, Kenya”