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”

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In Newsweek: Under Siege in Somalia

In this week’s Newsweek magazine is a piece that I co-wrote with Somali obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Hawa Abdi, who is pictured below. It’s adapted from the forthcoming Human Rights Watch anthology The Unfinished Revolution: Voices From the Frontline in the Global Fight for Women’s Rights (Seven Stories Press, March 2012), which focuses on the impact that women’s leadership has on one of the world’s most devastated conflict zones.

Somalia is now facing the worst drought and famine it’s seen in a generation. But man is most to blame for the bloody conflict that has laid waste to the country for the past 20-plus years: Tribalism and fundamentalism destroyed Dr. Abdi’s hospital during a May 2010 invasion by an Islamist militant group and is now robbing more than 2 million starving Somali people of the lifesaving aid they need.

Amazingly, Dr. Abdi and her daughters, both doctors, are able to work inside this war zone. Although they are cut off from the resources of the United Nations and the Red Cross, which are now beginning to reach southern Somalia, they have established their own feeding centers, serving close to 12,000 people a day. The phenomenal NGO Vital Voices is raising money for their essential work. Support them here.