This past April, while I was working in Kenya on a book project, my husband and I were looking forward to a vacation in the Lamu archipelago. The sudden death of his father sent me back to New York early, shattering our plans.
“Unspoiled” and “idyllic” were the words we heard used to describe the islands, which include the oldest Swahili settlement in East Africa. Since, they’ve been hit by the violence that has long plagued neighboring Somalia; the U.S. and the UK have issued strident travel warnings.
Just this morning I read about a tragic boat collision in the area and remembered all that was lost last year. Next month I’ll return to Kenya, to finish the project; we won’t retrace our steps. Someday, I hope we will. As 2012 finally comes into focus, I wish for peace.
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.