Thursday, April 3, 2008

KALSUUMO’S SHACK

The walls of the tiny four-by-six meters wide Kalsuumo’s shack are packed out with scrapes of old newspapers to cover the foliage and wooden bits and pieces it is made of. From the surreal frieze that beautifully whittled out of the mosaic of papers stitched up to one another; Arabic, English, Chinese, Somali and several other languages can still be spotted effortlessly.

Immaculately dressed bollywood, middle-eastern and Western stars and tycoons gaze from the glamorous pictures on the old and not-so-old papers on all sides of the walls. Heaps of grain-sacks that dangle down from the top formed a well-decorated ceiling. The inscriptions on the sacks are covered with dust but are still visible: ‘A gift from the people of the United States of America’ it reads.

On the whole, the interior of the shack offered a view of a colourful billboard strewed with details of the latest movies, hot gossips in town, and news and arts of yesteryears and the contemporary.

Dr. Deeq is like a son to Kalsuumo. He seldom misses out of the afternoon qat-chewing routines; unless he is sick or he has got some ‘big’ money. In the latter case, he vanishes for weeks, only to re-appear after few days with mountains of lame-excuses. And, miyaad ogtihiin waxa igu dhacay whines.

He, like all the other clientele, calls the old women aunt Kalsuumo to show gratitude for the kindness she accords to all of them; when fate refuses to oblige and their day goes tough. She lends them money from her meager income.

‘Kalsuumo, please give us five cups of tea.’ Deeq said
‘You will have to wait for few minutes. It is boiling’ she replied.
‘Your tea is always boiling. Look, all the plates people ate from are still littered around. If I were you husband, I would have divorced you in a day’. It was Ina Koreeye who cut in with rough tone, feigning anger. Kalsumo’s sells food at lunch time. Sometimes, the ‘chewers’ come early and inconvenience her.

Ina Koreeye, is an escapee form the ‘devils island’. That is what they say. He shows no mercy to anybody. In fact, he overly practices his native prejudices on this quiescent women, for the fleeting approval of his likes in the room; who would giggle at his vulgar remarks. Kalsumo made a habit of ignoring him.

Kalsuumo knows Dr. Deek behaves himself well in her place, and don’t approve of the mean language and bad-mouthing some customers hurl at him.

The other day, Ina Koreeye was adamant that Dr.Deek is not superior to him in medicine.
‘You don’t have to tell me what to use for my stomach-ache.’ He snapped at him, when Deek suggested he should try some antibiotics.
‘You know nothing.’ he said.

Ina Koreeye is the famous dilaal (broker) in the livestock market few meters away from the Kalsuumo’s teashop.
‘You! You respect no one. So, you don’t deserve to be talked to.’ Deekq said blithely.

Of course, Deek is not a trained medical doctor. He has started his ‘town’ life when he returned to Somalia, after the 1977 Ethio-Somali war. He was a brave fighter in Duufaan unit - of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF). Later, he was promoted to taar-wade (radio-man).

Kalsuumo knows a lot of things. What story had she not heard! When they come to her place, with their Qat and order tea; they tell her all their problems. And as if she is a psychiatrist or a psychologist, she has the patience of Prophet Ayuub; to listen and listen to their tales.

Kalsumo presents the biggest the challenge to Deeq’s expertise. Unintentionally. She always complains to him about her health problems.
‘Deeqoow’, she said, ‘I am very sick today.’
‘What happened? Which part?’
‘It is all my body. No part is spared.’
‘You could have caught cold. Or it could be malaria’.
‘I don’t think. I know what hit me. ‘
‘What is that? You fell down?’
‘No. qumaydaii aanu jaarka aheyn baa I gashay’, she revealed. It was uncharacteristic of her to extend discussion beyond yes or no replies. Maybe, it is the illness.

Now, therein is where Deeq differs from the conventional medical practitioners. He doesn’t stick to the ‘dogma’ of those who are versed with medicine. He understands, not all things are explicable scientifically.
‘Taxaliil dhigo.’ He prescribed.

Yes, he is not a conventional doctor. And, he doesn’t like to talk about how he got himself into this profession.

He only says, ‘since when Somalia collapsed, and I returned to my home town; I have done my ‘best’ to cater to the needs of the sick in my community’.

He got ‘robust’ knowledge from his friend-a Nurse with whom he was a business associate. The nurse would send him to Somalia with a list of drugs to purchase, and Deek would get a commission for taking the arduous journey back and forth across the border. Overtime, he learned what is administered for Malaria, Diarrhrea, Headache, and how to inject with needles.

That is why he is employed by the regional Health Bureau as a nurse. And although he doesn’t insist, he doesn’t discourage either; when ‘grateful’ patients from the rural areas call him ‘Dhakhtar’ Deeq. His handsome looks and white attire he wears all the time, gives him a scholarly allure and cement his claims. He is likeable, funny and engaging. So much that, even those who know he is not a doctor, don’t mind when others call him so.

Her customers’ think Kalsumo suffers from depression. They don’t see her getting excited, or happy. She is silent and is usually detached from what is going on around her. Nonetheless, all of them appreciate her good manners. It is only Ina Koreeye who insists her serenity is not innocence but cynicism. Balaayey la aamusan tahay, he says.

Kalsumo lost her only daughter in South Africa. She was murdered by thugs. And she is not usually enticed to have fun.

But, the day she heard what Deek did in Saylo town, she couldn’t help but burst in wild uproar. He was there with a group of Islamic preaches (tabliiq), they told her.
When the elder of the host village uttered the words ‘welcome to Saylo’; Deek rushed forward with excitement. He loves music.

‘Is this Saylo? Are you sure this is Saylo?’ he asked twice with incredulity.
Before anyone gave him a reply, he abruptly sung.
Sayloo guyaal badan ‘
Soo baxaa kaliishii
Seel seela loo dagay
Sannad geelu wada dhalay
…’

Ma tii loo qaadaybaa? He asked.

The rest of Jamaaca looked at one another in bewilderment. He quickly cut off the song, but friends tease him with that blooper, thenceforth.

Mecaad’s long story interrupted the harsh exchanges between Deeq and Ina Koreeye. He was a stranger to this ‘majlis-miskiin’. He came from America, three weeks ago.
‘I came from America to satisfy my fleshy temptations. I came for a piece of tumasho and Beer. I like to do it the cheap way with Axmaaro girls. I have big battle with my elder bothers who reject my drinking habits and lusty life-style.’ He started.

Looking at the long faces of few who were taken aback by his audacity to narrate such filth, he introduced himself.
‘Excuse me. I am Meecad. I am fifty three years old. I am telling you about this bad thing, because I am stunned by what is going on here in Jigjiga.’

Ina Koreeye was the first to mount the onslaught.
‘Go elsewhere and tell your dirty things to whoever is interested’. He told him. He was visibly angry.
‘Look at your age, and what spews out of your stinking mouth. Instead of spending your last few years in tranquility, praying for God’s forgiveness; you brag about your sinful exploits’.

Others, mainly Muxyaddin who is the most polished and by far most ‘educated’ among the group; wanted the man to get to the moral of his story.
‘Waryaa, Ina Koreeye; leave the man alone. Let him finish what he begun. You know how deafening your monotonous sheekada ceelasha is. And yet, we give you time to speak.’

Muxyaddin is crafty when hammering this loquacious man. He always taunts him with references to Ina Koreeye’s rural background.

So, Mecaad was cleared to continue.
* * * * * *
‘I was picked up by policemen from the airport as soon as I arrived; and was put behind bars. I didn’t know why? On my second day in custody, I needed Beer. I am addicted and could not hold back for any longer.’

He paused to puff off the smoke from the cigarette he was ‘guzzling’ in.
‘I called the young policeman, who was looking down from the guards-post with intense vigilance. I gave him a bottle and asked him to bring beer from the bars. In exchange, I promised him five dollars.’

It was what Meecaad says the policeman told him, that made everybody gasp with shock.
‘The policeman looked at me, his mouth wide-open with disbelief; and asked me if I know what charges I am facing.’ Meecad squinted his eyes and got silent for few seconds.
‘I said no. the policeman, then, told me that I am suspected of being Al-Itixaad ’.
‘Al-Itixaad! You?’, the men around shouted.
‘I have thought my life will end one day when a drunken prostitute cracks my cranium open with a sharp-edged bottle’, Meecaad seemed genuinely surprised.
‘But, never imagined I will be incarcerated for being a religious fanatic’.

Some didn’t get the story at all; others were hilarious. But none wanted to listen anymore, as Duwane suddenly came into the room.

Duwane was furious.
‘Why did none of you attend my wedding last night?’ he asked.
‘Who did you tell to? We know your wife was laboring for the last three nights? That is what you told us before yesterday?’ Muxiyaddin was calm.’ By the way, has she delivered yet?
‘And, so you didn’t hear I married another wife last night?’ Duwane queried and then said; ‘The first wife got a baby girl. But she is in a bad shape. She needed a surgical operation.’

Kalsuumo overheard the discussion. It made her queasy.
‘Oo ma iyadoo mid foolanayso, yaad midkale aroostay?’ she was not indignant. She has heard similar or even more chilling stories about the marriage of families in the neighborhoods before.
‘Give us tea. And as to your question, I am allowed four wives’.
‘I would have killed you, if I were the unfortunate first wife!’ remarked Kalsuumo. It was one of the two or three comments she throws around the whole day.
‘I love the thrill of the chase and drama of a triangular or rectangular love-affair. As long as it doesn’t end up in a crime of passion, as you seem to suggest, eeddo!’ he joked.

Kalsuumo lunged forward to the old flask on the metal-box that she serves her as a safe to keep her money in. She had no time for a debate she knew she wouldn’t win.

She didn’t hear what he was telling the other clients.
‘I will buy her gold when she recovers’, he said with pride, as if that will expiate him from the appalling neglect of his responsibilities. He thinks he is a believer in the utilitarian concept of matrimony. But no one knows if he pays attention to how make it functional. And attractive as well.

Duwane has just been selected as a senior cadre of the Somali peoples’ Democratic Party. And whenever he comes to pay a visit to his old friends, he comes with a bit of politicking.
‘Politics is poison. It needs guile.’ He starts with.
And concludes, ‘it is not a beauty contest but a beastly business. Only men like me, who can tread where the angels fear to tread, can swim through its murky waters.’

Minutes later, he broke the breaking news of the day.
‘Our party today decided to honuor the contribution of women to the society by observing a one-minute silence in commemoration of the oppressions they had undergone’ he told them.

Muxyaddin pretends to be too-sophisticated and all-knowing; thanks to his modest schooling in Somalia where he completed intermediate school. But, He is not someone who likes to pass baloney with a shrug of the shoulders.
‘Duwane, I think your rhetoric about ‘honouring’ women contradicts your deeds. I think the best example of honouring women is not set by abandoning your wife on a delivery-table; and flirting with another one.’ He said, contemptuously.
‘Do you know who I married?‘, Duwane was agitated.
‘She is the nephew of the head of Finance Bureau. If you are a smart politician, you take tough decisions. Remember, audacity is an asset.’

the last few days, Kalsuumo couldn’t understand why most of her age-old clients stopped coming to her place. What has she done to alienate all of them? As far as she knows, she was good to them. She gave them tea, and food-whenever they asked for. Both, when they paid or when they promised to pay. She has written-off the debts of many; although she herself earns less than five dollars a day.

So she asked Dr. Deeq who never disappeared.
‘Ina koreeye has gone to Nazreth for training. He is recruited by Duwane as a party member.’ He told her, smiling smugly.
‘Do you remember Meecaad? The old man with the curly hair. He is sick. They say he is admitted to the TB ward of the hospital.’
‘What happened to the poor man?’ Kalsumo asked.
‘I saw a relative of him. He says, the doctors say he might not survive. He is not responding to the drugs.’
‘Ilaahay ha u sahlo.’ She prayed for the man she doesn’t know.
‘Ilaahay ha u sahlo, but he was a bit of waayeelka jaqafsada.’ Dr. Deeq said.

Kalsumo didn’t get what Deeq was driving at. Even if, she was told Meecaad was HIV positive, she wouldn’t have understood.

Deeq told her that Muxyaddin is arrested on charges of ‘spreading subversive lies on the internet’. Muxyaddin has the habit of exaggerating his skills. And one day, he bragged about how he is an expert on matters pertaining to computers.

In deed, he was only capable of writing and reading e-mails, and browsing websites. He could not have posted the pictures in the blog he is accused of running.

A week before he stopped showing up; as Muxyaddin walked was strode from the nearby market to her hovel, in the midst of a gentle drizzle that was falling, she heard one man in her teashop, pointing fingers at him.
‘You see that man coming. The one with the hat. Waa dadka internet yadda wax galgaliya.’
‘What is that he puts in?’ she asked him, not knowing where he is alleged to have put things to.
‘I don’t know. But I know the man is our enemy. Reekanaga lama tussi karo.’ The man said.
‘Most Somali’s are tied with shackles of narrow-tribalism; and fight over trifling matters’, a Whiteman who once visited her teashop commented to her.
‘Gaalkii baa idin sheegay, what you are made from’, she says since then when she gets fed up of the fiery soundbites.

Muxyaddin recalls the analogy Mr. Hugh Scofield, the British veterinarian who lived with this community for three years, drew when he spoke about the conflict among Somali’s. It was the conflict between the fictional tribes in Jonathan Swift’s widely known book Gulliver’s Travels. The conflict between Lilliputians who preferred cracking open their soft-boiled eggs from the little end, and Blefuscans who preferred the big end.

Three months after the day Duwane’s marriage was announced to her; she heard him over the radio. Over Idaacadda Afka-Somaliga ee Radio Addis Ababa.
‘We have to use our knowledge, skills and experiences to develop our people.’ He was saying. She couldn’t agree more.

If Muxyaddin was listening, he would have said, ‘War Ina Koreeye, are you not going for the Presidency?’ That is, if Duwane was by his side. ‘Unless, he is so daft, he would get the hint’, Muxyaddin would have thought.

Kalsuumo wasn’t expecting Duwane to transform her life. Instead, she was thinking about whether he will have the time to remember and to come back to pay the fifteen dollars he owes her.

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