“What the Hell Is Happening in Somalia?” – Part 3

Once upon a time there was a boy named Ghedi. Ghedi has a little brother named Korfa. Ghedi and Korfa are best friends. They live in Mogadishu, in apartment #214, between the Suuqa Bakaaraha and the high school, just across from the Catholic school.

Korfa likes to watch Sesame Street with Ghedi. Their mom and dad teach them that it’s important to learn English. Ghedi is 13, and Sesame Street is easy for him. Korfa is 5. Ghedi helps him with the hard words.

After Sesame Street, Ghedi usually goes down to the quad to hang out with his friends, but today is different. When mom gets home from the store she looks worried. She tells Ghedi and Korfa that there is no food at the store.

Ghedi asks if they can go get food at a different store, but mom says no. All the food is gone. Dad comes home too. Mom and dad say that it’s time to go. There is no food for anyone in the city anymore.

Mom and dad go next door to the Mursals. The Mursals are an older couple. Mom and dad and the Mursals gather what food they have, and some blankets. They carry it downstairs to the truck. Ghedi and Korfa wait in the bed of the truck. Ghedi keeps and eye on the stuff and on Korfa.

Once everything is ready, dad helps the Mursals climb up into the bed of the truck by the kids. He and mom get in the cab and start driving.

They drive down a few blocks until they get on the main highway, Jidka Warshaddaha, to go north to the town of Afgooye. Usually it’s a 45 minute trip, but today the streets are packed with traffic — other trucks and cars, as well as donkey carts, and pedestrians.


Two days later, Ghedi is walking alongside mom and dad. They take turns carrying Korfa. There was no food in Afgooye, and insurgents took their truck.

“‘I thought that making the dangerous trip to Yemen by sea would be better than staying in Afgooye, where gangs plunder and rape. I thought that if I escaped being eaten by sharks, I would certainly have a secure life in Yemen or Saudi Arabia,’ Siidow told UNHCR.” (Source: UNHCR / B. Bannon / February 2007,  http://www.flickr.com/photos/unhcr/4130668422/ )

The Mursals are doing their best to keep up, but they’re not young anymore, and the walking takes its toll on them.

They’ve come 40 miles in those two days. They could be making better time, but it’s tough with a five year old. Everyone is going to Dadaab, across the border in Kenya. There’s food in Dadaab, and safety. That leaves 395 miles to go. About three weeks of walking.


Day 3: 379 miles left to go.

Day 4: 363 miles left to go.

Day 5: Mr. Mursal injures his leg and requires assistance to walk, slowing things down considerably. 358 miles left to go.

Day 6: 350 miles left to go.

It reads like a game Oregon Trail, except there’s no buffalo to hunt. As I’m writing this, I find myself trying to decide whether they are going to break an axle or catch cholera.

At this point you may be wondering, “If there’s no food to eat, how do people manage the 400 mile trip? Wouldn’t they all die of exposure and starvation? No one can go three weeks without food or water.”

Credit: Jo Harrison/Oxfam

Credit: Jo Harrison/Oxfam (License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Yeah, I’ve really got no idea. There must be food available through some channels, but I haven’t been able to find out any details about how the journey actually happens.

So what happens to Ghedi and his family? Do they all reach Dadaab? Or maybe just a few of them? Do the Mursals join Al-Shabaab to become geriatric terrorists? Or do they all just starve and die on the road? I wish I could say. I feel dishonest no matter how I take it. The best answer I’ve found is here. It’s a short clip that gives a little vision into the real people who are enduring this trial. I appreciate it because it doesn’t appear engineered to manipulate your emotions — in other words, it’s not a montage of starving children images. It’s people, intelligent, thoughtful, resourceful, whole human beings.

And, as always, I encourage you to help. UNICEF’s United States Fund is actively engaged in famine relief for Somalia and other stricken nations in the Horn of Africa, and it gets high marks for efficient use of funds. You can donate here on their site: https://secure.unicefusa.org/site/Donation2?df_id=3821&3821.donation=form1 .

18 comments for ““What the Hell Is Happening in Somalia?” – Part 3

  1. I’m not sure I agree that the video’s not engineered to manipulate one’s emotions – mostly because I’m not sure what exactly that could mean (which is not to say that there are not more and less appropriate or pernicious ways of conveying the message). The reality is, if one’s emotions are not wrenched no matter what sort of presentation one gets of this horrific scenario, then there’s clearly a significant problem.

    It’s very difficult to sit in my very nice, air conditioned office, sipping juice after a nice meal. Clearly one of the great dreadful questions of our time is how to flourish in our luxury without damning ourselves or abandoning our brothers and sisters. To be honest, I’m far less concerned with Moroni’s scenario of having to squirm in front of a just God on account of my unrighteousness, than I am about the possibility of my one day squirming in front of my family who suffered needlessly because I looked the other way.

    Thank you Dane, for standing in solidarity with Ghedi and Korfa, and for encouraging us to do the same.

  2. that video is DEFINITELY engineered to appeal to your emotions, and there ARE starving children on that video. In a situation such as they’re facing right now in Somalia, you HAVE to appeal in some way for aid. Sad thing is that private charities will never match the ability of a nation as a whole coming together through a national policy to aid another country. What saved Europe after World War II’s devastation was not private charity, but the Marshall Plan, the mobilization of all resources possible under the direction of a government entity which could better organize relief to the right corners, as opposed to the haphazardness of disparate private charities. To save Somalia, we have to ask ourselves as a nation if it is worth a few million, or maybe even $100 million dollars. We have to ask ourselves, is that a price worth paying? After all, we were willing enough to mobilize the efforts of the entire nation to spend over $1 trillion so far in Iraq. Clearly we’ve got the money. Clearly we have the capability.

  3. Good point. Rather than saying that the video isn’t engineered to manipulate the emotions, I should have said that it’s trying to manipulate your emotions with more depth than the typical “starving children montage” display.

  4. “geriatric terrorists” – LOL (in that tragi-comic way that disasters like this lead to).

    What is particularly disturbing is that this time around (I remember hearing about the drought in the horn of Africa during the 1980s) so few are paying attention. The need is real and more significant than our petty worries about how much debt is too much and how much we are spending on Social Security.

  5. How much would it cost us to fill one ship full of food and send it over, let everyone in Mogadishu jump on, and eat their fill while we sail it down the coast to somewhere safer?

    I know the protection of such a ship would be a nightmare for a private group of people, but if they put the ship together, couldn’t we get the gov’t to offer the protection?

  6. Jax, that’s the greatest image ever! I love the picture of “salvation as a ship”, sailing into port to pick up the worthy poor and carry them to refuge. Now that I think about it, it kind of sounds like the end of Lord of the Rings…oh, and the New Testament :)

  7. I’m glad it’s a good image… does anyone here have any contacts to make something like that happen? I’ll be involved to make it happen, but I have no resources…. Anyone able to move it forward?

  8. Where would you send the ship? Would the recipient nation accept the ship? Would you accept a ship full of destitute refugees in your neighborhood? Would your neighbors? What if it were rumored that organized terrorists and hangers-on were a significant portion of those on the ship?

    On a more serious note, how do we preach the gospel to these good people? Would it help if we did?

  9. Incidentally, I believe it would help. And even more if we could, as a religious group and not through government, institute welfare farms and other communal self-help efforts.

  10. Or, perhaps even better, do so as a religiously motivated group. That way we would not have to wait for a central directive.

  11. Well, they are all walking to Kenya and being accepted…we could send it there, which I would think they’d accept if some of the aid was also given to them as well.

    On a more serious note, how do we preach the gospel to these good people? Would it help if we did?

    You’re really going to listen reasons feeding them can’t be done but still try to open a dialogue on why it would be possible to proselytize to them? Maybe keeping them alive would be a good first step, ya think?

    I’m sure welfare farms will work fantastic… except that the famine is caused by the drought. So unless you can figure out how to make farms work against nature just because they are “welfare farms”, perhaps you should come up with another idea.

  12. Fair points, all. After I posted, I immediately thought my words were too caustic. My thoughts are not fully formed. Although I hear about warlords, terrorists, and famine, I do not know enough about the area to know what sort of local-based solutions would be practical. I worry, though, that too many solutions are dependent on continuously bringing in outside resources. The problems will not be solved unless the individuals who live in the area make themselves the raw materials out of which a solution is formed.

  13. I don’t know if nature will allow for “the raw materials” to be used. The area has become almost uninhabitable. If it weren’t for reasources brought in then almost the entire region would be void of human life – they’d all be forced to leave or die. I don’t think they are trying to escape by walking hundreds of miles with almost no supplies through a desert because they aren’t willing come up with solutions. It’s because it is about the only solution. The only reason southern California survives at all is because of the massive canals/pipelines that bring in water from surrounding areas/states – they don’t have a “local-based solution” – Well Somalia has no such infrastructure and so if it doesn’t rain then the crops die, as well as the animals, and if they don’t leave then so will the people. Texas is having major drought issues, that aren’t solved locally, we ship in truck loads of water and food (just part of our regular economy) and the people still survive. But infrastructure again, as well as lack of 18-wheelers and food surpluses in neighboring states, can’t be used.

    When a big country like the US has these issues (which we do), we just shift resources from one part of the country to another, its never a locally solved problem (did New Orleans handle that flooding alone?). But in Africa there aren’t those resources to spare, nor the infrastructure, and in many cases there are other major obstacles like war.

  14. Jax, I suspect you are extrapolating and exaggerating from limited information. There are farms in Somalia, and have been for many years. Some portion of the population can live on local resources, and I suspect that more efficient farming could feed most, if not all, the population WHEN THERE IS NOT A DROUGHT. Let’s not suggest that those who live in Somalia are silly to do so.

    It may be that Somalia will always need help every 20 years or so when they have a drought. I am NOT an expert on this region, but I think it goes way too far to suggest that “If it weren’t for reasources brought in then almost the entire region would be void of human life.”

    To me the real tragedy here is that local politics is interfering so strongly in relief efforts. In the long term Ugly Mahana’s emphasis on local solutions is probably the best way of addressing the problems. But local armed political groups are impeding any attempt to fix the problem.

    I’m afraid that any solution will have to recognize the reality of these interfering groups.

  15. Kent,

    My scope was the short term, not the long one. So while farms can support people locally when there is not drought, for these periods when there is drought it is vital that outside resources are used. My points were meant to refer to the immediate future – short term – for those times every 20 years or so when drought does ravage them.

  16. If every ward in the US and western Europe took in one willing Somalian family, that would likely fix the problem. That’s assuming we could get the governments to issue visas, etc. Surely there are humanitarian visas available. Would that solution work? It has the advantage of truly helping the families involved. The disadvantage of not really making things better in the region in question, other than to take some of the food pressure off for those who stay behind. There would be lots of needs to be met for the families who participated, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, language training, education, and acculturation. But a whole ward working together could handle those things for one family, couldn’t it?

    I’d be willing to work on figuring out logistics, writing up a plan, and appealing for volunteers if there is any support for the idea.

    In the meantime I’m doing the Friday Fast to Feed the Hungry on facebook, and hoping that will catch on, as well as sending my money monthly to Unicef, Catholic Relief Services, and Doctors Without Borders who are doing good work in the region.

    Does anyone know if the church humanitarian fund is getting involved? I haven’t seen anything on the site to let me know.

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