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Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Burnt, divorced and forced to drink urine – refugees speak
No. Its not a movie scene, this is Ahmed Mohammed inside his room
By WRITTEN BY RACHEAL NINSIIMA - the ObseRver - It is like the world is a basketful of curses for Ahmed Mohammed, 30. Once a free man, Mohammed now lives like a slave.
Mohammed’s life is of many sorrows. When he fled from Somalia to escape the raging war, he found himself in Uganda in 2001. And although he has managed to find refuge, he has found himself in some kind of hell. That he has never had a decent wink of sleep in Uganda is one of the many worries compounding his heart. On the day I visited Mohammed at his home in Mengo-Kisenyi, a dirty-brown flimsy gate opened up to the dusty compound shared by many clustered houses.
Raho Warsame Ali, one of the inhabitants of this humble setting, walked me to the door of Mohammed’s room, knocked and walked away. The door creaked open and a dirty cracked cement floor peered into view. I wasn’t sure whether I was entering a happy home or a dungeon. A stuffy odour crept into my nose. The room was dead silent except for the intermittent sounds that were a result of Mohammed blowing his nose. Stains of original paint hinted at the room’s former beauty.
Cobwebs covered the corners of the doors and two tiny black spiders hung on them. For a moment I thought I was going to lose my nerve, turn and run. Black and dark green mould dotted the ceiling in clusters, evident of rain seeping through the roof. A toy dinosaur missing its head lay on the bed on which was laid a damp dark blue sheet. This is what Mohammed calls home. He and his wife first lived in a tiny boy’s quarter room in someone else’s yard where they were required to pay rent of up to Shs 60,000. And yet they got substandard services.
“My landlord even stopped us from using the toilet because he said we wasted water in flushing; so, we resorted to using the toilets in a nearby bar and at night we used plastic bags,” Mohammed says.
They were also ordered not to speak their mother tongue if they still wanted refuge and one day, the same cruel landlord told Mohammed’s wife to give their child urine to drink in order to save water. Nevertheless, they were bailed out by a benevolent neighbour who usually provided them with food and water until they left in 2003. Then they moved to Wandegeya where they met more disaster.
“I will never forget the day I returned home sick from work. I got myself into bed and asked our neighbours [who were Ugandans] to buy some Panadol from a nearby shop. I gave them Shs 1,000 for the medicine but they went and bought me poison. When I took those tablets, I immediately lost consciousness. That was when they threw paraffin on my body and burnt me,” Ahmed Mohammed says.
He does not know why they did such a gruesome act but he strongly believes it is a matter of racial hatred. His burnt body has since turned pink-black. In areas where the flesh is pink, small needle-like pools of blood emerge whenever he tries to bend and thereafter it quickly switches to dark purple. Parts of the skin around the elbow have scaled and torn off with time.
With youthful verve, the once dark-skinned Mohammed, who says he could by any standards attract any local village belle, is at pains as he narrates why the mother of his child divorced him.
“I lived to see her pack her belongings and leave with our son because I had become ugly and burdensome. It was the greatest blow; I even ceased thinking of my fountain of pain,” he sadly reminisces.
Today, he is at the mercy of fellow Somalis who help him pay rent and feed. Nevertheless, eating brings him lots of pain because it leaves sores in his mouth. He has, therefore, resorted to taking mainly water and one meal a day or none at all. Mohammed is fatigued beyond description. He can hardly carry himself around especially in a hot environment and therefore keeps indoors all the time.
“I do not know what to do and sometimes I tell God to take me away from this cruel world,” he says.
Robbed and left on hope’s hinges-Raho Warsame Ali’s story
Lying against a street wall, 25-year-old Warsame Ali chews his day away with leafy drugs as has been his way of living since he came to Uganda in 2008.He comes to this spot every morning by 9am and does not leave till it is dark. Although it is steaming hot, he is wearing a grey cardigan and his oil-soiled jeans and old ragged sandals reveal his destitute life.
Hopeless: Warsame has turned to drugs for solace
His is a story of neglect and poverty from the day he arrived in Uganda. His friend, Abdul Karim who narrates his tale, says both his parents were killed in the insurgency when Warsame was just 11 years old. Thereafter, inadequate food, disease plagued camps, droughts and xenophobic murders have turned his life into a ‘nomadic’ one.
“He came to Uganda with a few clothes and shoes which have all been stolen except for the single pair he uses. Because he has no one to take care of him, he has to live on drugs to blur his mind from life’s worries,” Karim says. This victim of depression cringes on hope that one day his life will get better although it is slowly getting lost in the rubble of distress.
Cidrit shows off his bullet-wounded side that crippled him for life
Muslim-turned-drunkard Cidrit Ahmed’s story
His tall frame rests in a wheelchair in front of Arafat shop in Kisenyi. He cannot move, cannot bathe himself and the best he does all day is to sit at this shop or preferably a bar and drink with some friends. Although taking alcohol is prohibited in Islam, Cidrit cannot help it because he imagines he is destroyed beyond repair. His father, Ahmed Swahalem, tries to bring comfort to his only son in vain.
Cidrit still remembers the terrific war in Somalia that left him helpless. He narrates this horrendous tale.
“The day I was shot in my ribs and deeply cut, the Al Shabaab rebels had attacked the small town of Kismayo where I lived. The noise was terrifying; bomb blasts and gun shots filled the air. That night as I lay in bed I had an awful feeling that something was wrong.
Suddenly there was a mighty roar and a huge blast as a bomb soared straight through the sky and landed directly into the neighbour’s house. The noise was unbearable. I ran out of the house with my dad because it wasn’t safe to live here anymore. As we left home and walked down the road, we heard a second blast and it was louder than the first one. As I turned around, to my horror, it was dad’s house that had been bombed. He fell to the ground and wept as I gathered the last of my courage to carry him and ran.
We ran into a nearby market and there I fell body flat into the hands of our tormentors. They spluttered a bullet through my left side and cut my flesh with sharp pangas. I almost died from overbleeding. I hid with my father in a nearby shop till I was well enough to escape to Kenya and finally Uganda. Here, we slept on the streets for about two years until a refugee committee camped us here in Kisenyi.
Since then, I have been living a life of desolateness in my wheelchair, suffering hunger and dependant on God’s mercies. As I look around Mengo-Kisenyi, the dwelling place for the neglected refugees, I am reduced to sorrow because many of the Somalis here are desperate, poverty-stricken and marginalised.