I love this poem. It illustrates the disenfranchised status of Somali women in the Diaspora. Powerful verses that sink to the depths of your being. The Somali woman here – all alone in a thankless marriage, struggling and in her eternal prison – is heading for madness. She’s often seen talking to herself, pushing a pram, trailed by several children, dishevelled and heavily medicated. A prisoner of her anguish, her failed dreams. It explains the increasing number of Somali women with mental health problems, the spike in dysfunctional families and the skyrocketing number of single mothers.

What it does not explain is why we choose to endure this nightmare? Why we choose martyrdom over freedom? Why we choose enslavement over love? I applaud the brave women who chose otherwise. The women who chose the well-being of their children over conformity. The brave ones who refused to settle for a boy as a man. Who refused to be chattels.

by Caasha Lul Mohamud Yusuf

These men let themselves down, bask in their guilt,
harm themselves then start griping;
they’ve let judgement and tradition go.

Gums busy with khat, like the poisonous Ganboor plant,
idling in grim flats strewn with litter,
gloating about unreal gallantry,
this man fails to know gifts bring responsibility –
he’s given up his wife and his family,
stopped being the one who gets food and necessities.

As a genuine mother she suffers agonies,
her family torn by the godless, split by social services,
unable to sleep, goaded by worries,
expecting no guidance, no partner by her side,
she feels so shattered and gripped by thoughts
and bad memories, she grieves until dawn
and raises her arms, prays for Allah’s goodwill.

After the school-run, a gruelling list of tasks –
grappling with his duties too, which he’s neglected.
She goes shopping, her cupboards gravely empty,
gets back in her car with just the essentials.

There is always gaping hunger; some days she can’t walk.
She struggles to find a pan or grill some food
and when late afternoon grimly darkens
she must gather her children home,
like the kudu or gazelle she roams alone.
She can’t stop some of her young ones going out –
she is a bustard, caught in grinding groaning rain,
always on guard while others rest,
numbly enduring until a new day glares.

Such gloom could lead me astray. Instead I’ll conclude:
struggling mother who gets no gratitude,
mother with no male guardians,
only Gracious God knows our fate.
He alone can judge this generation –
justice is whatever he wants, and whatever we get.

I cannot order these men gunned down as they deserve
or that their relatives gird them to an ant-infested tree.
I am resigned to wait for that glorious, final day.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Said Jama Hussein

The final translated version of the poem is by Clare Pollard

Accessed on http://www.poetrytranslation.org/poems/327/Recollection

She always appears to me in crowds. Sometimes I am deep in slumber when she pokes me awake. She’s a playful one. When that happens, I say a little prayer for her, tell her not yet, gently caress her smooth brown cheek and turn on my right side.

Pearl.

She’s on my mind. Lately, she is everywhere. I see her on buses, on trains and in offices. These are places we never frequented before. She’s not a figment of my imagination but an ancient past come to visit. She’s gentle yet unrelenting. Her posture erect, black curls perched on her petite shoulders. She hasn’t aged a day since I last saw her. Life goes on uninterrupted. Wincing, my shriveled hands sooth my left knee. Her laughter tinkled like a door bell. Distant memories flood back.

Pearl.

We met in 1990 at a refugee camp. Somalis had just arrived in ‘great’ numbers and taken to camps across the country. Our camp was mostly inhibited by men and so our arrival caused a commotion.

Pearl.

Life was a constant fashion show. We were all in our youth, in good shape, wore the latest fashion and partied like there was no tomorrow. People drank, smoked and entertained their fantasies. It was the height of hedonism, cultural revolution and sexual freedom. It was not uncommon to see unmarried couples dating or living together. We would eat, drink and socialize together endlessly. There was no moral policing, no fanaticism and certainly no cultural restrictions to respect. It is amazing what people are capable of when free of restrictions.

Pearl.

She lived on the second floor with a friend and was outgoing. You would hear her tinkling laughter before you’d see her. She was mild-mannered and cultured. Wherever she went, a mob of Somali men would appear, each vying for her attention. Women, even the ugly ones, had their fair share of the unwanted attention.

Pearl.

Then something happened and she drew into herself. She avoided the crowd, stuck to a few trusted friends and spent her time outside of the camp. She was more comfortable with others than with her kind. The Romanians, grappling with their own exclusion, took a liking to her and welcomed her into their fold. That did not go unnoticed.

Pearl.

Spring came and we moved to another camp. The situation diffused. The camp site was an empty hospital which was in a psychiatric compound. The air was heavy with unease and the fear of what was to come. Would we get to stay or leave? When living with madness, become mad, was the motto. Sanity, which was forcefully locked up in the nurse’s room, escaped and vanished into the night. Summer came and the mood in the camp soared. People stayed awake at night and slept in the day.

Pearl.

Cars driven by all manners of women drove in and out constantly. These were women who came to witness the myth about black men. Some of them would leave their children in the cars  for hours. Even the female patients got in on the game. They would sneak in at night and leave next morning with cornrows. As the women were getting serviced, their men would attack the camp at night, causing hysteria and fear in us. Every event teaches a lesson. I learned the benefits of keeping a frying pan under my hospital bed.

Pearl.

She watched all of this from a distance. Gave water to the kids trapped in the cars. Tended to the needs of the sick patients and cleaned the common rooms. She, along with us, avoided the TV room where men spent time watching porn. The guys later graduated to watching bestiality. The nurse, who had a huge dog, could not understand why she became a fixation.

Pearl.

She got her permit and moved to the city. Dated outside of her race and enjoyed her freedom. She was a skank, said the newly arrived wives of the men from our old camps. They called us, including her, whores because of how we dressed and the history we shared with their husbands. To avoid such occurrences, she moved to a secluded part of the city and vanished. A few years later, I got a call that she was getting married and traveled to her wedding. She looked stunning in her white wedding dress and showed off her baby bump. She was living with her husband and his family on a farm.

Pearl.

She is still beautiful. Her eyes beckon to me. They tell me that all is well. The scar on her chin is no longer there. She has no blemishes. Her heart was always in the right place. It was full yet clean. Her generosity knew no bounds. She’d collect her children’s clothes and ship them to the needy. We could count on her to follow through with her promises. She never harbored ill will and never spoke badly of others. Oppression and fanaticism were her pet peeves. She was a beautiful spirit.

Pearl.

One fine morning, she went to sleep and never woke. As her children wept over her cold body, others refused to have her buried. These religious hypocrites raised doubts about her believes. They neither saw her fast nor pray, they claimed. They not only questioned her believes they also questioned her morality. Their wives, the hyenas, were even more vicious and judgmental in lynching her.

Pearl.

I followed this discussion from afar with great interest. Separated in life and death by two continents. Would I also be in the same predicament? Who gave these people the right to question others believes? To make such hurtful remarks and soulless decisions?

Pearl.

I people questioning her morality were the porn watchers from our old camps. The same ones who entertained strange women while their children suffocated in the heated cars. A battle ensued and the righteous ones won. She was finally laid to rest by her friends and family.

Pearl.

She smiles, flips her curls back and hums. She always liked to hum. The train slowly pulls into ………. It is her destination. I know she’ll be here the next time I roll through.

Pearl.

Her name was Pearl.

“Women’s fate is bound up with that of an exploited male. However, this solidarity must not blind us in looking at the specific situation faced by womenfolk in our society. It is true that the woman worker and simple man are exploited economically, but the worker wife is also condemned further to silence by her worker husband. This is the same method used by men to dominate other men! The idea was crafted that certain men, by virtue of their family origin and birth, or by ‘divine rights’, were superior to others.”

“Her status overturned by private property, banished from her very self, relegated to the role of child raiser and servant, written out of history by philosophy (Aristotle, Pythagoras, and others) and the most entrenched religions, stripped of all worth by mythology, woman shared the lot of a slave, who in slave society was nothing more than a beast of burden with a human face.”

“Inequality can be done away with only by establishing a new society, where men and women will enjoy equal rights, resulting from an upheaval in the means of production and in all social relations. Thus, the status of women will improve only with the elimination of the system that exploits them….”

– Thomas Sankara Speaks