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Conversation with my Father

Towfik Ahmed Elmi
Saturday October 28, 2017


My father, Axmed Cilmi, shared with me a story that had enduring impact on my personal views about the motherland. He was only at the age of 16 when he decided to leave the plateaus of Xadeed, the countryside of Erigavo City. His parents passed away in his formative years; he was therefore raised by his much older and resilient sister, Hawo, who still lives in Erigavo.  

My father’s fateful decision to venture out of his nomadic upbringing was like the path taken by his late, older brother, Cabdicasiis (AUN), who joined the armed forces and would rise to the rank of a Colonel. Highly competitive for even the most privileged and well-connected, my father with no formal education managed to enlist in the police academy in Erigavo at the age of 17. 

Upon completing a rigorous training program in the police academy, he was transferred to a remote post in Qandala, a small fishing town. My father had his first test of fish, hevividly recalls. Despite its abundance in the Somali peninsula, consumption of fish is of limited valueto the pastoral Somali except in urban centers.

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After a few months in Qandala, he was transferred to a post in the capital, Mogadishu. He fell seriously ill one day and was admitted to Medina’s Hospital. He recalls the uncompensated high-level of care and treatment he received as an inpatient. Medina Hospital run under a free healthcare system that the civilian government had established for members of the police force and their families; its standard of care and services was the equivalence of the VA system in the U.S.  At the time my father was still young and unmarried. He had no known relatives in the city; he usedthe police quarters as his temporary place of residence. He managed to survive and build ties. 

One of my father’s guiding principles is self-discipline. He prefers consistency and punctuality to accomplish his goals. This is because of his nomadic upbringing and as law enforcement veteran; he is tall, rail-thin with firm handshake. His actions and manner of speech embody deep roots in conservative values. His sense of charity and high-level of inner serenity parallel that of the Sufis—the mystical branch of Islam. The Sufis are a tight-knit community of preachers and critical learners who lead a simple life defined by total emancipation from temporal attachment; and they can have an energetic zest for championing good causes.    

My father holds the belief that respect for authority and the rule of law cascade into collective respect for human rights, including care and dignity of the vulnerable sections of any society. He believes Somali people’s historical experience in dealing with competing centers of imperial powers have worked against their cohesiveness as a nation and created in its stead a fragmented nation under the mercy of foreign rule with authoritarian systems. 

Mogadishu, the pearl of the Indian Ocean as it was then known, became his new home andthe place he would reunite with his late, older brother Abdirahman (AUN), having last seen or heard of him in his formative years. Abdirahman was a seaman and shrewd businessman. He was also a great linguist who could speak 6 to 7 languages with flair. Uncle Abdirahman had returned to Somalia for a lucrative business deal with an Arab trader, who will leave an indelible mark reminiscent of the story so vividly portrayed in theMerchant of Venice.

Neither my father nor my uncle had ever imagined that their paths would cross in the seaside capital, as they had known very little of each other’s personal struggles and triumphs. Back then, it was common for a Somali to emigrate and while exploring uncharted waters in search of opportunitiesvanish for decades, not wanting to return home without having succeeded or achieved anything. Despite losing his fortunes to a dishonest Arab trader, my uncle would later bond with his younger brother to buytwo large estate property and a banana plantationin Janaale while erecting firm roots in the most fertile region of Somalia. My uncles and my father resembled each other, fair-skinned, tall, and with prominent face. 

My father is the youngest of the 2nd branch of a large family tree. He is kind, generous, and insightful in dispositioning community matters. He deeply cares about the well-being of his extended family and has countless times raised funds 100 times beyond his capacity and reach to save lives or restore his loved ones after extraordinary change in circumstance.A primary source of conflict in rural areas is a competition over scarce resources such as securing rights to grazing areas and water boreholes.

My father is consciously aware that most of his extended family lead a harsh pastoral life and possess dwindling numbers of livestock. He knows the risk of recurrent or prolonged cycles of drought due to environmental degradation and sporadic rainfalls. That such limited range management withoutsound government assistance, subsidy or outside support isa constant problematic. He, therefore, convened us one day and hatched out a two-pronged strategy aimed at diversifying the resources of his extended family and increasing their capacity for economic self-sufficiency. 

“I wish I could do something for this country to say thank you,” said Ahmed, a former merchant who lost his home and business to the ragtag militia that overran his community. “But I have children here, and they will go to school; they will do things to contribute to this country” (April 18, 1999, San Diego Union Tribune)

At times nostalgia of the good old days overtakes him. He recalls that the Somali police were highly trained, well-paid, and equipped with the latest technology. During the civilian administration in the 60s, the police had wielded great influence and power in the public eye; they were indispensable to the maintenance of law and order. My father was a former merchant; he was also a public servant at a time when the Medina Hospital in Mogadishu had provided free and comprehensive medical treatment to members of the Somali Police Force (SPF) and their families.  His career in the SPF span for nearly 2 decades and half, a legacy he takes a great pride. 

His arrival in the United States with six of his children as a refugee culminated in years of hardship in Kenyan refugee camps. Jeff McDonald, a staff writer atSan Diego Union Tribune,got a glimpse of my father’s character and called him a “proud survivor” after interviewing him for a 1999 article about Somali refugees.

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