My childhood memories are mostly hazy. I don’t recall much negativity or sadness but I do remember that I was a sickly child raised in a male-dominated family with a matriarchal mother—a phenomenal powerhouse who could kill you with one swift look alone. She always said that in order to tell a story, one must tell their truth. Something honest. So, here is story of our truth, both mine and my mother’s.
It was a typical day of mischief with my brothers in idyllic Borama Town, a place where a diabetes-inducing cup of tea with a few good friends is the epitome of happiness. At five feet five, my mother was a firm but loving woman who put the fear of god into us: fourteen children raised over four countries of migration, and one patient father who was missing for most of our lives. At eight or nine years old I had spent the previous month enduring daily visits to the hospital because my wonderful, hilarious, and, at times, cruel sister pushed me off a building, leaving me partly paralysed. Like an infant, I was dependent on my mother once again. But now she’s nine months pregnant and, out of nowhere—and to the surprise of us naive children—she goes into labour. Grandfather takes over our care, a dinosaur-slaying warrior decorated with medals of honour.
He had a white birthmark running down his chest, which my mother claimed was a sign from god that he was holy – a righteous baby born to a borderline-holy family.
As self-crowned Kings and Queens of Mischief, and in the absence of my mother, my siblings reigned chaos in our house. As I lay on the ground, unable to move, they tormented each other with twisted games, like who can eat the baby’s dried poo without vomiting…. we turned out normal, I promise. After leaving my grandfather and our family guests exhausted, praying for our souls to be saved, my mother came home with a baby boy, a new addition to our overgrown family. He had a white birthmark running down his chest, which my mother claimed was a sign from god that he was holy – a righteous baby born to a borderline-holy family.
A few days later, the new baby was peeing on me while my brother held him over me. Unable to move, I had become a target for my brother’s cruel games; payback for weeks of tormenting them before my accident. In the evening, following this genius but evil punishment, I settled in to sleep outside with my siblings; Borama heat can be unbearable. Counting fireflies, I began to lose consciousness. Before my mother feel asleep (which I doubt is actually possible because mothers seem to be alert even at rest) she noticed my quiet moans and cries. In the middle of the night, my mother wakes everyone up. I notice heavy movements around me. My family is staring at me.
I fall out of consciousness. I wake up again but now my mother is carrying me on her back. I call out to her.
“Hooyo, where are we going?”
“Hooyo, we are heading to the hospital.”
I’m back in it. I hear my mother’s voice again asking me to talk to her: “Hooyo, wake up. Talk to me.”
It is pretty dark now. I can barely make out what is happening. My mother continues to talk to me. I don’t recall what about. It is quite dark. Ghostly. Not a human being in site. I don’t know how far the hospital is but I know that it’s far. I continue to dose in and out through out the journey. I can sense the burden of my weight on my mother. She is struggling to walk. I can hear her aching. I wake up again. I notice there is light now. We must be going by the main road.
I look down to notice red drops. I watch each drop go by. I notice that my mother’s foot is red. I realize it’s blood. I start to panic. I can’t seem to talk at this point. I ask mum what it was; she said it’s nothing but it’s too late, I’m scared. Hooyo stops moving. I’m slipping down. She bows to push me up and I hear her moan.
“Hooyo, are you ok? Are you hurt?”
“No hooyo. It is nothing.”
My mother is now holding me up with one hand and with the other, holding her stomach. The sun is coming up. It’s beautiful. We reach the hospital. My mother and I are placed in a bed together. The doctors rush to my mother. There is a lot of blood. She hasn’t let go of her stomach. She reaches for my hand.
Doctor tell mum that her C-section stitches have come off. She says she knows. Her eyes remain fixed on me. She instructs the doctors to see me first, but they refuse.
“Yes, hooyo.” she says.
I ask, “What happened to you, hooyo?” I’m scared but she doesn’t seem at all bothered.
“Nothing happened, hooyo. I am fine. Doctors will take you and check what is wrong with you. Once they are done, we can go home.”
They wheel mum and me away. I’m back in the main hospital ward. The holes in my feet were stitched. I still couldn’t move. I realised I couldn’t see my mother. I frantically searched the room for her and saw her in the bed next to mine, facing the other way. The next thing I see is my brothers, sister, and grandfather running towards us.
“Are you ok, Yasmin?”
“I’m ok, huno.”
My mother wakes up and reaches for my hand. “She is fine.” Mum takes my newborn brother and begins to breast-feed. My siblings play a game around me. My grandfather is re-enacting how he slayed the dinosaurs for us. I fall asleep. I’m back at hime. I don’t recall anything that happened after this. The events of the days that followed are hard to pinpoint.
There is a story in the Qur’an where a man asks the Prophet Mohammed (swt) who amongst people is worthy of good companionship. The Prophets says: Your mother. The man asks, “who else?” the Prophet says: “Your mother.” The man asks further, ‘and who else?” The prophet says: “Your mother.” The man asks again, ‘then who?’ At the end, the prophet says, “Then, your father.” In Islamic tradition, we believe that heaven lies beneath our mothers’ feet. In Somali culture, your mother is heaven.
For 28 years, my mother’s feet have carried me across the world. I watched as she fled from one place to other to seek safety. Took a beating to safeguard us. Watched as she held her open stomach together with one hand and held me the other. My mother always said to tell the truth in your story; she is my truth. My story is my mother. The story of my people is our mother.
JAMA ABDIRAHMAN (Photographer) is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Seattle, Washington. He’s the co-owner and producer of Arrinta Media, a Seattle multimedia company. He developed his love for visual communication when he first picked up at camera at 16. In his free time, he’s traveling or searching the web for the cheapest flights possible.
YASMIN MAYDHANE (Author)