Why are you scared of water Kimina? Dunia asked…. sending Kimina on a trip down memory lane…
“It is not deep I swear, wallahi come in Kimina” Kimina puts down the big clay water pot that was hanging on her back. She didn’t know how to swim. Although she grew up near water pits. She wasn’t allowed by her mother to go for a swim or play near the water. She was her mother’s only daughter and functioned as her mother’s custom made handbag since she was never left home alone. Where ever her mother went Kimina was to be found. Even after her mother Fatma had birthed three sons for her new husband, Kimina was still the one she insisted to bring along anywhere she went.
But Fatma was no longer. Kimina stood by the river and waited for her mother to scream “carrr carr” while she held tight to her own ear. When a Somali mother holds her own ear and says “carr, carr” it means I dare you, I dare you to do that particular thing and you will see if I won’t give you some ass whopping that will make you regret that you defied me. Fatma was a Yemeni by her father’s side and a Somali by her mother side. And Fatma was proud to proclaim her Somaliness and used it to her benefit when people expected her to be polite and calm as Yemeni women are expected to be. She would roar “nag Somali ba I dhashay a Somali woman birthed me, don’t think I won’t be rude if you are rude to me.”
Kimina remembers the time her mother came to the neighbourhood playground and found her daughter being slapped. They were twelve siblings. Eleven girls and a boy. The girls were taking a turn to slap Kimina. They had said if she wanted to play with them they would have to slap her on her cheeks when she was allowed to play. Kimina wanted to leave the playground but the eldest was around the age of fourteen and Kimina was around eight years old. The boy went behind her and held her arms back allowing his sisters to take a turn and slap her on her cheeks.
Fatma came running to the playground screaming “ala, ala” The kids ran away but she was fast enough to catch the eldest. “wewe what are you at this age and a boy doing at the playground? And why are you playing with girls?” She asked while she held his hand with one hand and gave him an ass-whooping with her other hand. She was whooping him with her sandal and let go of him once she was sure he had got the message. “If you ever look at my daughter the wrong way let alone touch her, you will regret the day you were born,” she said. The boy ran home crying. Kimina was scolded and banned from going to the neighbourhood playground after that day. Kimina was scared a bigger fight was ahead and she was not wrong. When children fight in the playground, the one who came home with most scars was avenged by his/her parents. Which lead to parent fights and a family neighbourhood feud. At the evening after her mother had prayed maghrib, the afternoon prayer. Kimina heard voices outside their door.
She was so scared she peed herself. Her stepfather was not home it was only her, her brothers and her mother who were at home. Who was going to save them? Kimina was terrified. She had seen neighbours be beaten by other neighbours and it was the men who broke up the fight. “Look after your siblings,” her mother said and took off her abaya. Fatma always wore a trouser and a shirt under her long wavy dresses. Her mother never went out without wearing those underneath her dresses. She was always ready for a fight. Fatma took her hijab and wrapped it around her hair like a turban. She put on her husband’s boots and went out instructing Kimina to lock the door from the inside.
Infront their outside stairs stood a man, a woman and their twelve children. “haye haye,” Fatma yelled. The man was shocked he had never seen a woman wearing trousers in his life. “ooh so you want a piece of this eh?” Fatma continued standing in front of her door above the stairs. She pushed back the arms of her shirt reviling her arm muscles and kissed them. She took a step down by this the man took a step back. She took another step “ummi Somaal” my mother is a Somali you donkey. She puffs her chest “I will beat you and your wife and your twelve children. After I am done my uncles, yes my Somali uncles are going to come and beat you some more.” Kimina peeked her head out to see what was happening. “you are a mad woman” yelled the man and ran off, his wife and children ran after him.
Kimina knew that her grandmother did not have brothers who were going to come save them. Fatma was bluffing and it worked. Kimina and her mother used to travel to Dhagahbur to visit her grandmother once every year. That was the deal Fatma made with her husband. ” I don’t love you, I will run away with my daughter to Somalia unless you allow me to visit my mother every year if you do this I promise to fulfil my duty as a wife and be devoted to you.” Fatma had said to her new husband. Fatma had married Kimina’s father out of love, but she was taken away from him and forced to marry a Yemeni relative by her brothers. Yes, it is ironic their mother was a Somali yet they did not want their sister to be married to one. Kimina never understood why. Luckily her new father was kind to her. In fact, she had never seen her biological father. And she was treated and equally loved like her brothers.
The same year a war broke between Somalia and Ethiopia the year was 1977. Turning Kimina’s world upside down. The war was happening in another country yet it moved her world while she was in Kampala, Uganda. Because her grandmother lived in the heart of the war-zone. And as expected Fatma insisted to go to Dagahbuur and get her mother out. Her husband refused and threatened he was going to divorce her if she had left.
Kimina stood by the river and still waiting for her mother to dare her to get in, “carr, wewe carr” I dare you to defy me and see if I won’t give you an ass whooping. But it was quiet. She heard the splashes of water the girl made “come in Kimina don’t be scared” she said while hitting the water to splash on her back. The girl seemed to be having fun.
But Kimina’s mind was elsewhere. She was remembering the last time she saw her mother.
“Fatma, please don’t go to Ethiopia.” “If you are leaving you won’t take my sons with you. ” Ok take Fitah with you, is breastfed.” “I divorce you on one account.” Fatma kept on packing and getting herself and her daughter ready to catch the first train out of Kampala to Dar Es Salam. She then was going to fly to Mogadishu and drop her daughter off at her cousin’s house. She was going to Ethiopia and get her mother out of the warzone. “Talaq” She was divorced on two accounts. Fatma carried her baby on her back and held her daughter on one hand dragging a suitcase with the other hand. “Talaq,” said her husband for the third time and gasped. Fatma froze at first, she then turned around and yelled “elelelel” clapped her hands and walked towards the train station. Nobody came after them.
“I will go to bring ayeyo okay dear? take care of your baby brother.” Kimina was left alone in a new country. “your father lives here somewhere, we will find him when I come back.” Fatma had said. She walked out of the gate and never came back. While she was gone came Ayeyo. “Ayeeyoooo” Kimina was so happy to see her grandma in the flesh. She looked around, “Ayeyo uko wapi mama?” Where is mommy? Kimina asked. Her grandma looked shocked. “Is she not here?” she replied. Maryama had heard that her daughter was a divorcee and in Mogadishu. She knew her daughter and thought she would travel to Mogadishu to prevent her daughter from entering a warzone.
The news came some months later, Fatma was killed.
Kimina found out that her mother has died and lost her grandmother the next day. Due to a heart attack.
A nine years old girl with eight months old baby brother in a city far from her home she was alone and scared.
She was taken to a village where her father’s wife lived. Yes, her biological father had remarried and lived in a village in Somalia. But he was never around. His wife took her and her brother in. She then taught Kimina how to cook, clean and sent her to fetch water. If she refused she beat her. Kimina lived with her stepmother for five years. She fetched water, gathered wood, cooked and cleaned. And washing clothes by the river. But she had never dared to go in the water. She dipped the clay pot until it was filled, then carried it back home. Her stepmother had shaved her long hair claiming that Kimina spent too much time combing it. Which she also did, but it was the only way she had joyful moments. While she combed her hair she thought of her mother. Her mother Fatma would comb her hair singing along to her favourite Sudanese singer through the radio. Tears running down her face, Kimina waited every day and hoped her mother Fatma would come and beat up her stepmother.
Kimina went into the water. She took a step and another step then another step. Then suddenly she fell in. The girl had lied to her. The water was deep and she was not standing. Kimina heard the girl’s laughter as she tried to get out of the water but her head would go down each time she gasped for air, water went in her mouth. The girl screamed and run out. Kimina fought and fought trying to get up and out of the river. But the water took her further and deeper in. At some point there was stillness. Kimina’s body was still. She was no longer in pain. She was not fighting. There was suddenly silence. Her eyes wide open in the deep Kimina felt at peace. She saw a figure coming towards her. It was her mother. She was so beautiful. Her mother Fatma, stretched her arm towards Kimina. As Kimina attempted to reach out and grab her mother’s hand, a force yanked her out of the deep water and threw her on a hard surface.
Kimina gained consciousness by the riverside. “Poor child, she is practically an orphan.” “Her father is never home and that wicked woman abuses the poor kids.” They were praising the fisherman who saved her life. But all Kimina could think about was the beating she was going to get when she got home for being late with the water. And she was not wrong.
One evening while Kimina was lighting the paraffin lamp, she heard her stepmother talk to their neighbour. “Don’t go to a refugee camp for hunger, stay here and sell your tomatoes.” But the lady insisted she was going to the refugee camp near Mogadishu for she was tired of being here. ” I don’t have children who will take care of me when I get older. My husband’s other wives all have children, I have no child that will inherit any of his sheep. He has not come to dine with me for years there is nothing left for me here.”
Kimina carried her brother and followed the old lady back to her house while her stepmother was combing her daughter’s hair.
“Aunty I will wash your cloths, clean and cook for you if you let us come along,” Kimina begged. The old lady pitied them and let them go with her to the refugee camp.
Dunia hugged Kimina tight. “I will never ask you to fetch water again,” she said to Kimina as they sat on the plastic floor mat outside their hut. It was dark still and the stars were still shining in the dark sky above the two women. Far from their childhood and home towns. United by pain and the longing for a better life.