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July 8, 2011 / calebdresser

Lessons from Anarchy: Aftermath

“Watch out for land mines,” Edna said, gesturing toward the side of the road with her cane. “The area near the ruined tank is OK, but the blue stones… you should not go beyond them.”

We were standing at a high point on the road with low hills to either side. Looking out at the desert, it was easy to imagine a rebel unit settling into position on the hills overlooking the road, knowing that sooner or later Somali troops from Siad Barre’s army would have to pass through their field of fire. They got their tank, eventually, a rusty monster donated to Somalia by the Soviets before they decided that Ethiopia was a better recipient for their military hardware. At some point – maybe before, maybe afterward – somebody planted mines in the powdery red soil of the pass.

It is safe to say that nobody still feels the need to defend a nameless pass on the road between Berbera and Hargeisa. The mines, however, remain. Edna remembers treating land mine victims in the early days of the hospital, though their numbers have thankfully fallen close to zero. International mine-clearing teams and better signage have been a major help, though it must be said that a portion of the credit also goes to Somaliland’s unfortunate, unwitting hoofed minesweepers.

Land mines and rusting military hardware aside, the scars of civil war are a fact of life in Somaliland. The chaos of the early nineties is slowly being erased from the landscape under a wave of new construction, but it is not so easily erased from the memories of my friends. Some lost families; others lost homes that now exist only in their memories. One of the fellows I drink tea with in the mornings usually struggles to convey his ideas in English, yet can give a piercingly clear description of the U.N. flight that carried him out of Mogadishu eighteen years ago.

The war has given birth to what some consider a “lost generation” here, a cohort akin to the shell-shocked servicemen who returned from World War I to drown their sorrows and their dreams. Many of the college-age students in Somaliland got most of their early education in refugee camps, or simply did without while their families – if they still had them – struggled to stay alive. As a result, many students still have great difficulty understanding lectures given in English, or are unaware of basic facts that they would usually have learned in high school. For many, motivation is also a challenge, and most of the teachers here give some leeway to students who seem to be dealing with the lasting effects of psychological trauma.

Nonetheless, these are the lucky ones. Most people in Hargeisa are unemployed, uneducated, and unlikely to do much to change their situation. According to those who are old enough to remember, khat chewing is much more prevalent – and destructive – than it was before the war. For many, it seems, what was once a social drug has become an addiction and an escape. These latest casualties lie where they were hit, slowly chewing and staring at a horizon that has long since been blocked by the tents and houses of the city.

This, then, is the aftermath. The factories and businesses and houses are being rebuilt, but broken minds are harder to repair. Gaping holes that will not close are ever-present in families, educations, hearts and dreams. I have no reason to think that this truth is unique to this place, or to this war. Long after this country has donned the garments of peace, landmines buried in dusty shards of memory will continue to claim their victims.



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  1. Leeann Louis / Jul 8 2011 10:16 pm

    Really incredible pictures and descriptions. It’s funny, I think many people – lacking a knowledge of a place and what has happened there – would assume that an unmotivated young person is just lazy. It’s unbelievable to think of what young people have gone through and how much history they carry with them that we don’t have time to hear about or choose to ignore. Thanks for such an eye opening post!

    – Leeann

    P.S. Stay away from those blue stones!!!!

  2. minstrelm3 / Jul 11 2011 1:43 pm

    Yes, I agree with Leeann. I appreciate your giving us the perspective of time and continuity. I am grateful that you have woven your compassion through this piece, for it helps. Goodness, but your last two paragraphs are evocative. All of it is. Thank you.

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