Part 1—-The New Villa
It is a truth universally acknowledged, within the greater Somali community, that an educated, single Somali man in possession of a stable job and passport, must take at least one wife.
And it was for this reason that the families residing in one of the many upper class neighbourhoods scattered across the outskirts of the city of Hargeisa, eagerly watched the progress of the new villa that was being erected in their midst. For as soon as the first brick had been laid rumours had begun to circulate about the owner. Some had stated that he was a physician from Norway, who had decided to move his practice to Somaliland to help his people. Others said he was a computer engineer who worked for Microsoft in the UK, and had moved to Hargeisa to start his own telecommunications company. Still others asserted he was a business man, and had come to Hargeisa for the improvement of his mother’s health. Regardless, however, of what the rumours stated about his profession or his whereabouts they all agreed on the essentials—-he was unmarried, had a passport and was employed.
Of those most eager for the villa’s completion was a lady named Khadra, the mother of four remarkable beautiful though single girls, Samira, Maryam, Ihlan and Idil, who ranged in age from 29 to 16. With seven nearly all grown children in total, Khadra’s main preoccupation had become to marry off her daughters. Her leisurely activities included gossiping, buying direhs and dahb, and attending weddings, which offered her the opportunity of not only showing off her new direh and dahb but also the chance to gossip. She had only two fervent prayers: the first that her children should find good spouses, and the second that her husband should return their family to Toronto.
Mr. Osman, or the Hajji as Khadra called her husband, had moved his family from Canada, where they had lived for nearly twenty years, to Hargeisa, five years ago in order to open his own university. His character was the exact opposite of his wife’s. He was by profession an intellectual, having studied and found interest in various subjects, including politics, religion, philosophy, literature, history, geography, science and mathematics. His leisurely activities consisted of reading, studying and writing articles about Somali politics which had been published on several prominent Somali websites.
Mr. Osman was the type of men who could enter into almost any conversation with ready and informed opinions—-any that is expect for his wife’s conversations. He knew nothing about and cared nothing for the latest gossip which was all his wife ever seemed to talk about. As a result he would often enter into conversation with his wife in a sarcastic manner, which his wife always failed to comprehend.
In the evenings, when there were no weddings to dress for, Khadra would take walks around the neighbourhood for her the improvement of her health with her good friend and neighbour Zahra. In Zahra, she found a sympathetic listener to her endless complaints about the various hardships of life in Hargeisa and a fountain source of gossip. Zahra’s husband, Mr. Ismail had moved his family from America three years ago after having retired from his job. Having worked hard for over thirty years and having saved a great deal of money, he had now come to Somaliland to squander it all away in politics. He was the MP for a remote village constituency which he rarely visited and like most politicians in Somaliland, he lived in a grand villa and drove an SUV. His time was chiefly spent at political luncheons and dinners, where a great deal was always discussed and nothing was ever agreed upon or accomplished. Happy with his life and achievements he was naturally friendly, kind and generous to everyone. He was also a true patriot! There was no fault which Somaliland possessed which could not be made to appear either favourably by comparison to countries in worse conditions or pitiable by simply blaming it on the neglect or brutality of the reformer Somalia government. His great love of Somaliland he had determined many years ago would be something he would share with everyone and as such he could spend hours speaking in praise of Somaliland, which was something his wife and children were made to endure on a daily basis.
Khadra and Zahra’s wonderings through the neighbour would always end with their stopping to survey the construction of the new villa. Zahra too took a keen interest in its process having an unmarried daughter, named Ubah who was just about to enter her 30th year of life. The owner himself could not have taken a keener interest in the construction of his home then these two ladies or have been more outraged than Khadra at the slow pace of the workers or more horrified with the paint job than Zahra.
One Friday afternoon at dinner Khadra’s youngest child, Liban, a boy of 12, announced that he and his father had met the owner of the new villa at the mosque. Khadra eager to find out all she could about their neighbour, accosted his husband with hundreds of questions, all of which he refuse to answer, to the great vexation of his wife, expect to say that his name was Farhan Bashir, he was from England and that he came to Hargeisa alone but that his mother, a widow, and sister would soon come to live with him.
“Well we should make sure to invite them over to dinner,” his wife stated, as he picked up the newspaper to read.
“Why should we?” The hajji asked his wife.
“Because—-Hajji—-it the neighbourly thing to do!” his wife stated.
“Well, I am sorry to disappoint you but he informed me that he came here solely for the improvement of his mother’s health. He hopes she may get a lot of rest and relaxation, while she is here. Therefore, I thought that even neighbourly hospitality might be bothersome to him and thus feel that the kindest, most neighbourly thing we could do is to leave them to the peace and quiet they seek,” her husband replied.
“Peace and Quiet! I have never heard of anyone coming to Hargeisa for peace and quiet!—-People come here to learn about their culture—-meet people——and how are they ever to meet anyone if people don’t invite them over to their homes.—-I’m sure if his mother was truly sick he would never have thought of bring her from Europe. And I’m sure that the only thing ailing her is the loneliness often associated with living in a foreign land, and a lack of sunlight. Now that she is home and amongst her own people again, the best remedy for her is socialization—-and the kindest, most neighbourly thing we could do is to extend the hand of friendship to this poor widow and her children by inviting them over to our home for dinner,” she paused for a moment, to let the logic of her argument sink into her husband’s head.
“And,” she added momentarily, “you know many young men come to Hargeisa to find a wife, and well if her son is looking why should we deprive him of the opportunity of meet our girls. Zahra and her husband are inviting the Bashirs over to dine for that reason alone, and you know how much more beautiful our girls are than her skeleton, beady eyed daughters.”
The hajji at this remark lifted his eyes up from his newspaper stared at his wife.
“Would it not be simpler, instead of going through all the trouble of prepare the meal and turning the house upside down in preparation for their arrival, if you and all the other mothers keen to marry off your daughters simply line up your girls and have him choose his favourite to marry? Surely that would save time and energy.”
“Hajji! How could you suggest such a thing!”
“There’s no need to fear his not choosing one of our girls. Our girls have been bestowed with a great deal of beauty and smarter and wiser men than him have fallen victim to a pretty face. And although, except for Samira, the rest may lack common sense—-We can always take comfort in the fact that rare is the Somali man who would choose a sensible wife over a beautiful wife,” replied the Hajji.
“Oh hajji!” exclaimed his wife frustrated, the meaning of his words completely lost on her. “I often wonder if you have no wish to see your daughters married well? Or whether you want any grandchildren? “
“I do,” her husband replied eagerly. “And as I have informed you on several occasions my cousin in the Hawd writes to me often asking for their hands in marriage for his sons.”
“My daughters—-who were born and raised in North America with university degrees—-you suggest that we marry them off to camel herders?” she asked enraged.
“Oh, he knows their value! Rest assured of that—- and offers a very handsome dowry as a result—-40 camels for each! Why we could retire on that!”
“How can you be so cruel to your own children?” Khadra exclaimed emotionally. “If they were to marry camel herders it would be all your doing! What other choice do they have? First you moved us from Toronto where they might have met young people who were their equals, and then you moved us to the most isolated neighbourhood in Hargeisa—-where the only neighbours we have are goats and camels! Now finally when my prayers have been answered, you are determined to ruin everything! At times I wonder if the reason you don’t want your children married is because you are planning to save the money you would spend on their weddings so that you can take a second wife!”
The hajji calmly got up from the table and folding his newspaper glanced over at his wife.
“You need not worry yourself on that account—I never make the same mistake twice,” he remarked, before proceeding to leave the room.