The Agony of War

By Veronika Janik

Imagine waking up each morn-ing to gunshots, the loss of innocent lives and an endless state of distress. Fear dominates every choice and the future seems bleak and torn. For a long and painful time, this scene was a sad reality for the people of Somalia, including Somali refugee Mohamed Bakayr.

Ten years ago, Bakayr was informed that if he did not flee his much-loved country, he would be forced to kill or be killed in the midst of the pandemonium known as the Somalia Civil War. Bakayr escaped with thousands of other Somali refugees to the Utange Refugee Camp in nearby Kenya, where he spent four years before his long journey to Canada. Once here, Bakayr brought over the remainder of his immediate family and quickly began adapting to his new life and home. He attained a Library Information Diploma from SAIT, became the community liaison for Somalis in Calgary and authored The Agony of Somalia’s Civil War.

The war began in 1991 and progressed from the lack of a stable and central Somali government. As a result, the country split into self-governed territories. Battles between clan-based guerilla groups attempting to seize power left Somalia in a state of armed conflict and poverty.

Bakayr considers this war a great tragedy and emphasizes the importance of exposing individuals to its consequences through his new book, which he describes as a factual account of history, a recollection of his experiences and a memoir for those who survived.

“I was there to witness the war and some people have never been in that situation,” says Bakayr. “I want to let them know just what it is like.”

In doing so, Bakayr recalls the horrors and the inexplicable atrocities that became daily happenings in his beloved homeland.

“It is very difficult to explain,” states Bakayr. “There were people falling dead right in front of you, people were fighting in every direction and no one was exempted from the chaos.”

Bakayr also incorporates memories of life in the refugee camp.

“It was a large area full of individuals who did not have their basic rights and were basically confined to the grounds,” recalls Bakayr. “There was a very limited amount of freedom.”

While exposing the calamities and circumstances of war, The Agony of Somalia’s Civil War also allows Somali refugees to share their experiences in order to work through their emotional scars and begin the healing process.

Bakayr began writing the book two years ago, however the road to completion was anything but smooth.

“I was a new writer just starting out and it was very hard for me to get the finance to publish the book,” says Bakayr, who was rejected by numerous publishers.

Luckily, the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association provided him with information, direction and support in hopes that he would eventually move forward with his aspirations. CIWA Executive Director Edna Sutherland became a huge support system for Bakayr. She aided his progress by contacting a printer, giving presentations and printing tips, and raising the money to publish the first three hundred copies of the book.

“Mohamed is a passionate writer and I believe that my strong contribution is the trust and respect that I develop through positive relationships and making the impossible happen for people,” states Sutherland.

The CIWA was established in 1982 as a non-profit, charitable organization that targets immigrant and refugee women and their families, serving more than 4,000 women from more than 120 countries annually. According to Sutherland, one key goal of the organization is to help individuals reach their full potential.

Bakayr, who is currently working towards a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies through the Athabasca University, is extremely thankful to the CIWA and explains that the book could not have been written without Sutherland. It has sold over 100 copies to the Somali community and can be purchased from the CIWA or directly from the author at a cost of $21.

With the close of the civil war and the introduction of an interim government in 2000, present day Somalia seems to be working toward a resolution. However, Bakayr informs that the presence of militiamen and warlords has not been eliminated and with that he declares his fondness of his second home–Canada.

“I really do like it here. I belong to Canada,” he proclaims with a grin.

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