Thursday, April 7, 2011

Paths- Abdi flies - escape from Mogadishu

Abdi and Hassan Iftin in Kenya
This is in the category of one the most gratifying things I have done.

Late last fall I was introduced to a young man living in Mogadishu Somalia by a Public Radio program called "The Story".  It was an episode from a series called "Messages from Mogadishu," and he was reporting as a covert citizen journalist, known only as Abdi,  he was risking his life to tell us about life in Somalia.

I was moved and left with a fierce concentrated activation.  I wrote to the radio station to thank  Dick Gordon and his staff and I offered to help Abdi in some way if I could. I didn't have anything specific in mind.  Abdi and I were connected by email and began a conversation that continued through the early winter and by Christmas it included our  middle school science class who helped to create video messages for him which we put up here on the blog.

I enjoyed these email conversations  enormously. We ranged across all sorts of topics and in time others were included to enrich the conversation.   But at the core there were four of us -- Abdi in Somalia, his brother Hassan in Kenya,  my friend Ben Bellows in Nairobi, and me.
We evolved from a loose social connection, to a a bi-continental learning group, to a kind of family and then, ultimately, a swat team.

Abdi's messages were becoming increasingly alarming despite his understatement and wry humor.  He was getting direct warnings and veiled threats.  His pictures were galling, dismemberment, fear in every mundane act.   It seemed inevitable that his luck would run out even if no one discovered his reporting for the international media.

By early March he decided he needed to leave Somalia and it seemed wise. The four of us went into full alert.  We researched and explored the options until we had Plan A and B.  We had to be very careful about the information that went to Abdi would not put him at greater risk.

Together we created an underground railroad, a freedom path, a logistical machine.

For nearly two weeks it was an obscession.  I followed his steps through the streets of Mogadishu  and I could taste the danger. The three of us on the "outside" were exploring options and determining what could work -- constantly on the phone or email updating our information. Then we decided on Plan B and were making specific dates when we learned that Abdi's house had been bombed. Forunately, he was shaken, but alright.   Hassan was beside himself and I got the call at a rest stop in New Hampshire, and Ben was on the road in Africa Our messages zinged back and forth between continents. The four of us fretted through the details and moved the dates up for an urgent departure.  I had butterflies in my stomach representing little mementos of his real fear and loss.

And, last week our collaborative logistical machine delivered. It picked up that young man and delivered him free of the war.  Last weekend he made it to Nairobi his voice was filled with amazement and joy.  As we waited and then heard he was safe I kept getting rushes of excitement and the urge to run around in circles.  I am very proud of all us and I break into spontaneous smiling every time I am think about it now or hear from one of them

Please listen to the audio link from "The Story" where Abdi and Hassan tell Dick Gordon and Cori Princell in a live interview at the BBC studios in Kenyaabout the details of his escape .

Listen -- The Story: Abdi flies from Somalia

Now every day he doesn't have to wonder if he will see some awful thing or lose his life. What he has seen is unimaginable.

He has been "given" (and made for himself) the chance to start again.
It is amazing and giddying and overwhelming to be part of a fresh start.
Lord knows that starting again is a great chance and there are thousands of young people all over the world that deserve the opportunity.
But it is not fair. If his life had not been hijacked Abdi would be miles along by now in his path and so would his brother Hassan. they are smart, talented and extraordinary young men.  I know that if my children had to start over again at 25, I wouldn't only be grateful, I would be frustrated too. Being a refugee is actually not a fresh start because you cannot legally work or go to school. It is simply a chance to be safe-- which is not simple and it really matters.  We celebrate this first step in his fresh start but have no illusions that the way forward will be easy. 

Abdi shared a picture he took of his mother on the day he left.  She is one of the heroes of this story.  Her love and courage is breathtaking and an instinctive act of normal motherhood. I am glad to say that yes indeed, he has been able to call her and tell her he is safe.

Abdi and Hassan's mother
I hope when you hear this tale that you will be reminded to leap sometimes.  Don't talk yourself out of doing something kind and maybe a little different.

If you want to learn more about Abdi or Hassan or contribute to their fresh start, all well wishes, seed funds, or connections are welcomed.  Check out additional episodes of their story at APM "the story" in "Messages from Mogadishu"-- messages-from-mogadishu.   It is well worth it.  

Peace and thanks for letting me share this big moment



Helen Perry said...

Very cool, Sharon....

Dan Friedman said...

Hi Sharon,

What a story!  Thanks so much for sending this to me.  I will also send it to Diane.