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Somalia: A mother’s grief for a daughter lost in the floods

Yesterday was my first day in Mogadishu and I spoke to Jamila, a quiet woman resting her young daughter on her hip.

I ask about the rains last week which caused widespread flooding: was she here? What does she remember? Her unexpected and tragic story will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“Yes I remember” she said. “I lost my daughter, my wonderful daughter Maryama”. I’m suddenly very aware that I may be intruding on a private grief.

Losing Maryama

Jamila speaks softly, and assures me that she wants to tell me about her daughter and that night.

“She was just four years old. Maryama was already very weak – we had not eaten for some time.
The rains were very scary. It came so suddenly.

“It even rose above my knees. It was night-time and suddenly we all woke up, we were already under water a bit.

“The water level rose too fast. I did not know what to do, I had never seen water do that before.

I saw my daughter Maryama trying to help her younger sister Aliyow – trying to raise her head above the water”.

Chaos

Jamila pauses, and shifts the small child on her hip – it is Aliyow. She smiles down at the baby and then continues.

“It was chaos. Our hut was torn with the rain, pieces were being ripped away. The water rose inside. I tried to find my other children but all around me people were pushing and running away from the water.

“Suddenly Maryama went under the water. I saw the water rush through her nostrils and her mouth and then she was gone.

Water rushing

“The water was rushing so fast it carried her body away. I screamed and tried to run after her. The last thing I saw of her was as her body hit the fence on the side of the camp”.

A translator is sat next to me, clearly moved by what he is hearing. For several minutes neither of us can speak.

I am listening all the while, nodding encouragement and asking gentle points of clarification from Jamila, who begun slowly, remembering, then gathered pace.

Remembering Maryama

The scene is so emotionally charged that I can’t bear to leave. I ask her what she remembers most about Maryama.

Jamila smiles. “She would sit and play with her sister and then when she saw me she would cry out for me to join them in the games. She was always smiling and running around”.

She pauses, and her face falls again. “I have nothing to remind me of her. Everything was lost with the rains. All that I can see now is her body hitting the fence as she was swept away”.

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