Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WITNESS-Getting married in Somalia's war zone

Guled Mohamed, a Kenyan of ethnic Somali origin, has covered Somalia for two years for Reuters. He moved to Mogadishu in mid-2006. In the following story, he describes the problems of arranging his wedding during the country's recent conflict.

By Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU, Feb 4 2007 (Reuters) - The war in Somalia ruined my first attempt to marry Anisa on New Year's Eve.

I had planned to throw a splendid party in the central town of Baidoa, my young bride's hometown, then entertain friends in the capital Mogadishu, where I live.

But at the eleventh hour, I was forced to cancel the nuptials when Ethiopian and Somali government forces in Baidoa began their long-expected war with Islamists in Mogadishu.

"My son, I think we should postpone the marriage," my mother-in-law called from Baidoa to tell me.

I fell silent digesting the news, balancing the twin pulls of journalism and the heart.

"This war will continue. I don't think you and Anisa can travel to Baidoa in time before the wedding," she continued. "We should set another date after the war is over."

She was right. Fighting raged for days near Baidoa, then spread toward Mogadishu as the Islamists were beaten back.

The battles were the worst in Somalia for decades. Thousands of people were killed, many left for dead on the road between Mogadishu and Baidoa where my marriage party would have traveled.

At one point, with many foreseeing a bloodbath and street fighting in Mogadishu, I thought about leaving Somalia for my own safety. But Anisa has no passport, so I had to stay.

Then, two weeks after the open warfare began, the Islamist fighters, taken by surprise by Ethiopia's aerial firepower and sensing defeat, melted out of Mogadishu without a stand.

Better late than never, the wedding was back on.

I married Anisa on January 18 at her family home in Baidoa. Those in attendance included militiamen with rifles whom I had hired as bodyguards in the still tense atmosphere.

The religious ceremony where I had to shake a Sheikh's hand and mumble prayers after him to be lawfully wedded took place in the morning in a well-decorated room in my fiancee's house.

Once proclaimed man and wife, elders offered me a cold glass of camel milk. They said it would help relieve the stress of trying to pull off this wedding.

I drank the milk in two gulps.

Local women applauded and ululated.

The wedding reception was held in the evening at a restaurant in central Baidoa where guests were served drinks and cookies amid tables decorated with flowers.

Anisa wore a black dress with a feather collar that went well with her silver ear rings and necklace. I was in a black Armani suit and light blue Italian shirt.

The war seemed a distant rumble. Only the absence of my family and friends from Kenya who could not attend because of the insecurity was a reminder of Somalia's troubles.

Two days later, we drove back to Mogadishu for our honeymoon. But to be honest, since then I have rarely had a serene night with my wife.

Anarchy is slowly crippling Mogadishu again. Day and night, ambushes by Islamist remnants against the Ethiopian army and Somali government have become almost a ritual.

Mortars have hit police stations and even the presidential palace. Gunmen open fire in broad daylight. And dead bodies appear in the street with daylight.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, Anisa and I are woken by explosions, rocket fire and gunfights.

Understandably, she is complaining.

She cannot go out and visit relatives for fear of being caught up in the attacks, so she is forced to stay indoors.

But for me, duty calls.

I have cut short my honeymoon to cover the news, torn once again between my work and staying close to my sweetheart.