SOMALIA: Mogadishu Women Eke Out A Living Among The Shells
NAIROBI, 10 January 2011 (IRIN) - At 75, Aagan Mahamud is at an age when, in Somali culture, her children should be taking care of her. Instead, Mahamud is looking after six grandchildren.
Every morning, she roasts peanuts for sale at the roadside. Sometimes she washes clothes to earn enough to provide for the children.
Fighting in Mogadishu - which has been going on for years between government forces and opposition Islamist groups - caused Mahamud's shift from grandmother to "mother" at an advanced age.
“I used to live in Waberi [neighbourhood] but was forced to move to Hodan district because of the fighting," she told IRIN. "My daughter was with us at the time. Today I don't know whether she is alive or not. I have not seen or heard from her in four years.
“Like any elderly person, I would like to rest and depend on my children but that is not to be and we must somehow survive.”
She works every day, with a little help from the children. "When I have to wash people's clothes, one of the children takes the peanuts for sale. It is the only way we are going to eat.”
Some days, she makes about 30,000 Somali shillings (US$1) and on good days about 40,000 Somali shillings ($1.10). But "there are days I don't make even that much", she says.
Her biggest fear is being killed by stray shells. “Last week alone, shells landed not far from where I was selling peanuts," she said. "I always worry what will happen to the children if I am dead, but I have no alternative; I have to work or we starve."
Asha Sha’ur, a civil society activist in Mogadishu, said more and more women were becoming their families' sole breadwinners and working in some of the most dangerous places in the city, like Bakara market, "where fighting and shelling is constant.
"In the past, we used to see women involved in the retail business but these days they are involved in almost anything,” she said.
Sha’ur said the majority of the women remaining in Mogadishu had lost their husbands and sons due to the fighting, "so they do whatever they have to, to provide for their children, including the new phenomenon of grandmothers raising grandchildren.
"These are some of the poorest people in the city. If they don’t go out, they don’t eat and if they go out they may not come back.”
Farhia Aden, a mother of five, leaves her home early every morning to find odd jobs to support her family. "When I leave, I don’t know whether I will find something or not; I knock on every gate and sometimes they offer something to do and sometimes nothing.
“I do laundry, carry rubbish or clean homes; anything that will give me food.”
However, there are days when it is impossible for her to return home. “Some days the fighting is so bad I cannot return to my children and neighbours look after them; we do that for each other.
"This is my biggest worry, not being able to return to my children. But what I can do? I must go out and feed my children. No one else will and I cannot sit and hope that someone will bring food to us.”
On a good day, Aden makes about 45,000 Somali shillings ($1.20), which will buy her a kilo of rice, one or two tomatoes and two or three spoons of cooking oil. “This may sound little to you but for me it means [the difference between] life or death.
“Every time I return to my place, I thank God for the day I had. Who knows how many others like me never made it?”
Halima Moalim, also a mother of five, is luckier than most women in Mogadishu. She does not have to go far. "I have a table and I sell sweets, [homemade] peanuts and small things to earn enough to feed the children.”
Moalim's main complaint is that sometimes the fighting in the city is such that she cannot venture out of her home.
"We have to find a concrete place to hide until it [the fighting] dies down; I have lost many neighbours and friends to shells landing in our neighbourhood," she said. "It is hard enough to try to eke out a living in this town without the daily danger that it could be your last day."