Let me take you on a journey to hell on earth as a recent video about Denan put it. Hell on earth is a small camp in the heart of a desert region in an area that the British Colonialists used to call “The Hawd and Reserved Area” before they maliciously handed it over to their fellow Christian monarchy in Ethiopia, instead of returning it to its rightful owners, the Somali nation. It is one of the numerous miserable legacies that the British Colonialists have saddled the Muslim World with: Kashmir, Pakistan, Western Somalia etc. In modern times, some call the desert region the Ogaden, while most Somalis rightfully call it Western Somalia.
The journey reminds me of the trek that the great prophet Moses took across the Sinai desert on his way to Midian to escape the wrath of the pharaoh, Ramses II. Scholars who associate ancient Egypt with Somalia, the land of Punt, may appreciate the theory that the name Ramses has a Somali meaning. It is composed of two parts, Ra’ and Ses. In Somali, the word “siis” means gift and the word Ra’, the Sun God of ancient Egypt, is found in many Somali words such as Gow-Rac, Gur-Rac and Ga-Rac. The literal translation of Ramses is the Gift of Ra’ which agrees with the Somali equivalent: RacSiis. I narrate this connection because of the recurrence of ancient oppressions in our modern times. The oppression of the people of Israel at the hands of a Pagan King is unfolding again in a remote desert on the same continent. The actors this time are Muslim Nomads and a despotic regime.
It reportedly took Moses 8 to ten days to reach Midian, the land of Jethro where he came to the aid of Jethro’s daughters by helping them water their sheep in a male dominated society that denied the weak to partake of the water until the last of the strong men had left the watering area. Moses helped the oppressed ladies despite his blistered feet and his empty stomach that almost got stuck to his back from thirst and hunger. Instead of partaking of the water first, he could not stand watching the oppression he witnessed and had to take action immediately.
For his bravery and rejection of oppression, Moses was eventually chosen by the Lord to free the people of Israel from the clutches of the pagan King Ramses II who ended up drowning when he tried to chase Moses and his people during the exodus, when the sea parted for Moses to lead his freed people to the Sinai.
The story of Moses is filled with valuable lessons. The Quran narrates these incidents to teach us not to accept oppression, and to come to the aid of the oppressed like Moses did. It also teaches us that all oppressors have a day of reckoning just like Ramses II.
Our current journey starts with a group of women and children just as helpless as the daughters of Jethro. Like Moses, they walked for 10 days in a desert bereft of trees and vegetation with no food or water. Some of them are barefoot. Some of them are wearing rags. Despite all that, they show dignity and pride. They are not as strong as Moses who endured hunger and thirst for 8 days and still managed to water Jethros’s sheep after managing to lift the huge stone that the Midian Shepherds put across the well. Many of them succumb to hunger and die before reaching their destination, the camp of Denan which can be truly described as hell on earth. The land they have just crossed is littered with the carcasses of sheep, cattle and camels as a result of drought and the scorched earth policies of Meles Zenawi and his military machine.
Denan is in the middle of the desert. It holds more than 7,000 refugees. Our group joins the camp’s swelling population. Unlike Moses who gets rewarded for helping Jethro’s daughters with food, water and shelter, our group come to a place that cannot sustain life as we know it. The food stores are almost empty and the camp has just run out of water. The head of the camp reserves the little food that is left in the stores for the new arrivals like our group. The others have to endure hunger and thirst for days. The camp has no doctor or nurse, and everyday a child dies of malnutrition and disease.
The Denan video shows starving women and children. Some cannot even sit, like the wife who had to be carried by her husband like a sack of potatoes for the film crew to see.
If watching this video does not move you into action, I do not know what else can. The film crew leaves Denan with the following words:
“On the day we left Denan, there were over 200 new arrivals. On the day we left Dean, they still had not received the food shipments. On the day we left Denan, they still had no water. On the day we left Denan, 3 year old Kadir died”.
There are probably a number of Denans scattered all over the desert. We are thankful to these brave individuals who risked their lives to bring this unfolding tragedy to our attention. It is our duty to help the people of Denan and to search for the other camps that I am sure are mushrooming all over Western Somalia.
We are in the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting in Ramadan is not about refraining from eating and drinking only. It is about reflection. It is about helping those in need. It is about giving. So let us start giving to the people of Denan and the many others like them in the desert of Western Somalia.
Please watch the video with your family, and after wiping away your tears, start thinking about what to do to help. Don’t just sit back and break your fast with the bounties that God has given you. Remember that there are thousands who are in a perpetual state of fasting.
Ali H Abdulla