Yusuf is a a young man in his early twenties, tall and gaunt, with short, curly hair. He likes to laugh, to play football, and to tell stories. Yusuf is also a Sufi sheikh. That means he has almost priest-like functions in blessing people and praying for them. But above all, Yusuf is a casualty of war.
When I first met Yusuf, he walked up to me and shook my hand, and I had no idea that he was a very sick young man in the middle of an amazing recovery process. He had been in Nairobi for a couple of months at that point, but had spend most of that time in hospital and didn’t speak more than a few words of English. As I was in the middle of learning Somali, he was great language practice for me. Fortunately, Yusuf is amazingly patient and articulate, and when necessary, he will animate his story with a lot of gestures. So over the course of several hours, I learned a part of his story, and we became friends of sorts.
Yusuf is from Beled Weyne, a town in south-central Somalia. There has been quite a bit of fighting going on in Beled Weyne during the past years, and of course everybody has a gun. I never quite understood whether it was intentional or by accident, but Yusuf was shot by one of his friends. The bullet went straight through his abdomen and tore apart his guts. Yusuf almost died.
But there was a hospital in Beled Weyne with some foreign doctors, and they stabilized him enough to take him to Nairobi in neighboring Kenya. That’s where he got major reconstructive surgery. When I met Yusuf, his intestines were working properly again, and he was just training muscles and waiting for everything to recover sufficiently so that he wouldn’t have to go for regular treatment any more.
But despite this ordeal, Yusuf was cheerful. He talked about his old life in Somalia, and about his new friends in Nairobi. And about how he wanted to go back to his people in Beled Weyne once he was completely healed.
In many ways, Yusuf represents the traditional small-town Somalia where Sufism is still alive. A Somalia of the past that I only got occasional glimpses of during my time in Nairobi. But in another way, he also represents the amazing tenacity and ability to adapt and overcome that I’ve seen in many Somalis. He might be a casualty of war, but he’s still laughing.
Written by Daniel Rossbach. Illustration by Manal Fashi.