Somalia’s transitional government called on Russia on Friday to explain why it had cut 10 Somali pirates adrift in the Gulf on Aden without navigation equipment or much hope of survival. Russian forces last week stormed a hijacked oil tanker in a rescue operation that killed one pirate. Russia said 10 others arrested were later set loose aboard one of the small vessels they used in the attack. A military official said they were stripped of their weapons and navigation equipment. Russian media later quoted a military source saying the pirates were now likely dead.
Nairobi — Reuters Published on Friday, May. 14, 2010 8:25AM EDT Last updated on Friday, May. 14, 2010 6:11PM EDT
On the night before they took me to the sea, I had a dream about my dead mother and a zebra. My mother and I were walking on a savanna, she was holding my hand and telling me that I had to “hurry, hurry” because it was getting dark, We were looking for water to carry home. I looked down at her long feet and counted her toes as I lengthened my stride to meet hers -- her legs were so long and mine seemed useless but I counted “one -- two -- three!” and as I counted my legs grew longer and I was no longer a little boy, I was my mother’s Tall Alexander, “four -- five -- six!” and my mother’s black shoulders were below me, and they seemed as smooth as river rocks, “seven -- eight -- nine!” My mother told me to be quiet! “Alexander, what are you counting? You sound like a fool!” I told her I was counting her toes, but she only had nine and I had learned to count to ten in the school house with all the other children. The Englishman taught us to count to ten, he taught us the Alphabet, and how to spell our names, “A -- L -- E -- X -- A -- N -- D -- E -- R!” The Englishman asked me if my mother named me for Alexander the Great? I told him I didn’t think so, that I believed she named me for the witch doctor who made my father well just before I was born. The Englishman laughed and told me, “Then I suppose, in a way, you were named for Alexander the Great!” I laughed too, and then the Englishman told me the story of the Greek Alexander -- he was a warrior.
When we got to the river, my mother stood in the shade of a bottle tree and told me to fill up all the gourds we had carried with water. I took the gourds from her and went to the river bank. I decided to swim before filling the gourds and I called back to my mother, “Come put your feet in the water with me!” She sat down and shook her head, she called back, “No, no, no. The crocodiles will take the rest of my toes! Get the water and come back!” She was very impatient with me. But I was taller than her now and so I decided I could disobey her. The Englishman had taught us all to swim too. He brought us to the river and astounded us by jumping in the deep water. We all cried and screamed for him to come out! His head disappeared and we shouted for him, “Master William! Master William!” We were certain he had been taken by an crocodile or worse! A hippo! But the Englishman came back up, like a muddy ghost and he spat water at all of us and laughed and laughed. For days and days it seemed, he brought us to the river and showed us how to breathe under water. He taught us how to float. He taught us the Breaststroke and told us he had once swum the English Channel, a big river far far away.
I dove into the river, just as the Englishman taught me and opened my eyes below the surface. I was so happy and cool after walking so far with my mother. I knew she was sitting under the bottle tree cursing me but I didn’t care. I could see the sunlight under the water, it lit up the sandy floor and the back of a turtle that I startled with my dive. The green water was all around me and I held my breath softly until I could no longer hold it and up I swam to the world above the water. But when I broke through the ceiling of the river, I was no longer near the river bank just below the hill with the bottle tree. The savanna was desert and my mother was gone. I found myself standing in a muddy watering hole facing a zebra. She was so thin that it was hard to discern her stripes from her bones. Her eyes were black agates and her nostrils were wide and struggling for air. She was as surprised to see me as I was her. But she was thirsty and so she lowered her head and drank the muddy water at my feet. I looked all around me. The sun was very high above me, it was midday now, yet my mother and I had walked to the river just as the sun was setting. I walked toward the zebra as she drank. She ignored me and continued to take in the water. She switched her tail and I saw that even the flies were done with her, she was of no use to them. Vultures circled overhead and I knew that by the end of the day, the zebra would be in their bellies.
When I woke from the dream, a man was standing over my bed. He told me to get up. I asked him where my father was and he said that I no longer belonged to my father, I belonged to him. He told me his name was Abshir. He wore an AK-47 slung over his shoulder -- I had never seen him in our village before. He was taller than my father and wore army green pants tucked into desert boots. There was a scar on his chest, just above his ribs and right below his heart. There was a platinum chain around his neck that held a tooth, it was bone white and like no animal tooth I had ever seen, “What is that?” I pointed to the tooth, and he replied, “That is a shark tooth. He was very big and I killed him with this gun. You will kill a shark with a gun some day. But now, you need to hurry up!”
I sat in the back of the truck with four other boys, none of them were from my village; Desmond, Victor, Gabriel and Luc. They were all fourteen, just like me. Desmond had cigarettes and he shared them with us as we bounced along the savanna highway that gave way to the concrete coast. Victor asked me if it was true that we were headed to Mogadishu and I told him he knew more than I. All I knew was that my father was no longer my father and that someday I would kill a shark with an AK. I asked Victor if he knew what a shark was and he replied that he thought it was some sort of sea monster. I had never been to the sea. Of all of us, only Luc had been to the sea. His father took him to the sea once, south of Mogadishu, because they had a cousin who was a fisherman. Luc confirmed that a shark was a sea monster.
Abshir drove straight through the savanna, all night, and we five boys laid in the back of the truck and watched the stars spin over us and then we fell asleep to the whir of the engine -- every rut and bump threw us all about the bed of the truck, but we were all so tired and thirsty that we didn’t care, we slept like hogs on the way to market.
Morning came with a silver sky over Mogadishu. The only city I had ever seen, except for pictures of European cities that the Englishman had shown to us in the school house. He told us of the Eiffel Tower and Buckingham Palace. He said he would take us to Mogadishu one day so that we could see our city, the big city of our country, but he never did take us. Abshir stopped the truck finally and told us all to get out. “Hurry, hurry!” The air was thick with things I had never smelled so abundantly before -- gasoline and salt and tea. He told us to sit down on the pier and wait for him, “don’t go anywhere, or I will find you and kill you.” He disappeared down an alley way and we looked at the green sea water touching the concrete. We heard the ringing of lines and metal on the sides of the ships. The ships seemed like all the animals we had left behind on the savanna -- some were as big as elephants and some were as delicate as gazelle. There was some sort of commotion nearby and we craned our necks to see what it was about. We didn’t dare stand up for fear that Abshir would return and shoot us all dead.
We saw three men fighting. They were dressed like Abshir -- all of them had AKs and desert boots. One was wearing a black beret and he was the tallest of the three. They were yelling at one another in French. The black beret began shoving the smaller man who seemed to be apologizing. He fell to his knees and began begging the black beret. The black beret kicked him and the small man fell over and curled up like a little child. The black beret brandished his AK, he pointed it down at the small man, while the third man shouted “assassiné!” I closed my eyes waiting to hear the shots, but they never came. When I opened them again, I saw Abshir standing over me and the other boys. He handed us Coca-Colas in bottles and some flat bread. It was the first I had eaten since going to bed in my own house two nights ago. We took the bottles and the bread from Abshir all while watching the three men continue to fight down the pier. Abshir squatted down and told us to listen to him, “Écoutez-moi” and so we turned to him. “You three get up and go to those men down there! You work for them now.” Abshir touched Desmond, Victor and Luc and then pointed down the pier to the three men who were no longer fighting, now they were standing still and watching us. The black beret was smoking a cigarette and shifting his AK from one shoulder to the other. The little man no longer cowered. They were waiting for the boys to join them. Desmond looked at Victor and Luc and they looked back at him. We had only been friends for a short time, but we were certain that whatever was going to happen to us, we were destined to face it together. Abshir shouted and kicked at Desmond, who was the biggest of all of us, “Go now!” They got up, and Desmond threw his Coke bottle off the pier and into the water. Luc and Victor did the same and they marched off to join the men.
This left myself and Gabriel. We looked up at Abshir and I wondered if Gabriel was trembling in his stomach like I was. I looked at the watch on Abshir’s wrist. It read ten o’clock. The Englishman had taught us how to tell time too. I like ten o’clock in the morning. It was the time that the Englishman would tell us all to put our heads down on our desks and close our eyes for a while. The Englishman would go outside of the school house and smoke a cigarette and drink a cup of coffee and we would do as he said -- when I closed my eyes I imagined I was riding a horse like Alexander the Great, I imagined myself to be a great warrior. “You! You are coming with me. Both of you. Get up, hurry! Hurry!”
We followed Abshir down the pier and then through an alleyway. We stopped to talk to an old Muslim man who sat on the ground with many bird cages. The bird cages were filled with finches of every color. Abshir gave the man some money and the man kissed Abshir’s hand. Abshir told Gabriel and I to choose one cage and so we pondered the cages for just a few moments as Abshir and the Muslim spoke in a language I had never heard before. Gabriel touched one cage that contained three yellow finches and smiled, I nodded my head and we looked at Abshir, “Yes, yes, take that one. Three birds should be fortuitous . . .” and so Gabriel lifted the cage and Abshir continued to speak to the Muslim in the language that seemed full of letters I had never pronounced.
We left the Muslim man and Abshir told us we were going to his ship now. He told us that there were many men on the boat, as many as twenty, and that we were to only answer to him, no matter what the men said to us, “They will try to give you cigarettes and shiny stones that they have found on the beach. Ignore them. Or I will kill you both and throw you overboard. You will be then be eaten by sharks and will be caught in the afterlife. If you do as I say, you will return to earth as princes. Do you understand me?” Gabriel and I nodded. I was no longer afraid, even though Abshir had threatened to kill me several times already. He had given me Coca-Cola and now birds, he seemed too kind to follow through on his threats to kill me.