Ali Hussein, a 65-year-old barber has been cutting hair for 30 years
I never thought the era of enjoyment under the former regime of Siad Barre would be replaced by blood and a dog's life.
During that time I was a barber at Uruba, Somalia’s favourite tourist hotel on the edge of Mogadishu beach. It was a place of luxury where the cool breeze and the rich men converged.
There was all sorts of wine and dancing. I earned $10 a day, which was enough to pay for food and water for the family. One dollar was only 150 Somali shillings at the time.
In 1991, civil war broke out and the hotel Uruba was looted. I had to take a mirror and a chair to the port and that was my makeshift barber shop.
Eight out of 10 customers never paid me. Militiamen just came in, had their hair cut and disappeared. Asking for money would obviously have led to a bullet in my head.
The dollar went up to 6,000 Somali shillings, so life was expensive and civil war intensified. The port itself was looted and I had to take the mirror and the chair again to continue business under a tree in the western part of the city.
One day heavy shelling and fighting took place. I ran home but could not see my family. There was no telephone and eventually I got tired of searching for my wife and six kids.
They were hopelessly trapped in another part of the city. They also got tired of looking for me. Life became very painful and everywhere there was blood and flesh.
To survive, I continued cutting hair. I could hardly get half a dollar a day but a plate of rice in the cheapest restaurant was about $3.
There was terror, hunger and worry for missing families. Most people became gunmen, robbing to eat, but for me a pair of scissors was the only weapon I had.
My wife thought I had died, so she married another man and bore him a daughter.
In 1992, the U.S. forces (UNISOM peacekeepers) arrived in Mogadishu. We felt some relief. The dollar went down to 3,000. Food was affordable.
But the threats and killing continued for years. Many barbers were killed just because of repeatedly asking for payment.
I will never forget the pain and terror of the fighting. Many professors, doctors and ordinary people were killed in front of my eyes. So many people were killed -- like flies -- that we sometimes buried a dozen of them in a shallow hole like rubbish.
Sometimes, I shout in my sleep late at night. I see their faces pleading, ‘Please, don’t kill me, I’m innocent’.
After three years the U.S. peacemakers pulled out and soon life got worse. Life became expensive again. Robbing and the killing of people from minority clans was the order of the day.
Hunger and tears continued up to 1996. After that, life improved and I could earn enough from my business to live.
The happiest moment in my life was when I was reunited with my wife and six kids in 2003. Messages were conveyed through people we both knew and my wife heard I was alive. She divorced the other husband and came to me with seven children, including that man’s daughter.
In 2006, the Islamists emerged and began fighting. The dollar rate rose as high as 30,000 Somali shillings.
The Islamist period was undoubtedly the worst. Girls were forcibly married, property looted and innocent ones beheaded under the pretext of imposing Islamic sharia law.
This Al-Shabaab used minority clans like the Somali Bantu to behead people. Al-Shabaab shot my oldest son in the head. They knew he was a former soldier. I live in a government-controlled area and I am sure they will behead me if they see me.
I smell peace now. I think this is the only year we have real hope, but I am sure life will not be as good as in the 1990s under the Siad Barre regime.
Who can get that life? All the luxury places like hotel Uruba have been wrecked. I now receive about 20 customers a day and charge each $1.
Twenty dollars is enough to cover khat, cigarettes, the family’s needs and to pay secondary schools fees for my two kids.
As told to Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu. Photo by Omar Faruk
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