In early 2016 I travelled to Somalia. Among the many amazing people I met through my stay in the Sanaag region is Faiza.I met Faiza in Ceergaabo. Ceergaabo is a small town nestled inside the hills and mountains that mark the trains of this arid, perched land.Ceeraabo (Erigavo) is the capital of the Sanaag region in the Northeast part of the country.
Faiza is a mother of five. For years she has been making sure her children get the education they need, that they are fed and clothed. When Faiza first got married, her husband already had two wives. By the time she has had all her kids, he would marry more women and divorce more women. Faiza caps his children at somewherearound twenty-three. Some of those kids are staying with her. Faiza lives in a small cement house she built ten year ago. She has turned one of the rooms into a store. It’s where the girls sleep at night. This one room functions as a shop during business hours and a bedroom at night. She sells vegetables, canned tuna, powdered drinks, sugar, powered milk, flour and rice. The proceeds from the shop are how Faiza feeds her kids. Her husband lives with the youngest wife, he hardly ever visits them. Yet Faiza is not bitter. She says being bitter kills the family spirit; getting lost into anger is not something she wastes time on. Faiza likes to be practical and productive. She is in her shop by six thirty in the morning; customers are already filing in by then. A few minutes into it and they are already in and out of the shop. That is when the chatter begins, starting with greeting and then into the stories of the small town. Faiza’s storefront is a place to catch up with neighbors, friends and family. The shop with its wide green door facing the main street opens itself not only to patrons,but also to passers by who shout out their greetings across the way, while Faiza helps costumers. Some halt for a while to catch up. There is always room to catch up to the news of the day and neighbor stories.
While her kids prepare for school, she has the charcoal fire tin going, maneuvering between serving customers and making breakfast. There are two kids remaining with her in the house, her son is away at University in the capital, her daughters are both married. One is eighteen the other nineteen. When asked why she sent her son to University and why she didn’t encourage her girls to go to University; a somber grin precedes the answer, it’s a simple smile that is engulfed with all the feeling of circumstance and all the frustration of people from other places not understanding the daily struggle of women like her.
Her answer comes back cold and matter of factly, “It’s not as easy as you think,” She says. “I can only afford one person to go to University, it can’t be the girls. It just can’t be the girls. It’s how things are here.”
“But all your kids went to elementary and middle school and high school, even the girls, you have supported them.” I ask.
“Yes, but University is different, my brother’s two girls go to University, he can afford to send them there. But I can’t. Their father is a useless man, so what I am to do. I let the boy get his education and maybe one day, he will take care of all of us. He is a man, he can take such responsibilities.”
The lack of opportunity is making many girls opt out to get married instead of going to University. It all comes down to affordability. If a family can afford to send one child to higher education, it’s almost always never the girl.Faiza further explains that if she had more disposable income, she would send her daughters to University. Women like Faiza are the stamp of hard work, struggle and opportunity all over Africa. Left to fend for their families, sometimes they make hard choices. Sometimes they resort to tradition and culture that says boys and girls are not equal in the family dynamic. These believes settles in giving opportunities to boys while the choices for girls is forever dwindling.