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Meet Somalia’s trailblazing female camel trader




Every morning just before sunrise, Zamzam Yusuf makes the short drive between her house in Kismayo to a farm about 30 kilometres (19 miles) outside the Somali port city.

Tired with life in London where she worked as a carer for more than 10 years, the 55-year-old decided to return home three years ago.

With almost all sectors of Somalia’s commerce destroyed due to more than 20 years of civil war, Zamzam spotted an – unlikely – business opportunity and swiftly acted upon it.

“Many thought it was a bad idea. Others laughed at me. My own family advised me against [it] – but it is the best business decision I have ever made,” she says.

Zamzam is a camel trader, a job often reserved for men in the conservative country in the Horn of Africa.

Of the world’s estimated 35 million camels, Somalia, a country of more than 15 million people, houses more than seven million camels – the highest number per country globally.

Livestock is the backbone of the Somali economy with more than 65 percent of the population engaged in some way in the industry, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. But it is extremely rare to see a woman at any of the busy camel markets in the East African country.

“When men found out what I do, they told me it is not a woman’s job. That it is too difficult and I should leave it to them,” Zamzam, a mother of seven, says.

The industry is lucrative with a fully mature camel costing $1,400 and the young ones going for at least $900. Most of the camels are exported to the Middle East where they command a premium.

The milk, often referred to as white gold, also brings in a decent return. In Kismayo, one litre (33.8 fluid ounces) of camel milk is sold for $1 and Zamzam’s herd produces at least 400 litres (105.7 gallons) a day.

“First, I started with 30 camels. But slowly the herd has grown. Now the total is 145 camels and growing,” she says, as dozens of calves bleat in the background.

“The target is to have more than 1,000 camels. God willing.

In a bid to expand her business, which employs 10 people, Zamzam decided to join forces with two other traders. 

“I had no other choice but to have two men as business partners,” she says. “I wish more women could join me but that is very difficult. Most women here think it is a job for men.”

When she is not busy tending to her herd or dealing with orders, Zamzam spends her time visiting schools and women’s workshops where she tries to convince them to give camel trading a chance.

At Kismayo’s Alanley area, Zamzam has found eager listeners among those taking sewing classes at the Awale Womens’ Group.

“If a woman can raise children, which everyone agrees is a very tough work, we can easily look after camels,” 32-year-old Khadra Abdullahi says.

“Camels are part of our culture and who we are. I want to become like Zamzam. If men can do it we can do it, too. We are strong, too. Some people have the wrong mindset and it is up to us women to prove them wrong.” she adds, while other women in the workshop nod in agreement.

But at the city’s restaurants and tea stalls, the mood is different. Men are dismissive of the idea of women joining the industry. They know of Zamzam, but in a deeply conservative society where many men believe women should stay at home, they avoid using her name when talking about her.

“My advice for the mother from the diaspora is: Looking after camels is difficult. It brings lots of work and worries. It is not a challenge a woman can handle,” Khadar Khalif Hersi, a businessman, says.

“I will strongly advise her to find something else to do and to leave it to us, men. There is a reason why other women are not doing it. She should be like other women,” the 40-year-old adds.

The industry is dominated by men who have never had to compete with a female trader and they find the idea of being challenged by Zamzam unpalatable.

But Zamzam has loyal and vocal support from the young men she has employed.

“I have been working with her for two years. I like [it] and I don’t see any problems with her doing this job,” Abdullahi Mohamed Aden, one of the camel herders, says.

“It is not against our religion in any way so it is OK. She is a good woman and she is doing something good. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be working for her,” he adds.

For Zamzam, nothing will stop her from pursuing her chosen career.

“I’m doing this for my grandchildren. I want them to come back to their country and have a good life. Life in Europe is hard and opportunities are few. Somalia has more opportunities for them,” the grandmother-of-29 says.

“The men can say what they want. I will not stop. No way,” she adds, laughing.

Source: Al Jazeera

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Arts and Culture

Why would Americans rather drive their car for days than take the train?




In the USA, taking a train is more complicated than flying or driving. Train stations are in shady neighborhoods where you don’t want to walk or park your car. In Europe and Asia, the stations are in the center and you can hop on the Metro train from the main train station.

Further, in the USA, freight rail takes the right-of-way, so your train may be delayed 12 hours or so. It’s not convenient. It’s more of an ‘experience’ to take the train than a convenience.


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Arts and Culture

Somalia hosts its first public film screening in 30 years



Image: AFP

After more than 30 years, Somalia has hosted its first public film screen, a sign of hope for the Horn of Africa nation that has been battling armed group like al Shabab for three decades.

Two short films by Somali director Ibrahim CM were shown at the National Theatre in the capital Mogadishu, where heavy security was in place, the BBC reported.

The theatre has been a suicide bomb target and a base for warlords.

Theatre director Abdikadir Abdi Yusuf said it was a “historic night for the Somali people”.

It shows how hopes have been revived… after so many years of challenges,” he told the AFP news agency.

“It’s a platform that provides an opportunity to… Somali songwriters, storytellers, movie directors and actors to present their talent openly,” he added.

Filmgoers paid $10 (£7) to watch the two films, Hoos and Date from Hell. They had to pass through several checkpoints in order to reach the heavily-guarded green zone, which houses the theatre as well as the presidential palace and the parliament.

“I used to watch concerts, dramas, pop shows, folk dances and movies in the national theatre during the good old days,” one attendee, Osman Yusuf Osman, told AFP.

“It makes me feel bad when I see Mogadishu lacking the nightlife it once had. But this is a good start.”

Another expressed concerns about safety.

Hakimo Mohamed said she was a schoolgirl when she and her friends went to the theatre to watch concerts and dramas.

“People used to go out during the night and stay back late if they wished – but now, I don’t think it is so safe,” she said.

The theatre was built by Chinese engineers as a gift from China’s leader Mao Zedong in 1967. It was seen as an important driver for Somalia’s cultural development in the 1970s and 80s.

It closed in 1991 at the start of the civil war, and was used as a base for warlords fighting over the capital. The theatre fell into disrepair as a result.

When it reopened in 2012 – after repairs carried out by the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) – the building was immediately blown up by al-Shabab militants who considered live entertainment and films to be morally corrupt.

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Arts and Culture

10 worst things people say at the start of conversations




By Gina Barreca for Psychology Today

The top-10 worst conversational openers all have something in common. Narcissists are experts are sabotaging their conversational partners by seeming to ask questions that are actually attacks.

Asking “Do you remember what you said to me a long time ago that still genuinely hurts my feelings?” will probably not end in a hug and kiss.

You can stop these conversational sabotages before they explode into actual bad emotional eruptions. Learn to take back control of the dialogue.

1. “We should talk. For real.”

2. “Are you sitting down?”

3. “In my humble opinion.”

4. “No offense or anything.”

5. “Look, there’s something you should know.”

6. “I should warn you: You won’t like what I’m going to say.”

7. “Hey, I’m just being honest.”

8. “I’m the only one brave enough to tell you what everybody’s saying behind your back.”

and I’m not a delicate flower. Even as I ridicule these ghastly phrases by piling them on top of each other in an attempt to diminish their power, they sting my fingers as I hit the keyboard. That’s how poisonous they are emotionally, and how potentially powerful.

Insensitive clichés, delivered with barely repressed glee have exactly the opposite effect of the expression “abracadabra”: They make everything magically slam shut instead of open up.

Want to terrify your listener into short breaths, dilated pupils, and rapid heartbeats? Using a confidentially condescending tone of voice, start your sentence with “Not that it’s really any of my business but…” and watch color drain from their faces.

Narcissists are the most adept at delivering these lines, but expert manipulators and masterful passive-aggressive types also make trenchant use of these rhetorical weapons.

A conversation beginning with “We really need to talk” has never ended with a hug and a kiss. Never in my life have I come away feeling better after a tête-à-tête initiated via “Don’t take this personally.”

And anyone who lives in the mistaken belief that muttering, “I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this” will bring you closer together has made a perilous choice.

You are the one they put in danger; they remain in control of the situation.

If someone “shouldn’t be telling you this”—if they are betraying someone else’s confidence by saying it and if the information only serves to make you feel important because you think you have a secret—then the warning is right. This is not something you should hear.

Mark Twain summed it up when he wrote, “It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart: One to slander you and the other to get the news to you.”

I’d add that the friend who gets gossipy, unnerving, upsetting, unsettling, or unnecessarily catastrophied “news” to you is not really your friend. Does a true friend want to whisper into your ear a rumor or a bad opinion that will make you miserable, especially if it’s about something you can’t change?

Beware the bringer of contraband information. Examine their motives.

Beware, too, those who begin conversations in other ways that depend on the bad fortunes of others. Those who enjoy jaunty rounds of “Guess Who’s Dead?” play a version of this bad conversational game.

The game of “Guess Who’s Dead?” gets increasingly unnerving as we age, given that the list of possible winner/losers gets longer.

Yet I never know how to answer. I mean, do you really want me to guess? Do we go by alphabetical order, age, BMI, or wish fulfillment?

Is it like charades, where you can give hints “Okay, two syllables, sounds like ‘bowling’? Rolling? Rolling Stone? Keith Richards?” But no, it can’t be. Keith Richards. Richards, 77, smoking cigarettes since he was conceived, he will bury us all. When anybody asks, “Guess who just died?” I simply reply “It’s not Keith Richards, so just tell me already.”

How can you stop these conversational sabotages, these comments that can verge on micro- aggressions while disguised as socialization opportunities, before they explode into actual bad emotional eruptions? You might consider taking control back from the person who appears to want to seize it from you, even if they are not aware it, or appear to be not aware of it.

You can take the reins in the dialogue. Saying something as simple as “You’re making me nervous. Can we get to the main point right away?” is both honest and direct. It shortcuts the possible poorly or dangerously sparking emotional circuitry and cuts down on drama.

But, look, I’m only telling you this as a friend. Don’t take this personally. I’ve heard you used to be pretty good at conversation, at least you were once. Everybody says so—well, almost everybody. You might not want to hear this, but….

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