Day 121 - Bashir (1st person I approached)
May 01, 2014 - Bashir comes from Mogadishu, Somalia. It is the nation’s largest city and the capital of Somalia. He is the fourth child of nineteen children by his father, and the third child of four by his mother. It is commonplace in the Somalian culture for a man to have multiple wives. Bashir tells me his father had ten wives over his lifetime and was never married to more than one woman at any one time.
“My father worked for the Somalian Government. He ran supply warehouses. He maintained inventory of grains, rice and other supplies, and oversaw distribution. He is elderly now at the age of 91 years old and my brothers and sisters care for him. He is in a wheelchair and needs to be cared for. It is their turn to care for him. It is the cycle of life,” he says. He then asked if I minded if he smoked.
Bashir had an intense education.
“In the mornings I would have religious school, followed by government school in the afternoons. My father paid for me to go to private schools in the evening.” When I mention to Bashir that I can hear a trace of an English accent he explains,
“The accent can be English, or American. The private schools were both British and American. This was my schooling. Grade A plus education, from elementary school right through to completing high school in Grade 12.”
Bashir finished school at 17 years old. This was in 1991. Somalia was about to fall apart under widespread civil war. A few family members managed to get to southern Somalia as the fighting increased.
“I can still see the bodies. There were lines of dead people everywhere. People were turning on each other. I tried to move my foot without stepping on those who had lost their lives, but it was sometimes not possible. That’s how bad it was. Blood was everywhere. It was judgment day. We thought the end had come,” said Bashir. He was calm and seemingly detached from the horror he was describing.
“I became desensitized to it. I became numb,” he said. Food was becoming scarce, and they would spend days fishing and hunting. “I remember one day being at the beach, looking out over the Indian Ocean. I saw a great fish, dead on the beach. It was still edible, because the ocean is salt water. It was a great fish,” he recalls.
“We waited in southern Somalia for almost a year before we could get out of the country. A friend of my father’s took us in. It was me and three of my siblings and a cousin. My father's friend was a generous and had been a wealthy man. He was a Pharmacist. He is what we call a 'general uncle,' not related, but one who cares. My cousin managed to make the trip to Nairobi where he chartered a plane. There was a small airport on the coast of Somalia that had not yet been taken over by rebels. There were seven of us in total, and we flew to Nairobi, then to Amsterdam. We changed planes in Amsterdam and made our way to New York. My cousin listed myself and my siblings as his children on his passport in order that we could get through immigration. I’m not sure how it worked but we got out. We stayed in Harline (Harlem) New York, for a few months. It was an experience. I had left behind a physical war in Somalia, only to encounter a war of the mind in America. People pushed into small corners of communities and not able to choose where they can live freely. It was like a segregation. Different communities for different backgrounds. A war of the mind,” says Bashir tapping on his temple. He then asked if I would mind if he had another cigarette.
“We drove across the border and into Ontario, Canada,” said Bashir. I asked how long he lived in Ontario and what he did while there.
“I lived there for six years. I didn’t do anything. I was diagnosed as ‘mad’ when I arrived there,” he said. I asked what he meant by that.
“Well, a simple man would describe it as chronic depression. But an educated man, who is busy and stressed and has little time, brushes it off as a madness,” Bashir told me. We talked at length about this because I wasn’t quite sure I had heard him correctly. But, Bashir sees it exactly as I wrote above.
“I needed someone to look after me. I couldn’t be left alone, or care for myself. I was mad,” he said. His cigarette had gone out, and he apologized while lighting it again.
After six years in Ontario, things changed due to circumstances.
“My cousin told me he had located my mother, who I hadn’t seen since I was about ten years old.” Bashir told me of flashes of memory, like pictures that he had related to seeing his mother.
“I was ten years old and hadn’t seen my father since birth. He had been fighting with my mother. He held me hostage to get my mother to talk to him. I remember clearly my mother asking me the one question that I wish I was never asked. She asked whom I wanted to live with. I of course chose my father out of excitement. It was a big mistake, but I only know that now. So my cousin had located my mother who was living in San Diego, California. He rented a car and drove with me over the border into Buffalo, New York. He took me to a train station, and bought me a ticket and off I went, alone, to California. I called the telephone number I had when I got to San Diego. A cousin that I had never met came and picked me up. I found myself in a house, with a woman that i didn’t know, but who knew me. She was my mother,” Bashir said.
Things didn’t work our for Bashir and his mother.
‘It wasn’t the outcome I had hoped for. I had hoped that we could start a relationship. To grow to know one another. But my mother is a hypocrite and I am a holy man. (That is why bashir wears his 'laurel' crown.) There soon were obvious conflicts.”
Bashir decided that he preferred living in Canada, and at the same time, didn’t want to go back to Ontario. So he boarded a Greyhound bus and came to Vancouver.
“It was July 05th, 1997, the first day I arrived in Vancouver. I had heard it was heavenly beautiful, and that people were nice and the weather was good. I was alone,” he told me. I asked how it was to be alone, when previously he had needed to be cared for. “In some ways, I have put things behind me. I am still desensitized. But I’ve also worked through some of the things so that I can be happy again. To live life happy." I asked Bashir how he would describe himself. He told me
“I label myself, I am a mad man. I am okay with that. I live at the University of British Columbia Hospital. I walk around and say hello to people. They are nicer here than in America. I go to the library to use the internet. I like to read about history, and science. And prophecies. The prophecies of Islam. I live my life and each day as I please.”
Bashir asked if we could continue talking and I told him I would see him again and we would chat some more. He said he would like that. We hugged. He thanked me, and as I walked away, he waved. I turned around once more, to see him lighting a cigarette. And then he waved again. #notastranger