My family forbade me to talk to ghosts.
You smile? Perhaps, in the West, there are no ghosts. In Somalia, there are too many. But we are here to talk about different superstitions, about the cutting. For Somali girls, it is sunna, just ‘the Way.’ I learned about it from my sister Yasmiin but I asked eedo, my aunt, if it were true. Then abti, my uncle, beat me, partly for my immodest curiosity and partly for talking to Yasmiin, who had died ten years earlier.
Please do not laugh. We are a haunted people. Eedo grieved for her brother; abti grieved for two sons. A land mine killed my mother. My father was murdered by militants.
How quiet the streets of Europe are. How empty your houses. With ghosts, you are never alone, even when you learn to ignore them, as I did: the girls that al-Shabab kidnapped who wandered the fields shrieking, the disfigured old lady who waited at the water pump, fierce Yasmiin who followed me wherever I went, to the market, to the school, to prayers. But never my father or abti’s sons. The dead are all women, demanding to be heard.
The dead do not leave when you ignore them. You draw more with your silence and your downcast eyes. Ghosts crowded the house. They chattered through the night until I screamed at them to leave. Then eedo, waking, inspected my sheets and saw the blood and declared Wallahii!, no more delay. I would be cut and then married.
How the ghosts complained and pleaded. Once I followed the Way of all women, I would hear them no more. I was relieved at the thought. Then abti paid for a traditional cutter to come to the house.
“You will die,” Yasmiin shouted. “Did I not die? Do you want to join me? Do you?”
The ghosts pressed into the room while the cutter took out his knives. I looked from the man with his knives to my fierce sister. I spoke to the ghosts one last time.
I said “Caawi!” which means ‘Help me.’
They are years and oceans away now. The dead do not speak to me in this country.
So I will speak for them. For I have seen the anger of ghosts and it is a terrible thing.
This one took a while: partly some research into Somalia, and Somali language, but more working out how the ghosts represent the silence in a sometimes-brutal, patriarchal setting. In fact, there's very little ghost lore I could discover in real Somalian folklore and not much in Islam generally. But Somalia is a suffering country that certainly deserves angry ghosts.