Scenes From Somalia

Peace Corps said that Somalia was a very difficult country to work in. It did have its challenges. But it had so many rewards too. Like Queen Hatshesput, I found that Somalis were the kindest and most generous people I had ever known. Who was Queen Hatshesput?

Well, once upon a time a beautiful Egyptian queen described the kind and generous people her explorers had discovered.  Her ships returned from the land of Punt, now Somalia, laden with frankincense and myrrh, exotic fruits and spices, meerschaum, world class livestock, and even trees ready to plant in Egyptian soil.  We know this because Queen Hatshesput memorialized this journey on magnificent murals in her tomb in the Valley of the Kings, where they remain today.

That was nearly 3,600 years ago.

In 1969 I was honored to be part of a Peace Corps team sent to Somalia. I left two years later with a trunk full of memories and treasures. Click below to discover a few of the amazing treasures in this very special country.

Most people now know Somalia from “Black Hawk Down”, or from the stories of Somali pirates, or from Somalia’s listing on the “No Immigrant List” of 2017.  We know of these events solely from a United States government perspective.  It is time for a different view of Somalia, a view experienced by real people.

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Few modern outsiders have been gifted the friendship of these kind, generous people.  This author is one of those modern outsiders.  In 1967 I went as a hopeful Peace Corps Volunteer to Somalia.  This was an era just prior to the Somali Civil War, one of the many unfortunate wars of the modern era.

The MYSTICAL LAND OF MYRRH is a fictional telling of that time, with a dozen stories intertwined.

This two-year tour posed immense challenges for Moira, the young woman in our story.  Tensions of war were mounting.  Her lesbian life was strictly forbidden by the Somali Muslim culture.  Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, mis-information ran rampant, with unexpected adventure, even threats to her life.  Her yearning for a romantic attachment brought only bitter disaster to her beloved.

These dozen tales do not represent the entire landscape of Somali life, but only a slice of it, for two years, in a lovely town called Baidoa.  The wells of Baidoa, once called “Heavenly Baidoa”, brought life and energy to the entire region, and when the wells dried up a few years later, Baidoa became “The City of Death.”

MaryAnn Shank with students in Somalia
Me with students at Sheik Awes School

The peoples of Baidoa included the cantankerous old Italian ex-pat who kept a storehouse filled with wine, an extraordinary Catholic padre who ran an orphanage, a Russian doctor terrified of killing a Peace Corps volunteer with his brand of medicine, USAID staff teaching Somalis to plant crops in rows, and the teachers, merchants, mothers, farmers, nomads and others who made the town of Baidoa so very special.  It is the story of a beautiful, courageous young woman who saved Moira’s life one starry night.   It is the story of love and anguish, in very unexpected places.  Above all, MYSTICAL LAND OF MYRRH is the story of incredible students who were destined to be leaders of the new Somalia, and the teacher who bumbled her way through it all.

I am honored to be able to bring you this view of Somalia.