By: Maxwell Moser, Photographer/Videographer, World Vision International
For two hours, World Vision Somalia nutritionist, Mohammud, and I have sat tumbling through a sea of sun-baked dirt and jagged rock. Suddenly, a mountain of dust kicked up by the land cruiser in front of us surrounds our vehicle like a thick fog, the cabin goes dark, and we stop and wait for it to clear. This is Puntland, Somalia after three years of drought.
A stretch of tarmac in Puntland, Somalia.
Up ahead, we see a few camels, hazy in the distant heat waves, and we slow down as we approach. A man is leading the camels, holding a rope attached to the lead camel’s halter, with a series of ropes connecting that camel to the two behind him. On each is perched a tent-like structure, a small lean-to covered in fabric, swaying back and forth with the animals’ stride.
“That’s the simplest man in the world,” Mohammud says. “He has everything he owns on those camels. His food, his water, even his wife and children.”
A camel stands at a watering hole.
Mohammud grew up in this part of Somalia and earned a master’s degree in nutrition from a university in India. Now, he lives back in his hometown and works for World Vision. He’s seen the famine affect his family’s herds of camels, their farmland, has seen the price of water double within months and is helping to pay for school for his nieces and nephews. He says this famine is different, because it’s not only being felt by the nomadic and rural populations, even the towns and cities are suffering.
Mohammud, a nutritionist working for World Vision Somalia.
On the drive back from visiting an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, I ask him why he chose to study nutrition, and he says ”Nutrition is actually very interesting, we all need it. Malnutrition is everywhere. Here in Somalia, people are suffering from undernutrition, where you are from, people are suffering from overnutrition. So you see we need nutrition the world over.” He doesn’t say this with any hint of sarcasm. It’s all very interesting to him, and he believes there’s better nutrition for all of us, some places just need it more than others.
A young child’s arm is measured. The red marker means he’s severely malnourished.
Later on, Mohammud says Somalia is an example of an older time, of the way humans used to live, without government and without borders, and I think back to the man with all of his belongings on the back of three camels. He tells me how herders used to simply follow the rains from one land to the next. Nomadic tribes with their animals, constantly seeking a better place to survive. But with borders, he says, this is impossible.
“There used to be no borders,” he tells me, “and the rich and the poor lived together more closely.”
The sun is setting, and the land is beginning to cool. We stop so that Mohammud, the drivers, and the six armed guards can pray. A wind is sweeping across the desert as the moon begins to rise, and this place that seemed uninhabitable just hours before is now one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.
I wander to the road while I wait and am greeted by an all-too familiar sight: piles of bone, a patch of fur here and there. A family’s livelihood baked and decomposed and returned to the earth. Mohammud is right that there are borders between us. Between lands, between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural, the over-nourished and the undernourished.
There is plenty and there is famine, and the simplest of borders separates one from the other: rain.
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