Akin to her peers, Habiba Hemed grew up herding goats for her parents. However, she surpassed them with an additional special set of skills: rope making. From the barks of trees, Habiba adeptly transmogrified fibres into ropes that were used to tie down huts, hold milk jars and decorate houses.
At 16, a Somali soldier who was serving the Brits and would later join the Kenyan military fell infinitely in love with her. Scheming with some of her female relatives, the serviceman managed to sneak her out from under the protective eye of her parents. Propelled by heedless youthful courage, Habiba eloped with him to his camp in Nanyuki and commenced a life that would have all facets of existence brewed up together. Enjoying relative stability, Habiba leaped from one military camp to another depending on her husband’s stationing. The biggest tragedy that dissolved their happiness during this period was the death of two of their children in infanthood.
But when her husband retired, it was as though the wheels of fortune glitched on a perpetual stand of misfortune. Her daughter lost her mobility, inexplicably crippled on her way back from fetching water. When the instruments of modern medicine failed to identify her problem, they settled on blaming this ill luck on the misty supernatural world. To this day she is by Habiba’s side unable to get up.
One of her son’s cognitive capabilities became infiltrated by venomous depression to a point of total mental illness. Her other son who had been struggling with epilepsy died and only three months later, her husband succumbed to kidney failure.
Habiba’s nights are filled with vivid dreams of her departed loved ones. “I try forgetting them but they visit me nearly every night,” she said. This subconscious clinging to souls now roaming in a different realm ignites memories she wishes would fade. In her dreams, her son stands on her front door and with a radiant smile he tells her, “I am fine.”
When she awakes, she sits with a needle and thread and begins sewing, reliving her childhood days of producing ropes. In reality, this is an effort to shake off the memories that stab her in the gut and strain her feeble elderly heart.