I grew up in Mogadishu with 6 siblings, 5 sisters and a brother. The middle child of a middle-class family, I was an active child who loved soccer and played in neighborhood backyards every day. All of this with the backdrop of Somalia's prolonged civil war.
The war, which had been simmering ever since the confrontation between Somalia and Ethiopia ended a decade earlier, erupted in the capital city of Mogadishu in December 1990. The people of Somalia had finally had enough of their brutal dictator Siyad Barre. Rising to power through a military coup in 1969, Barre ruled with an iron fist, introducing the country to communism, nationalizing private companies and crushing dissidents.
One fateful Saturday afternoon
One Saturday in January 1991, I was with my cousins, who had fled their homes to avoid the government's indiscriminate bombing just days earlier. They joined us in my family's house just outside of the city, but they wanted to go back to their homes to pick up some of their belongings. Without hesitation, I went with them. As a child my age, I was always looking for adventure.
I wish the journey home was as easy as the journey there. It wasn't.
After many hours on foot, we made it to my uncle's house. While he asked us to stay the night, we felt it would be much riskier than the 15-mile walk home, despite the impending darkness. That's when each warring sides would hunker down in their positions and kill anything that moved.
We assured my uncle that our fleet feet and faith in God would carry us safely home.
As darkness grew, we approached a street engulfed in the distinctive sound of sniper fire. Shots reverberated off the half-crumbled buildings. Unlike automatic fire, sniper fire has a rhythm to it.
Any lengthy pauses gave us a confidence that things were safe. We ran single-file across areas where the shooting had subsided. We cut through buildings to escape more live fire. The shelling recommenced and we ran through an open field like the scared children we were.
Suddenly, things changed in an instant. My next memory is of my cousin, Adun, laying face down. His right hip split wide open, blood covering the ground like an oil slick. I screamed for help. My other cousin, Dhalin, sprinted to us and fell by his brother's side. He said, "Abdi … Adun is dead."
His words didn't register. Nothing made sense.
Desperate to escape the danger, I tried to stand. I couldn't. The rocket had exploded, killing Adun and changing my life forever. My spinal cord so severely injured, I was expected to never walk again. And with that, the dreams I'd once had went up like the smoke rising from the ashes of my country.
A spinal cord injury like mine was a death sentence in Somalia. Or so I thought. But I survived because of my family's tireless, sacrificial efforts and my Islamic faith.