Where are you?

By Saado Abdi

Families were gathered around tent shelters, trying to find some shade from the scorching sun in our home, “Kakuma refugee camp.” I was watching groups of children play in small groups, some kicking a ball around and others chasing each other. My four-year-old brother, Osman, was among them, and he was smiling. I realized I didn’t remember the last time I had seen him smile, but it was probably before we fled our home country, Somalia, due to the political instability caused by the “Al-Shabaab” and came to the camp to seek refuge and safety.

I saw a child playing with her father. They were all smiling and seemed happy. I got carried away with emotions, having never experienced that with my own father. When I looked around, something was not right because my younger brother, Osman, was missing. My heart skipped a beat. I panicked, and my body froze, feeling like ice crystals in a freezer. I asked the kids whom he was playing with, “Where has Osman gone?” But they didn’t know and just continued playing.

Our mother, Fatima, would be furious to know that I lost my brother, and she would certainly punish me for it. I panicked and began to search the neighborhood, asking everybody if they had seen him. My heart started beating faster and faster, and I started sweating profusely. The further away from the playground I moved, the more confused I became. My conscience told me that something bad must have happened. I kept running around like a mad dog, and all I could think about was the safety of my only brother. Having lost my other two siblings and my father in an air raid in Mogadishu by the Al-Shabaab, I never wanted to lose my brother, the only sibling I have.

I couldn’t imagine what had happened to my younger brother, Osman. The worst part was living with the blame of being responsible for him being lost. I couldn’t imagine living with such a painful burden in my soul. So many questions were running in my mind, but the only sensible question was, “Where are you? Please come home.” I had heard stories of children being taken away and sold into slavery or taken across the border to be forced to fight in wars in neighboring countries like South Sudan. And when I thought such a thing might have happened to Osman, I felt my heart pumping faster and my veins swelling. All I was asking myself was, “What if it’s true that he has been kidnapped? How will I ever see my only brother again? What will happen to my mother when she hears the same?” I pictured my mother fainting and being taken to the hospital because of high blood pressure. I then realized that I was going out of the camp and it was getting dark. I had no option but to go back home to tell my mother. It was a difficult decision to make, but I had no other option.

I went home and found my mother washing Osman’s school uniforms. He was in grade 3 by then. When she saw me walking home alone, she stopped washing the uniforms and came towards me. She then asked, “Where is Osman, and why are your eyes red?” I was so scared I kept quiet, but then she shouted, “If you don’t tell me where your brother is, I will break your head into pieces right now!”

“He is lost,” I stammered.

“What? Where have you taken my son?” My mother yelled.

“We were at the playground while Osman was playing with other kids. After some minutes, I looked around and could not see him there. I then asked around, and they had no idea where he went. I moved all over the place but couldn’t find him,” I said as I knelt down crying. “Sorry, mother. Please forgive me. It’s all my fault.”

“How could you be so careless?” my mother shouted, tears rolling down her cheeks. “You cannot take care of your younger brother!” I felt so ashamed and guilty at the same time. “Stand up; let us go and look for your brother. What if something bad has happened to him. This camp is not safe; therefore, we must find him by all means,” my mother said, tying a “kitenge” (a traditional cloth that mothers tie around their waist) around her waist. She even asked neighbors to help search for my brother. We split up into groups of five and covered the entire area, calling out his name and looking in every corner. We searched the tents, the latrines, even the nearby fields, but my brother was nowhere to be found. My mother kept crying, and seeing her cry made me cry too. Deep inside my heart, I never lost hope of finding him.

As the day progressed, we started to worry that my brother might have been taken by someone who meant him harm. My mother and I went and shared information with the camp authorities and the nearby police station, hoping they might be able to help. The hours went by, and as the sun began to set, my hope turned to despair. Tears streamed down my face as I knelt on the ground, praying for my younger brother to be found safe and sound. I could not eat nor drink anything.

As night fell, a man from the host community (the Turkana people who are hosting us in their land) appeared in the camp, carrying a small boy in his arms. The man was wearing a white vest, a blue short, and “Okala”, (traditional Turkana slippers made of vehicle tires). It was Osman. My mother and I smiled and ran towards him. The man brought Osman down and he ran towards us smiling.

“Mama! Mama! Mama!” Osman shouted. My mother cried out with joy and embraced her son.

“Madam, is he your son?” the man asked.

“Yes, we have been searching for him all over the area. Where did you find him?” my mother replied.
“I found him wandering alone near the edge of the camp, and recognized him from the search party’s calls.”

“Thank you so much, May God bless you”

“It’s okay Madam but please next time be careful because if I didn’t hear the search calls, I could not have known then something bad might have happened to him”

“We will be careful thank you once again.”

The man went and I hugged my brother very tight. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. My brother was safe and sound. But there was still the question of what had happened to him. No one knew how he had gone missing, where he had gone, or why. But for now, it didn’t matter. My brother was back and that was what mattered most. I thanked Allah for having taken care of him.

19 August, 2023