By Boni Manyala
The 1991 civil strife in Somali will be remembered for a number of things including the displacement of many Somali citizens who ended up in various countries across the globe.
For Mr. Mohamed Jama Mohamed, when Somali burst into flames in February 1991, that day a house he was inside also burst into flames ignited by petrol that was being kept in the house, burning his body and changed his life completely.
Mr. Jama who at the time worked with the Ministry of Agriculture of his country was being accommodated at his friend’s house in Jubaland. The friend sold petrol from his premises.
on the day of the incident Jama and his friend were pouring gallons of petrol into buckets when someone unknowingly walked in the room with a lamp, immediately causing a huge flame inside the house, engulfing many parts of the house and causing severe burns to Mohamed, especially in the face, back, hands and stomach.
“My body was brutally burned, I incurred almost 35 percent burns and the pain I was going through, is indescribable,” narrated Mohamed Jama.
To access medication for his burns, Mohamed needed to travel to Kismayu which was about 70 kilometers from where he was. He was also facing the challenge of transportation. Because the country had erupted into skirmishes, the sounds of gunfire were coming from allover the place and transportation from one place to the other was critically affected.
To get to Kismayu, Mohamed succeeded to hitch a ride on a pickup truck belonging to some fighters who were moving to Kismayu.
“They placed me on the floor behind the truck where I was lying as the truck was speeding to Kismayu in the middle of the night. It was very cold and I could feel my body freeze in deep pain as the cold breeze hit me. I cried hard, I was in pain, the only thing I wished for was to die. I even asked those gunmen traveling on-bord the truck to shoot me and end my life because I could not bear the pain,” Mohamed recalled.
However, his wish to die was not to be granted as the fighters declined to shoot him insisting, he must get to the hospital and be treated.
When they arrived in Kismayu, they found the hospital packed with people who were running away from their homes trying to get a safe haven and possible escaped to neighboring countries through the port of Kismayu.
The entire hospital compound was filled with people and without any nurses or doctors on site.
“I did not know anyone in Kismayu and the hospital had been converted into a refugee camp. There was no doctor, no nurses and no form of treatment going on. I struggled with the pain as the face was swollen. Somehow someone approached me and asked me if I could consider using a skin pain reliever ordinarily used by veterinary personnel on animals. I considered it and used it for a couple of days,” Mohamed says.
“We continued to camp at the hospital for days as the war worsened until one day, we were informed to go board a ship at Kismayu that would transport us to Mombasa in Kenya,” he adds.
The ship sail to Mombasa took off with over 800 people on board with Mohamed having secured a place inside the boat sitting however somewhere close to ship wall where he was easily splashed on water coming from heavy ocean currents.
It took seven days for the ship to reach the Kenyan waters in Mombasa but it did not dock because of clearance issues that needed to be sorted with the Kenyan administration before docking could be granted.
For another ten days they sat in the ship and waited. When they were finally granted to dock it was 17 days later, of serious pain and still without treatment.
In Mombasa the refugees were taken to Majengo area where they were hosted and that is where Mohamed tried to get medication from the Kenyan side.
He was helped by a well-wisher to travel to Nairobi from where he was eventually taken to Isiolo by a friend, who lived in Eastleigh to seek medication.
“I ended up in Isiolo for treatment finding a young nurse who looked shocked at the severity of my burns but promised to support me until I can get well,” Mohamed said
Because he could not speak English well and couldn’t speak a word of Kiswahili, the nurse took him to a ward with a television set so that he wouldn’t feel lonely during the course of his treatment.
Mohamed remembers that every morning the nurse would come with fruits and give to him insisting that the fruits were important for his recovery. Already he had undergone some surgery procedures leading to skin grafting.
Weeks turned to one month and then to another month, as Mohamed continued to receive treatment at the Isiolo hospital where the young lady nurse would come and treat his wounds and give him fruits she had bought every morning on her way to work.
Three months down the line, Mohamed was informed that he is now fine to be discharged.
“The nurse came and informed me that they will be discharging me in two days time, and on the material day she helped arrange for my discharge.
As I left the hospital, because I did not have any relatives, she took me to her house where she prepared for me tea and escorted me to the bus station where I paid bus fare from the money I had been given,” said Mohamed.
That lady was called Florence Lantari. Mohamed recalls asking her why she had been very helpful and caring to him despite the fact that he was not Kenyan and was not even related to her.
“If you do good, good will return to you,” Mohamed remembers that being the reply from Florence.
In few months time, Mohamed was lucky to go be repatriated to United State of America through the United Nations programme for refugees where he settled and went back to collage to study for three years as a surgical technician and eventually for four years as a nurse.
“When the opportunity to go to the US came, I left Kenya, and all contacts that I had made, and as I arrived in USA I embarked on studying courses related to Medicare because of the inspiration I had received in Kenya, especially from Florence Lantari who had treated me in Isiolo. I went to complete my two courses as a surgical technician and eventually as nurse because Florence had inspired me,” he said.
Mohamed who is currently a nurse at the University of Minnesota Medical Centre, is married and with two children. This month he visited Kenya after 30 years to come and look for Florence, the nurse at Isiolo who helped treat his burns.
With links from both USA and Kenya he finally found Florence, who currently lives in Machakos town and had just retired from her nursing profession last year 2020. Her final work station was at Machakos Level 5.
“I am so happy to meet her again after 30 years. She didn’t even know where I went to after I left Isiolo, so I came back to look for her and thank her for treating me and saving my life. In fact, she inspired me to take up a course as a nurse so that I can help other people. I also established a medical charity organization which I am opening an office in Kenya to help take care of sick people through provision of medical equipment and personnel. It is called Health Extension, Promotion and Training Organization (HEPTO) with our head office in Minnesota, USA and branches in both Ethiopia and Somalia,” he said.
Mohamed believes that Florence Lantari was born to help other people who are suffering. She does that through her work in nursing and would be the right person to run a branch of Hepto medical charity organization that he is opening in Kenya.
Hepto Kenya will be opening its doors soon; through Mohamed, medical centers in rural Kenya will be offered medical equipment and personnel who from time to time will visit Kenya from USA to come of conduct medical camps. Florence Lantari whom Mohamed came to thank will be instrumental in the administration of the Kenyan charity.