Tag Archive: religion

Keeping Hope Alive: How One Somali Woman Changed 90 000 lives

keeping hope alive

Hawa Abdi is one of the most amazing people in the world. She has the Mandela gene in buckets. In 1991 when things fell apart in Somali Abdi was there, a newly qualified doctor trying to make a small difference. How she chose to respond to the catastrophe in her country positively affected hundreds of thousands of Somalis.

A refugee camp sprung up around a small hospital Abdi had created outside Mogadishu and at its height there were hundreds of thousands of people living on her land, looked after, fed and protected by her, and loyal to her.  Abdi would not engage in the clan warfare in Somali, always preaching that people should be united by their Somali-ness rather than separated by their clan divisions.

Abdi got international recognition for what she was doing, and used this to increase the international help available to the people she was looking after. At great personal risk, to herself and her family, Abdi hung in there, believing in Somali and in its future.

To do this in a civil war is amazing. To do this as an African woman in a civil war with religious (Muslim) overtones is simply astounding. Abdi was captured and a lot of what she had established was destroyed at one stage simply because she was a woman and would not let the feuding warlords tell her what to do.

The sadness of Somalia is a character all of its own in this book; Somalia and all other countries ripped apart by this kind of senseless violence.  Then all the journalists and other international  participants in the situation in Somalia dash out of Somalia to report on the Rwandan situation, the hopelessness of the situation globally is almost overwhelming.

Hawa Abdi finally had to leave Somalia and despairingly, despite all the years and all the efforts, Somalia is still a mess. An entire generation of children has been born into a war-torn country. What hope do these countries have when their future leaders are ex-child soldiers and victims of awfulness?

A valuable book worth reading.

Born in Tibet

Chögyam Trungpa

I was sorely disappointed in this book – it shifted my perception of Buddhism in a way I wish it hadn’t.


The journey the man did to escape from the Chines invasion of Tibet could have been interesting. It’s a bloody long way to India via all those mountains, and that a group of people managed it is amazing. But the drone of the story-telling made me not really care after a while. I kept hoping they would run out of leather to boil or eat their actual last bit of food and expire. I lost count of how many times they ran out of food only to have more in the next chapter.


But worse than the boring telling of what could and should have been a fabulous tale of survival were the aspects of Buddhism I saw and did not like.


The author is the reincarnation of someone or the other, as it seems is almost everyone in Tibetan Buddhism. As such he is treated close to royalty from when he is a little boy.

Snag 1 – isn’t Buddhism essentially supposed to be non-hierarchical?

He is surrounded by people there only to look after him. Hmmm – that doesn’t sit happily with me.


During the escape the monks have to ditch their monkly attire and wear normal clothing so as to be less conspicuous. The author talks about how very distressed the monks are at having to do this – they feel lost and discombobulated (my word, not his) out of their robes.

Snag 2 – what happened to the non-attachment lesson of Buddhism?


Then during the escape a horse falls off a ravine and the author’s comment is that none of the goods the horse was carrying could be retrieved.

Sang 3 – a being died and the Buddhist was worried about his belongings – really? Hmmm – nope, doesn’t work for me.


The author was not likeable much – the only time his personality ever showed was when he was laying down the law with all the people following him. And he kept buggering off to do a retreat while those following him were starving and freezing.


Maybe my escaped catholic roots expect a little more from a religious or spiritual leader.


I have since spoken to a Buddhist friend of mine and apparently this kind of things is a little typical of Tibetan Buddhism – and Tibet Buddhism is a very specific strand of the believe system.

Phew – cos I like the idea that I aspire to be a Buddhist – I’d have hated to lose all that cos of one monk.


Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

Immaculee Ilibagiza

When looking for a Rwandan book I deliberately avoided Hotel Rwanda. This was in part because I have already read it and I seldom reread books, and in part because I wanted a different story. Much as I do not want to read books which are about the troubles in a country only, with Rwanda I think it is unavoidable.  The atrocities are also so recent that maybe we should still be talking about them and keeping them very fresh in our memories.


Clearly ‘never again’ means very little to us as a species, but we can keep hoping!


I avoided this book for a long while; I have had it on my shelf for over a year. I don’t believe in the god the book is about and I find it hard not to get angry when people thank any god for saving them when all I can think about is why their god put them in danger in the first place.  But I put that aside and decided to read Immaculee’s story of survival. And what a story it was.


We all know what happened in Rwanda and this book is not about the bigger picture at all. It is about one woman and her experiences only. And for me that made it much more real and frightening. Immaculee Ilibagizawas a very ordinary young woman at university, visiting her parental home in her village when all hell broke loose in Rwanda. Unable to believe what was actually happening, her family did not flee to Zaire as they considered, but stayed in Rwanda. The result is that Ilibagiza is, other than her oldest brother who was studying outside of Rwanda at the time, the only member of her family left alive, left to tell the story.

Ilibagiza spent three months hiding in a bathroom with seven other women, a bathroom maybe big enough for two people to pass each other with a squeeze. They sat on top of each other and sat and stood in complete silence to avoid detection. For three months!

Periodically the Hutu killers would search the house they were hiding in. A wardrobe over the bathroom door was their only camouflage. They listened to the Hutu killers talking about their desire to kill all of the cockroaches; they heard the radio broadcasts of the president instructing Hutus to kill the snakes, even the baby snakes; they listened as it seemed that no one else in the world knew or cared what was going on. But they survived. They hung on.


Ilibagiza believes they were hidden from their wannabe killer by the love of god, her god that she prayer to all day every day. And I do believe that in her experience this is true. How they remained undetected can truly be considered amazing, miraculous even.


While I may not have the same beliefs as Ilibagiza, I found her story compelling and fascinating. That she emerged from the bathroom with her entire family dead, and did not go on a Hutu murdering rampage speaks volumes of her connection with her god. I know I would have found it almost impossible not to want revenge.

But surprisingly Rwandans seem not to have responded like that. Maybe when a million people die in 100 days the weight of death is so great that further deaths should be avoided at all costs.

Interestingly, the Hutu’s who were sent to jail for the murders are now starting to be released and return to their villages, the villages in which they went on their murderous rampages, killing friends and families. As Ilibagiza says, we can only hope that everyone has forgiveness in their hearts.

Left to Tell is an extraordinary tale of an ordinary person in extreme circumstances. It is a story of survival against all the odds, and a story of faith and belief. It is worth reading.


I am reading a book at the moment that has rattled my cage and set me to some serious thinking

It is a book written by a Palestinian and is really about the Israel/Palestine ‘situation’

I do not know very much about the situation to be honest. I am shamefully ignorant in fact. But what I find so interesting is my struggle with maybe actually thinking Israel is wrong. Phosphorous bombs that set babies alight for days? Really – how is that not a war crime I wonder?

And yet it is very hard to conceive of being anti-Israel and by extension anti-Jews and by extension again anti-Semitic when the other option is to be anti-Arab and anti-Muslim

Being anti-Semitic is something no one wants to be called – I certainly do not. But anti-Muslim – well since 9/11 and the ‘with us or against us’ speech – anti-Muslim is kinda almost expected

Why is that okay? Why is anti-Semitism so not okay but anti-Muslim practically applauded? In what way are they different at their core?  How is anti-any group more ‘okay’ than any other prejudice?

And how does any group who was massacred for who and what they are even contemplate doing the same to another group.


I think maybe I am just anti-human. We are a disgusting species.


god and morality

I am very anti religious schools as a rule. I think it is fine to have religion specific schools parents can chose to send their kids to, but generally available schools, government schools, should, in my opinion, be secular.

Praying to the god of one religion should not be imposed upon all kids, regardless of their religion. It is invariably the Christian god who is communicated with at in government schools across the Western world. And the Christians say it should be so. But how would they feel if their kids were forced to kneel on a mat and prayer to Allah, or don suits and knock on doors trying to find converts to Jehovah – all during school hours?

The children of all religions have equal rights to worship their god, so who gets to decide which one the school supports? ‘


But what of the morals of the kids?’ I hear many people say.

I would hope that the morality our kids have is aside from their belief in god. A faith system inherited from your parents seems a tenuous hook upon which to hang your morality. What if you lose your god? Or meet and connect with people with a different one? Does morality fly out the window then?

I believe it is the thinking that god is what determines right from wrong that allows fanatics (of all religions) to kill in the name of their god. If your god says non believers deserve to die, then your morality will allow you to kill. And it’s not just the Muslims doing this – many a person has died at the hands of Christian fanatics etc.

As the grownups is it not our job to teach kids to respect each other, to respect themselves, to respect the world simply because other people/ourselves/the world deserves respect. And not cos some god in heaven is watching.


God should be an addition, an optional extra if you like, to the moral fibre of a person, not the reason for it.