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Christmas '92: sins of 'our' Somalia glare openly at us.

The Christmas story, like the common human story, touches many themes dear to our lives: exile, journey, refuge, poverty, expectancy, birth, joy, nurturing, vulnerability and, of course, hope.

Similarly, our own Christmases and those of the world's communities, often strike particular themes in a given year. Consider, for example, the world's joy and expectancy in 1989, one month after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Or consider the world's apprehension as U.S.-led military forces prepared to fight Iraqi troops on desert sands only one year later.

This year, U.S. troops are again overseas -- this time in a nation suffering anarchy and starvation. The hopes of ever achieving that elusive new world order," given what is going on now within the former Yugoslavia, the old Soviet borders and throughout large areas of Africa, look dimmer than just two years ago.

There is a somberness, a hard-knuckled sense of bitter reality to this Christmas season. Although our nation's political leadership is younger and looks far more vital than it has for many years, any birthing, we now know, will not happen without substantial pain.

And our Christmas joy this year is clearly tempered by images of fly-covered skeletal figures, products of collective human folly and neglect. Christmas 1992: The sins of our' Somalia glare openly at US.

There is another Somalia, "their" Somalia. The trouble with writing about that Somalia is that is gets blurred or altogether ignored through layers of images of starved bodies that reduce human lives, hopes, expectations to something far less. We don't bear their stories.

Unfortunately, those stories are coming to an end in more ways than one. Until the droughts that set in with a vengeance in the late 1970s, the Somalis were 90 percent nomadic, and their stories were and are our stories. These people came out of the desert, and in the desert existed a strong code.

Nomadic life is nasty, brutal and short: men herding the larger animals, cattle and camels for export on the hoof to Saudi Arabia, women and children with the smaller animals, the sheep and goats.

The women have the best constitutional protections and enhancements of women in any Muslim country, and as nomadic mothers, they have immense power and responsibility. In the nomadic life, if a child was born sickly, the decision was the mother's as to whether it should be fed and kept alive. A sick child could wreck the migratory work; there is no margin for sickness in the nomadic life.

If twins were born during a drought, the mother would decide which one should be fed. She would not have sufficient milk for two, and perhaps barely enough for one.

But there was an element of this life that reached right into the pages of our Book.

The code required total sharing.

Even as late as the last nomad, and there undoubtedly still are a few trying to run their herds somewhere beyond Lug, there will always suddenly appear at the side of a track -- Somalia has few paved roads -- a man or a woman holding an empty container.

The code requires that the one person encountering another share half of his or her water or other goods. By giving half, the giver always has half left, and the recipient has as much.

It was in this nomadic world, in the desert, that town dweller John the Baptist (Luke 1:80) was transformed. Later, when John "came out of the desert," the people asked him (Luke 3:24): "What should we do?" And he, having seen on how little people could live, and how much they could share, replied with the nomadic code: "If anyone has two tunics, he must share with the man who has none and the one with something to eat must do the same."

The Somalis have nothing to eat. That has been their condition for most of the past 14 years -- the African Sahel region is one band of hunger.

But John did not ask only that we feed the people of the desert, but all who ask: aggressive panhandlers, dirty old folks with pushcarts, people huddled on blankets in corners out of which stick a few filthy fingers, and on and on. The Somalis, we must recall this Christmas, have their own inalienable wonder and dignity, as well as a rich and telling story to share. But they also re sent the unfulfilled

Christmas story, the story of the world's poor, hungry and oppressed.

As for us, Christmas undoubtedly has many complex moods, but one that might be fastened by the nomadic lesson: Half is ours to give. Always.

It's a hard faith, and it reflects a hard desert.

And reality.

Give in peace.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Dec 25, 1992
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