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Back to Africa from a Beit Shemesh Garden

Rhona Lewis

In a quiet garden in Beit Shemesh, a daughter connects with her roots in this tender tribute to family past and present.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

When the British Empire recaptured British Somaliland from Italian troops in 1941, there were very few streetlights in Mogadishu. There was just enough light for those peeking from their windows to witness the carnage and rampage that ensued in the dead of the night in this coastal city flanking the Indian Ocean. Somali bandits, eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the British, and even more eager to avenge the Italian Fascist government that had invaded six years previously, maneuvered methodically through the sleepy capital of Somalia slaughtering every Italian they could find.

“We locked ourselves into the second floor of our home. My sister Mary and her family had already rushed from their home across the street to hide with us. Meyer and Refaelle, my mother’s cousins, also managed to get to our hiding place in time. This meant that the entire Jewish population of Somalia was under our roof. Even though I was only five years old at the time, I can still recall the terrifying silence in that room. I remember how we waited and waited for the bandits to reach our home.”

Sixty-one years later, Daddy, now sixty-six years old, is sitting in my garden in Beit Shemesh on a warm autumn afternoon. He pronounces each word thoughtfully, carefully choosing the right detail to describe events in his life. As always, he is never in a rush: a lifetime in Africa, as a child in Somalia and as an adult in Kenya, where he and Mummy raised my brother and me, has taught him that “time will surely wait for every man.”

I note no trace of fear in his voice. Perhaps Daddy was really too young to now recall the choking smell of terrified perspiration and sheer panic. It is possible that his older sisters, my aunts, Mary, Leah, and Roma, took turns cuddling him on that terrible night and provided the comfort he needed to shield him from the reality of the moment.


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