Saturday 14 February 2015

The connection between Somalia and Valentine's Day

Somalia is often described as the world's most dangerous country, the quintessential failed state. It has had no effective central government for more than two decades, and is affected by conflict, drought, piracy and famine. The BBC's Africa Editor Mary Harper has a special interest in Somalia. Today she found out something new:

I was somewhat taken aback when I opened my Facebook page this Valentine's Day morning. I discovered it was the birthday of 30 of my Somali Facebook friends. It reminded me of New Year's Day when 279 of my Somali Facebook friends had their birthdays. True, I have a lot of Somali friends on Facebook - but those numbers are extraordinary. Or maybe not. Many Somalis don't know when their real birthdays are. They have after all lived through more than two decades of war. Records have been destroyed and there is currently no functioning administration. Even before conflict tore their country apart, most Somalis were nomads, and their culture was largely oral. The Somali language wasn't written down until the 1970s. But back to my Facebook page. I wrote a post about the 30 Somali Valentine's birthdays - and all the ones on New Year's Day. Within two hours, the post had more than one-hundred-and-seventy 'likes' and more than fifty comments. Non-Somalis were completely baffled. My Somali friends quickly put them right - in witty and touching ways. Abdi said it was likely only one percent of Somalis who say their birthday is on Valentine's Day were actually born on the 14th of February. Saeed said his father tossed a coin to decide on his birthday. Maxamed was born in a refugee camp. His whole family was, as he put it, 'under such severe depression' that nobody thought about dates of birth. Another friend posted that Somalis should have their birthdays on Doomsday as, he said, 'they are in love with guns and war'. But I would like to say a special thank you to the Somali friend who posted on my Facebook page a photo of a luscious red rose. And to say Happy Birthday to my 30 Somali Valentine's Day friends -- whether or not they were actually born on the 14th of February.

You can listen to my BBC radio report here: The Somali/ Valentine's Day connection

The BBC Somali Service version is here: My report in Somali