In Maryland, Somalis Wait With Dread Operation Restore Hope

December 20, 1992|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Ahmad Robeleh and his wife, Khatra, watch the television coverage of Operation Restore Hope differently from most of their neighbors in Towson.

They are horrified by the pictures of starving Somalis. They also hope to see relatives alive, yet they are fearful of seeing them among the victims.

The Robelehs, like other Somalis interviewed last week, are appalled at events in their ravaged East African homeland. They are grateful to the United States for undertaking Operation Restore Hope.

Almost all have relatives still in Somalia. Because of the breakdown of government, transportation and communications, they have no news of their fate.

When Mr. Robeleh left Baidoa five years ago to study in the United States, his parents, brothers and sisters stayed behind, and the country was peaceful, albeit under the dictatorial rule of President Mohamed Siad Barre.

"I don't know now whether they are alive or dead," Mr. Robeleh said yesterday. "I haven't had word from them in three years, and there has been war in Somalia for two years. There is no telephone, no mail, no way of getting information."

For Abdullahi Hassan, 32, informal leader of the local Somalian community, the scenes of starvation are particularly painful because of his job. He is the manager of a fast-food operation. "What really pains me is that I work in a food environment; when I see what people waste it really hurts me," he said.

"If I feel so badly 6,000 miles away and I'm feeling that pain, how come the guy right there isn't feeling it when he sees those people? Where is the real Somali? We used to settle our problems by mouth, not by the gun," Mr. Hassan said.

"If we want to build a country and call it Somalia, everyone has to sit together," he said. The forces now in Somalia should disarm the gangs as they move inland, he said.

Mrs. Robeleh, from Mogadishu, came to the United States in 1989 to marry while her husband-to-be was still in college. When pregnant with their son, Mohamed, she returned to her parents home in Nairobi, Kenya, where the boy remains. She returned to Baltimore in August.

Although her parents are safe, Mrs. Robeleh said, her brothers, aunts and uncles remain in Somalia, "and I don't know whether they are alive or dead."

Mr. Robeleh works as an auto mechanic, and his wife has qualified as a nursing assistant. Although they are "well and comfortable here," Mrs. Robeleh said, "I cry when I watch the television about what is happening in Somalia. We are all of the same blood, so I don't understand why they are fighting each other like this."

"Now that I am qualified in nursing, I would like to go back and help," she added.

Mulki Hassan, 24, who also grew up in Mogadishu, bade farewell Wednesday to five friends who were among 100 Somalis -- seven from the Baltimore area -- who were at Aberdeen Proving Ground yesterday before flying off as interpreters for U.S. forces in Operation Restore Hope.

Although her immediate family is safe in the United States and Canada, having come here several years ago, Mrs. Hassan said she worries about more distant relatives still in Somalia.

Mrs. Hassan is bitter at the warlords and their armed gangs who have stolen relief food and blocked it from reaching the villagers.

"They're all cousins, so when people have food, how can they keep it from others, especially the children?" she asked.

Maka Osman, 24, whose husband, Abdi Osman, 31, is a U.S. citizen, hugged her 9 1/2 -month-old daughter, Ladan, and said, "It's horrible. . . . I know if my baby were there, it would be happening to her."

Mrs. Osman said her husband, also a native of Mogadishu, graduated from Morgan State University in 1989 and works as an engineer with a telecommunications company trying to establish telephone links to Somalia.

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