Blessed Relief Delivering food for today and hope for tomorrow in the devastated villages of Somalia HUNGER AND HOPE

January 10, 1993|By BO RADER

When I arrived, what I found seemed almost surreal.

I don't think in anyone's wildest dreams he could imagine what Somalia is like -- an entire society that has been tipped upside down and forced to start over. No government, no one in charge. Everybody seems to have a gun, and during this two-week photographic assignment for The Sun, everyone i encopunter os in one way or another desperate- for food or for change.

It's mid-December, and the U.S. military has not yet arrived in Baidoa, the inland city near the relief operation I'm visiting. Anarchy reigns. There's no water, no power, no nothing. The people who built the cities and the country itself are gone -- they have fled to the surrounding countries -- and the nomads and the people of the desert have moved in. They were being shot at in the countryside and their crops were being burned by roving gangs, so they abandoned their traditional ways of farming and living off of the earth. They thought they'd find food and hope in the city.

Instead, they have found more gunmen and less food. It's a famine created by guns.

Even when you've actually seen th edire straits these peope are in, it's difficult to comprehend. I really admire the relief workers who repeatedly go into these situations to work, the nurses especially because they have to handle the death right up front. I can watch the scenes through a camera but I can put the camera down at the end of the day; they have to return day after day.

And I admire the strength of many of the people of Somalia, too. No matter how desperate they were, they could always find something to have a laugh about. They seemed to be extremely friendly and gentle. If one of them could get out one or two words in English, and do the rest in sign language, we'd have a conversation, and everyone would laugh.

I was expecting everyone to have their hands out, to want something from me, but no -- people came up to welcome me, they didn't come up to beg. Almost nobody begged. The kids came up, and their favorite thing to say was "OK . . . OK." I found that the best communication was just smiling. I would smile and they'd smile back at me.

This is an experience that will stick with me forever. What do I do with these feelings? As a journalist, I come back and show somebody else what the people of Somalia are going through.

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