Over the decades, I’ve told only a few people the full story of my y ear in Somalia. I’ve given many Somali slide shows in which I describe treating tuberculosis and snakebites, but I’ve rarely spoken of my murder trial. Until last year, when she started reading the manuscript of this book, even my own sister didn’t know about the trial. My reticence to talk about this experience has not been because I’ve wanted to keep it a secret—but because the story is so complicated; it takes so much explanation to convey an understanding of the events so that they can be seen in their context.
A few years ago, while flying for about four hours between San Francisco and Chicago, I struck up a conversation with a businessman. As we discussed our international travels, I brought up my experiences in Somalia, and he started asking questions. He took such a keen interest that I found myself going into great detail about my year in Somalia and telling him the whole account of my trial. Before we disembarked in Chicago, this businessman told me that my story had given him a different view of missionaries and of service in a Muslim country. He encouraged me to tell the story to others.
Ecclesiastes, chapter three, asserts that “for everything there is a season . . . a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” A Somali proverb also speaks of the cyclic nature of time: “If you live long you will see how the camels are born.” I couldn’t have written this memoir on our return from Somalia in 1972; some of the material was too sensitive. The Revolutionary government was still in power, and mission workers were still in the country. Then, too, my wife and I were busy being members of the Markle community and raising our family. Now, with my retirement from medical practice and my daughter Shari’s willingness to help me craft this book, it seemed like an appropriate season to reflect upon what was the most momentous year of my life.
A Hundred Camels, though, is not just my story. It is part of the story of the Mennonite Mission in Somalia and of the Somalis who became my friends. In fact, the hero of this book, the one who turns the tragic caravan of events, is a Somali. My hope is that these chapters speak in a way that deepens cultural understanding and concern for the current crisis in Somalia where continual violence has created more than one million refugees.
Though the events in this book are now decades old, they
take place in
a culture where values and beliefs change very slowly. Part of this
story is an ageless one: how good blossoms from corruption, how
integrity knows no ethnic boundaries, how one moral stand makes a
—Gerald L. Miller, M.D. Westfield, Indiana
Copyright © 2009 by Cascadia Publishing House LLC