Deqo Mohamed draws on her lifetime experiences to illustrate why we need to seek balance in our lives and find time for self-care.
Each day starts at 5am or even 4am according to prayer time in Somalia. For every woman in the community, her job is to put all household issues in order and be neat and tidy. It might sound reasonable to wake up as early as the birds and keep everyone in check if the person enjoys doing it, but not if it is an obligation or a burden. Most women in Somalia are required to wake up before anyone else to keep the house neat and prepare breakfast in harsh conditions. They have to walk miles to fetch wood and water to cook, most of the time on dark, dangerous roads.
In my world, almost every woman is the property of a man, where society will wire her to be a servant – a maid, a wife, a mother and pleasure-giver to her husband. In the midst of all this were my parents who were socialists and believed that women were equal to men. My parents helped me to believe that I could do or become anyone I wanted to be. The downside of being a socialist is you have to give more and serve others all the time. Do not misunderstand me – being a socialist and striving for equality is an excellent thing when the country is wealthy, but when the nation is impoverished, as a socialist, you become a constant servant to others.
I grew up in these contradictory worlds – in my home I could do or be anything but in my society I was a property to be owned by a man and obliged to give an heir to a specific clan. They felt like opposites – one was freedom and one was obligation. But both scenarios had one similarity – I would have to serve others. I was not taught as a child, as a teenager or as a grown woman that Deqo was in the equation.
In 2007, my mother at the age of 61 developed a third-time brain tumour which this time was pre-cancerous. I had to grow up fast and take over her leadership, which is a social obligation as the first-born child in the family. Overnight I suddenly had to care for more than 90,000 people and be a medical chief of a 400-bed hospital. When I felt exhausted and about to crash, my mother would look at me and say, “I am very proud of you, this is what I prepare for you, I build this hospital for you.” My answer is that I am not sure if I want to be worn out and confined to my bed by the age of 60! After three years of doing this work we encountered major security challenges. My mother was kidnapped and the hospital was closed for a week due to severe damage. It was a troubling time for all my community and especially my mother who had only recently recovered from brain surgery and radiation therapy.
One good thing that came out of this difficult situation was that the world discovered my mother’s courage and how dedicated she had been to her work for the last 30 years. As a team, we received several awards in the United States and other parts of the world. In 2012, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. My mother is the strongest and most influential woman I have ever met in my life. With my father, she created a utopia in a war zone. They worked side by side from 1973 until the conflict between the clans of my country forced them apart in 1994. My father had to leave south Somalia because the clan he was born into was at risk.
When my parents separated, I was in Russia starting my first year of medical school. Both my parents went to school in Russia during the mid-60s and they understood well my new world of extreme cold and tasteless food. They were proud of me being accepted into one of the top medical schools in Russia. At the age of 19, I was happy on the one hand and sad on the other. Fortunately, I channelled all my frustration at my parents’ separation into my studies.
What I have learnt over the years is that it is extremely tiring to balance all the elements of our worlds. We need to rewire ourselves and learn to put ourselves first sometimes. We have to stop worrying about what others think of us when we take time off and prioritize self-care.
Love and nourish the woman inside you.
Dr Deqo Mohamed was born in Mogadishu and grew up feeding the refugees her mother was harbouring. Deqo earned a medical doctorate in Moscow in 2000. She came to America as a refugee in 2003 and gained extensive experience working in healthcare. She became a naturalized American in 2008. Today, she works full time on the ground in Somalia. Deqo leads all operations in Hope Village and is responsible for ensuring the safety of the 300 families who have found permanent shelter in the community. She simultaneously manages the administrative aspects of the Dr Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) as CEO of the organization in the United States.