The demands of motherhood are rigorous and unforgiving.

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Mogadishu, Somalia

1992

Tinsa stopped at the dusty roadside, anxious to cross. Her eyes were wide and glassy, partly due to starvation, mostly due to fear. Roads meant men, and men, in her war ravaged country, meant only death.

Her head constantly rotated atop her long, graceful neck, and her bulbous eyes never stopped flitting from one noon shadow to the next. Any patch of darkness might conceal her death. She looked for the glint of sunlight upon metal, she watched for the tell tale flight of startled birds, and listened carefully for the muffled cough or the distant murmur. From somewhere down the road to the south, she could hear the sound of a motor, and it was fast approaching her hiding place. Tinsa cowered deeper into the leafless bush in which she had taken refuge.

A motorized vehicle, she knew, required gasoline and spare parts to keep it running. The only people capable of affording such unimaginable luxuries in this, the age of famine and pestilence, were the warlords.

Armed gangs roamed the streets of Mogadishu, killing for sport and pleasure, sometimes killing in the name of war, but mostly just killing. Their targets were picked at random, usually chosen from the ranks of starving civilians; men, women and children, unarmed and unable to retaliate. Sometimes, when one warlord displayed a weakness in the presence of another, major battles took place. During such conflicts, casualties were not limited to the ranks of the combatants, but bled over into the general population of the dying city. Tragedy was unavoidable when so much violence was loosed amid playing children and home bound families.

Death had become commonplace in Somalia. It was as if her nation and her people had been infected with a madness that had all the symptoms of self-perpetuated genocide.

There was no honor among her people, any longer. There were no bonds strong enough to contain the psychoses that were destroying them all. Family meant nothing. Government meant nothing. Nationality meant nothing. With each new confrontation, retaliations followed. With each retaliation, a new confrontation developed.

The cycle was vicious and continuous, a descending spiral of chaos where once there had been order. As more and more human and material resources were sucked into the vacuous blight of war, there was less to devote to the necessities of every day living.

Somalia's farms had been the first to go, remote, inaccessible, easy prey for a large group of heavily armed and ruthless killers. One year the harvest had simply been stolen, even as it awaited sale in the nation's silos and bins. The next year, there had been no harvest at all.

It had not happened suddenly. Civil war had come as no great surprise to the country's inhabitants.

One raid had led to another, one retaliation to the next. Before long, civilization was completely dysfunctional. Anarchy ruled. Chaos reigned. Insanity and murder became an accepted way of life.

To Tinsa, there was a single consoling factor in all the tragedies she witnessed each day. Death meant one less mouth to feed. It meant one less pair of hands in competition for the meager rations that still remained. Death meant an end to suffering for the lucky dead, and it meant an end to anguish for the unfortunate survivors.

For some, death was a friendly visitor. To others, such as Tinsa, extinction was a terrifying specter to deny no matter the cost, no matter the means.

By now the vehicle was in sight, a dense cloud of yellow dust billowing in its wake, its engine choking, its suspension rattling and loose. As it approached her place alongside the roadway, Tinsa could make out the men seated within. Their skin was blackened beneath the sun, their faces taunt and expressionless. Some wore sunglasses, all wore scarves or soft cloth hats upon their heads to keep the African sun from frying their brains. Without seeing in detail, Tinsa knew their clothing would be tattered and frayed, their flesh would be thin with hunger, but not as thin as most of the people clinging to life inside Somalia's borders. For these hired assassins were paid with food. To eat, they killed. When they killed, they ate. Life was as simple as that for them, she knew. These men and boys were not lured to combat by a sense of national pride, they did not struggle in the name of an abstract cause. Their battles were dictated by the rumblings of hunger within their bellies.

As it passed her with a clatter and roar, Tinsa's trained eye located and catalogued the weapons the troops were carrying; mostly semi-automatic, non-military arms, though she spotted a Kalishnikov Model 47 cradled in one man's lap. And there was a huge fifty caliber machine gun bolted to a roll bar in the rear of the battered Land Rover. One cocky youth in a faded beret leaned against this monstrous tool of destruction, his elbow hooked round the tilted barrel to keep it steady while the vehicle jolted and bounced down the street.

Then they were gone. Tinsa waited for the dust to settle before she crossed the street.

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