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Colonel Donyale: A short Story
by Mohamoud Ali Gaildon,
The mention of Colonel Donyale, in a piece
recently posted by Mr. Mohamed Haji Ingris
triggered in me a vivid memory that I wish to
share with you. It was one of those times when
by a stroke of luck a man’s outer shell cracks
open, and his inner sanctum is laid bare for all to
see. “This is no time for a short story,” you may
want to say. If so, please allow me to argue that
at a time all we as a nation once stood for is
gone with the wind, memories and stories are
all we have left to link with the past and ponder
what was and what could have been.
My dimming memory tells me it was early
October of 1971 when a devastating cyclone,
the second in as many years, hit the northern
coast of Somalia. I was in Las Qoray, as I had
been the year before when an equally
devastating cyclone hit. To the north of the
town is the Red Sea. To the south, the
magnificent bluffs of the fault-block mountains
of Calmadow rise sharply into the sky and bring
one oh, so close! to Awrkii Cirka. A torrential
rain on the mountains sends flash floods down
deep gorges which open into wide and
relatively flat watercourses that dump the water
into the sea, a sea that is unwilling to lie flat and
take it on the cheek. The clash between the
fast flowing floods and the raging sea is
something to behold. This is when titans, driven
by the power of God, duke it out in an epic
battle for the ages. Such fury and such power I
had never seen before, nor since. And it is in
the middle of such a scene that my short story
of Donayle begins.
It just so happened that he, at the time manger
of the fish factory, along with three of his
employees, drove a Russian truck (ironically
filled with relief construction material for victims
of the previous cyclone) smack into the flood.
(To get from one side of the town to the other,
in the east-west direction, one has to cross the
watercourse.) The previous cyclone had taught
the locals a painful lesson: in a storm, much less
a cyclone, do not go near the watercourse.
What led the colonel and his men into the water
we can never know. The fine and war–hardened
officer in him would have urged caution. But the
colonel, long removed from the events of 1964
and missing the thrill of battle, may have wanted
to dance on the edge of danger. Or may be, yet
again, he was just being a son of Mudug; and
what is a Mudug man without a flare for life and
a flirt with death, all at once?
At about a third of the roughly one-mile
distance, the overpowering flood turned the
heavy truck around. It was night and very, very
dark, with nary a star visible through the thick
and churning clouds. Downstream, the raging
Red Sea, which over the millennia had never
parted except for Moses, rose and heaved in a
losing battle to block the flood. Amidst the wet,
the cold and the deafening roar, the men must
have felt the claws of death on their lonely
souls.
Not so the Colonel!
The field commander in him awoke. He grabbed
a flat piece of wood and ordered his men to do
the same; they were all going to jump into the
fast flowing water. The men baulked. The next
moment, the colonel disappeared. He might
have slipped. He might have jumped. But, any
rate, he was now gone, and, to his men, dead.
Early in the morning, after quite an eventful
night, I saw people flocking to the western
edge of the watercourse. I joined them and
found them peering into the distance. In the dim
light, we could see men hobbling about on a
truck in the middle of the raging water. There
was a lull in the rain, but with the sky still
menacing, there was no way to tell whether this
was the tail end or the eye of the storm. The
men could be swept to sea or die from long
exposure to the harsh elements of the cyclone,
or from shear shock and fear. Helplessly, we
watched. And who among us watched the most
intensely, trying to direct rescue? ….Who, but
the colonel, Mr. Donyale, himself!
How did he survive?
Apparently, this was what happened. Holding
on tightly to the piece of wood, he was swept
to sea. At the border, where the two waters
clashed violently, where muddy waves rose to
great heights and churned, he must have been
thrown and knocked around and twisted this
and that way countless times. How could he
retain enough wit to hold on to the piece of
wood? Surely, it was only by the grace of God
that he suffered no twisted neck or a broken
back.
Farther and farther into the sea, the colonel
went, helplessly dragged by the power of the
water, until he found calmer waters too far from
the shore. But then on this dark and stormy
night, how could he tell which way to go? Stella,
the Colonel’s, widow, tells me he pulled himself
towards the mountain. Ah, again Sanag’s good
old mountain, the home and mythical mother of
much of the Somali nation. The colonel must
have early in the morning seen the outline of
the huge and imperious mountain and, just like
many a shipwrecked seafarer before him,
dragged himself towards it. He was still holding
on tightly to the piece of wood. But even with
the piece of wood, excellent swimming skills
and extraordinary pluck and grit were called for.
So, what had prepared a man from Mudug’s
hinterland for such an ordeal?
Let’s take a brief look at his early life.
Mr. Mohamed Haji Ingiris says this of the
Colonel:
“Raised in Ceelbuur, he soon emerged to be a
self-trained swimmer. During the rainy seasons
of the 1940s, the city of Ceelbuur was known to
have been carved into two separate quarters by
torrential floods. According to Ahmed Suleyman
Dafle, the rationale of why Doonyaale was
nicknamed ‘Doonyaale’ was his invention of a
boat in Ceelbuur at the age of 13 in order to
cross the water.”
According to Stella, the colonel’s swimming
skills were further honed in the Soviet Union,
which shows us that although he was neither
from the coast nor a naval officer, he had a
lifelong attraction for the sport of swimming. Call
it luck; call it preparation; call it what you may. I
have the inescapable feeling that this was the
hand of God guiding him from an early age for
one singular moment that was to happen in a
town he may have never dreamed of ever
seeing.
Finally, after what to him must have seemed an
eternity, the colonel came ashore quite a
distance from the town. He was tired and
shivering from the cold. And what do you think
the first thing he did was? He buried the piece
of wood for retrieval at a later date! By the
grace of Allah alone, the man had just survived
what was practically un-survivable, and he had
the presence of mind and the audacity to think
of a piece of wood intended for poor Somalis!
He dragged his feet some distance before he
was found by an elderly lady (always a woman in
such instances! Ever heard Gbadhi waa meel
xun joog?) The lady provided him with a place to
rest and kindled fire for him only to see him, as
soon as he regained strength, set off in search
of his men. He joined the crowd and watched
them. When I saw him, he was wearing a heavy
coat, doubtless provided to him by someone in
the crowd. In my mind, I still see him standing
erect as a good officer should, and looking into
the distance intent and focused on his men,
much like an officer surveying the battle raging
in a valley below him. What a difficult moment!
Unable to save his men, He must have burned
inside. He had been trained to fight men who
had robbed Somalis of their land. This was
different. This was the power of God at work!
Many in the crowd were his employees. And
the inability to rally his troops and save his men
must have bothered him immensely. Upon
seeing the Russians, on the other side of the
watercourse, attempt a rescue by dropping a
huge floating block upstream into the flood, he
lamented: Waxaan ka baqayaa inay geesiyaal
noqon waayaan oo bahalkaa qabsan waayaan. I
was in awe!
No, the colonel could not have noticed the dark,
short, and frail boy (who as Abdirahman Hosh
would like to say, was blessed with the owlish
look) that was me. Back then, I was a student in
Dayaha Intermediate School, and I only saw
Donyale when I visited my folks. I have since
heard that in 1964, when Ethiopia attempted to
crush the young but proud and burgeoning
nation that was Somalia, it was he that gave the
first war cry, some Italian word that I don’t know
how to write or utter. Unless I am mistaken, I
remember him with a mark on the side of his
face, at the level of the cheekbone (please
correct me if I am wrong). The mark, I was told,
was from a wound sustained in the War of 1964.
A group photo in Leningrad in 1968.
Seated military officers are Colonel
Doonyaale (at the left), (marka aad
bidixda ka soo tiriso kuwa fadhiya Col.
Doonyaale waa ninka 3aad ee bidixda
fadhiya, ninka okoyaalaha wataana waa
Hassan Farah Matan) (the man in the
spectacles was a graduate from
Sandhurst military academy in Britain;
currently living in Dubai) and Soviet
Tutors (all are Generals). Standing are
Mohamed Aalim, the late Hassan
Mohamud Roble and one of their Soviet
tutors. Kuwa kale waa saraakiishii
rashiyaanka ahaa ee jaamacdii ay ka soo
baxeen sanadkii 1968.
Stella again shares with me that after the event,
the colonel’s superiors, Generals Kulmiye and
Samater, gave him the nickname Xabaaldiid.
The irony of how the daredevil, the born
survivor, and the war hero, all in one, met his
end is not lost on me. But I want to tell you that
Allah has given me a mind and a heart that
celebrate the good in men and women. And I
can never forget a man who exemplified
courage and uttered the first cry to
defend the Motherland and defend me
when I was but a child.
Of the three men, two survived, one barely.
Acknowledgments :
I thank Colonel Donyale’s widow, Ms. Amina
Abdul-Qader (nicknamed Stella), and his only
child, Mohamed Donyale, for sharing with me
their recollections of what the colonel had told
them of those events. I am also grateful to
Mohamed Haji Ingiris for illuminating the
colonel’s early life and connecting me to his
family.
Thank you, and may the spirit Soomaalinnino
come back,

Colonel Donyale: A short Storyby Mohamoud Ali Gaildon,The mention of Colonel Donyale, in a piecerecently posted by Mr. Mohamed Haji Ingristriggered in me a vivid memory that I wish toshare with you. It was one of those times whenby a stroke of luck a man’s outer shell cracksopen, and his inner sanctum is laid bare for all tosee. “This is no time for a short story,” you maywant to say. If so, please allow me to argue thatat a time all we as a nation once stood for isgone with the wind, memories and stories areall we have left to link with the past and ponderwhat was and what could have been.My dimming memory tells me it was earlyOctober of 1971 when a devastating cyclone,the second in as many years, hit the northerncoast of Somalia. I was in Las Qoray, as I hadbeen the year before when an equallydevastating cyclone hit. To the north of thetown is the Red Sea. To the south, themagnificent bluffs of the fault-block mountainsof Calmadow rise sharply into the sky and bringone oh, so close! to Awrkii Cirka. A torrentialrain on the mountains sends flash floods downdeep gorges which open into wide andrelatively flat watercourses that dump the waterinto the sea, a sea that is unwilling to lie flat andtake it on the cheek. The clash between thefast flowing floods and the raging sea issomething to behold. This is when titans, drivenby the power of God, duke it out in an epicbattle for the ages. Such fury and such power Ihad never seen before, nor since. And it is inthe middle of such a scene that my short storyof Donayle begins.It just so happened that he, at the time mangerof the fish factory, along with three of hisemployees, drove a Russian truck (ironicallyfilled with relief construction material for victimsof the previous cyclone) smack into the flood.(To get from one side of the town to the other,in the east-west direction, one has to cross thewatercourse.) The previous cyclone had taughtthe locals a painful lesson: in a storm, much lessa cyclone, do not go near the watercourse.What led the colonel and his men into the waterwe can never know. The fine and war–hardenedofficer in him would have urged caution. But thecolonel, long removed from the events of 1964and missing the thrill of battle, may have wantedto dance on the edge of danger. Or may be, yetagain, he was just being a son of Mudug; andwhat is a Mudug man without a flare for life anda flirt with death, all at once?At about a third of the roughly one-miledistance, the overpowering flood turned theheavy truck around. It was night and very, verydark, with nary a star visible through the thickand churning clouds. Downstream, the ragingRed Sea, which over the millennia had neverparted except for Moses, rose and heaved in alosing battle to block the flood. Amidst the wet,the cold and the deafening roar, the men musthave felt the claws of death on their lonelysouls.Not so the Colonel!The field commander in him awoke. He grabbeda flat piece of wood and ordered his men to dothe same; they were all going to jump into thefast flowing water. The men baulked. The nextmoment, the colonel disappeared. He mighthave slipped. He might have jumped. But, anyrate, he was now gone, and, to his men, dead.Early in the morning, after quite an eventfulnight, I saw people flocking to the westernedge of the watercourse. I joined them andfound them peering into the distance. In the dimlight, we could see men hobbling about on atruck in the middle of the raging water. Therewas a lull in the rain, but with the sky stillmenacing, there was no way to tell whether thiswas the tail end or the eye of the storm. Themen could be swept to sea or die from longexposure to the harsh elements of the cyclone,or from shear shock and fear. Helplessly, wewatched. And who among us watched the mostintensely, trying to direct rescue? ….Who, butthe colonel, Mr. Donyale, himself!How did he survive?Apparently, this was what happened. Holdingon tightly to the piece of wood, he was sweptto sea. At the border, where the two watersclashed violently, where muddy waves rose togreat heights and churned, he must have beenthrown and knocked around and twisted thisand that way countless times. How could heretain enough wit to hold on to the piece ofwood? Surely, it was only by the grace of Godthat he suffered no twisted neck or a brokenback.Farther and farther into the sea, the colonelwent, helplessly dragged by the power of thewater, until he found calmer waters too far fromthe shore. But then on this dark and stormynight, how could he tell which way to go? Stella,the Colonel’s, widow, tells me he pulled himselftowards the mountain. Ah, again Sanag’s goodold mountain, the home and mythical mother ofmuch of the Somali nation. The colonel musthave early in the morning seen the outline ofthe huge and imperious mountain and, just likemany a shipwrecked seafarer before him,dragged himself towards it. He was still holdingon tightly to the piece of wood. But even withthe piece of wood, excellent swimming skillsand extraordinary pluck and grit were called for.So, what had prepared a man from Mudug’shinterland for such an ordeal?Let’s take a brief look at his early life.Mr. Mohamed Haji Ingiris says this of theColonel:“Raised in Ceelbuur, he soon emerged to be aself-trained swimmer. During the rainy seasonsof the 1940s, the city of Ceelbuur was known tohave been carved into two separate quarters bytorrential floods. According to Ahmed SuleymanDafle, the rationale of why Doonyaale wasnicknamed ‘Doonyaale’ was his invention of aboat in Ceelbuur at the age of 13 in order tocross the water.”According to Stella, the colonel’s swimmingskills were further honed in the Soviet Union,which shows us that although he was neitherfrom the coast nor a naval officer, he had alifelong attraction for the sport of swimming. Callit luck; call it preparation; call it what you may. Ihave the inescapable feeling that this was thehand of God guiding him from an early age forone singular moment that was to happen in atown he may have never dreamed of everseeing.Finally, after what to him must have seemed aneternity, the colonel came ashore quite adistance from the town. He was tired andshivering from the cold. And what do you thinkthe first thing he did was? He buried the pieceof wood for retrieval at a later date! By thegrace of Allah alone, the man had just survivedwhat was practically un-survivable, and he hadthe presence of mind and the audacity to thinkof a piece of wood intended for poor Somalis!He dragged his feet some distance before hewas found by an elderly lady (always a woman insuch instances! Ever heard Gbadhi waa meelxun joog?) The lady provided him with a place torest and kindled fire for him only to see him, assoon as he regained strength, set off in searchof his men. He joined the crowd and watchedthem. When I saw him, he was wearing a heavycoat, doubtless provided to him by someone inthe crowd. In my mind, I still see him standingerect as a good officer should, and looking intothe distance intent and focused on his men,much like an officer surveying the battle ragingin a valley below him. What a difficult moment!Unable to save his men, He must have burnedinside. He had been trained to fight men whohad robbed Somalis of their land. This wasdifferent. This was the power of God at work!Many in the crowd were his employees. Andthe inability to rally his troops and save his menmust have bothered him immensely. Uponseeing the Russians, on the other side of thewatercourse, attempt a rescue by dropping ahuge floating block upstream into the flood, helamented: Waxaan ka baqayaa inay geesiyaalnoqon waayaan oo bahalkaa qabsan waayaan. Iwas in awe!No, the colonel could not have noticed the dark,short, and frail boy (who as Abdirahman Hoshwould like to say, was blessed with the owlishlook) that was me. Back then, I was a student inDayaha Intermediate School, and I only sawDonyale when I visited my folks. I have sinceheard that in 1964, when Ethiopia attempted tocrush the young but proud and burgeoningnation that was Somalia, it was he that gave thefirst war cry, some Italian word that I don’t knowhow to write or utter. Unless I am mistaken, Iremember him with a mark on the side of hisface, at the level of the cheekbone (pleasecorrect me if I am wrong). The mark, I was told,was from a wound sustained in the War of 1964.A group photo in Leningrad in 1968.Seated military officers are ColonelDoonyaale (at the left), (marka aadbidixda ka soo tiriso kuwa fadhiya Col.Doonyaale waa ninka 3aad ee bidixdafadhiya, ninka okoyaalaha wataana waaHassan Farah Matan) (the man in thespectacles was a graduate fromSandhurst military academy in Britain;currently living in Dubai) and SovietTutors (all are Generals). Standing areMohamed Aalim, the late HassanMohamud Roble and one of their Soviettutors. Kuwa kale waa saraakiishiirashiyaanka ahaa ee jaamacdii ay ka soobaxeen sanadkii 1968.Stella again shares with me that after the event,the colonel’s superiors, Generals Kulmiye andSamater, gave him the nickname Xabaaldiid.The irony of how the daredevil, the bornsurvivor, and the war hero, all in one, met hisend is not lost on me. But I want to tell you thatAllah has given me a mind and a heart thatcelebrate the good in men and women. And Ican never forget a man who exemplifiedcourage and uttered the first cry todefend the Motherland and defend mewhen I was but a child.Of the three men, two survived, one barely.Acknowledgments :I thank Colonel Donyale’s widow, Ms. AminaAbdul-Qader (nicknamed Stella), and his onlychild, Mohamed Donyale, for sharing with metheir recollections of what the colonel had toldthem of those events. I am also grateful toMohamed Haji Ingiris for illuminating thecolonel’s early life and connecting me to hisfamily.Thank you, and may the spirit Soomaalinninocome back,

Aside

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