Fourteen years ago a little boy was born in Somaliland. This birth would not have been remarkable if it were not for the fact that it was the first one in the Maternity Hospital of Hargeisa. This hospital would not be a symbol except because it was the first one that was put up in the town after the war. If it wasn’t for the tenacity of a woman who wanted to be first in everything – the first to drive a vehicle, the first to get an university degree, to run a ministry – this hospital would not have been named Edna Adan.
Of course this is not her first interview. Edna Adan is one of the most influential women in Africa. “She is the Mother Teresa of Somaliland”, says Sahra Ali, my first friend from this country on Facebook. That faith is present in each word she pronounces. Jon smiles with satisfaction each time she rounds up her sentence: “That woman speaks in quotes». Marcos’ boom pole moves with every nod of assertion. Through his camera lens, Miguel had never seen a 78-year-old face shining so bright –even convinced it is due to plastic surgery–, he cannot deny that Edna has captivated him.
Honestly we all have succumbed to the hypnotic power of such a charming snake entwined on the Rod of Asclepius. Edna is able to capture the attention of a fish into a tank. Her eyes have that African spell that enfolds us in the spiral of its narration. Hayat listens attentively to a story that sounds familiar to her as she wonders “How would it have been to deliver my daughter in this place?” “It would not have been easy», assures Edna. She never had children, literally speaking, but has felt the suffering of the thousands of women that have delivered their children in her hospital. “Somali women normally give birth at home, without any kind of medical assistance,” she explains, “when they come here it’s because something is wrong”.
A baby that was born two days ago did not survive the incubation phase. He had suffered brain injuries during the birth process, a frequent case among women who have suffered genital mutilation. This brutal tradition, which consists of cutting up the clitoris and the lips of the vaginal –normally with a shaving razor –, is still widely practiced in Somaliland. “99% of women who deliver in the hospital have been mutilated”, asserts Edna Adan. It is too late to cure this perpetual wound but Edna is trying to sensitize mothers not to repeat the same mistake with their daughters.
Edna had a different life from that of her patients. “I was privileged”, she states. Her father was an eminent doctor and she was sent to study in the United Kingdom when she was barely 17. She worked for the World Health Organization, she has travelled all over the world. She got married to President Ibrahim Egal (yes, she has also been the firs first lady of Somaliland), she has rubbed shoulders with celebrities and leaders of high rank, she has worn jewels and expensive clothes. Now when she is standing up at a bus stop in a cold European country and sees elegant people passing in luxurious vehicles, she thinks, “I could be one of them”, but she prefers to save on taxis to purchase medicines.
Nowadays Edna sleeps in a room in her hospital. Her dream has led her to forget about her well-off life, but this sacrifice has filled her with satisfaction. She is the model today for so many Somali women who want to study, drive and decide on their future. She is also a mother to over 18,000 children that have been born in her hospital. Nevertheless her favorite one is the first baby who was born there. He is now a teenager who wants to study medicine. “If one day I see him working in my hospital as a doctor”, says Edna, “it would be the best gift that life can give to me”.