Surprised by Somalia: Similarities Abound Half a World Away
Nick Archer takes us on a journey across the globe to Somalia – a place that challenged him and changed him forever.
Check out photos, videos, and behind-the-scenes stories from our guests on the podcast. You won’t want to miss these exclusive extras!
Buckle up for this one! World Concern President, Nick Archer, takes us on a journey to the distant and mystifying land of Somalia. Step off a small plane into an abandoned airport in Hargeisa in 1991. Take in the vast, arid desert surrounding you, as you walk the path of hardship so many Somalis have traveled for centuries. Experience God here and meet the people in this place that challenged and changed Nick forever. You’ll be surprised by the similarities we all share as people looking for answers to our own struggles.
Surprised by Somalia: Similarities Abound Half a World Away
Cathy: Welcome to The End of the Road Podcast. My name is Cathy and I'm your host and tour guide as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet. I'm so excited to have you along for the ride. So buckle up, we're going to the end of the road. Our guest today is Nick Archer. Nick is the president of World Concern, and he's going to take us on a journey today to the mysterious and intriguing country of Somalia. Welcome back, Nick.
Nick Archer: Great. Thanks Cathy. And good to be here again.
Cathy: So I always like to kind of start with this question of, go back to the first time that you stepped off a plane in Somalia and what that felt like, what it looked like around you. What did you see? What did you hear?
Nick Archer: That's a great question. Somalia, Somaliland, that's really defined me very much as an individual because when I first moved to Africa on a permanent basis in 1991, Somalia was actually the first country that I really had some kind of long experience with. And it impacted me on a personal level. It impacted me as a Christian. I had some really hard questions about faith, poverty, conflict, things like that. And Somalia really defined me. And so my first trip I went in probably I think somewhere around March or April 1991. I hadn't been in Africa very long or East Africa very long at that point.
Nick Archer: And the civil war actually started in the north in 1988, and then slowly moved its way further south until we get to the days of Black Hawk Down in 1992. But in 1991, I was working with an organization, and we were trying to rebuild some work that we had been doing since the '80s and since the early '80s in the north in Somaliland. The civil war finished there, and we have to put this in context in that there was a long standing internal civil conflict in Somalia that really devastated the country.
Nick Archer: And I flew in. I was flying in 1991 in a small Cessna. And I really didn't know what to expect. And I think for those probably very few listeners that have actually flown in to a small rural town in Africa on a small plane, is that one of the things that strikes you is that the sun reflects off the tin roofs of many, many of the houses. Many houses in Africa have a tin roof. Some people call it a corrugated roof and the sun reflects. And I remember distinctly flying in, and that was a seven-hours even from Nairobi, flying at about 10,000, 12,000 feet, no bathroom on the plane. You had to make sure that you didn't need a bathroom when you were in that flight.
Nick Archer: And we were landing coming into Hargeisa, and I barely saw a roof. There was barely a roof on any house. And I realized as we got lower that almost all the structures had their roofs missing. I mean, it really just shocked me that there had been such, and of course it became very evident when I landed, it was a town in an area of the country that had been completely devastated by the civil war. And we have to remember that the government at that time was bombing its own people with pilots who were mercenaries, and they were bombing their own town. They were flying from the local airport, circling around and then bombing the town itself. And there was hardly a building that was left standing and certainly very, very few with a roof on.
Nick Archer: And we landed in the airport in Hargeisa, and you have to realize this is the place there was no law and order. There was no law and order. There was no authority. There was no overarching mechanism that brought structure and normality to the place. So we fly into the airport. The airport had been partly destroyed. There was no air tower that was bringing aircraft in. You had to fly over the runway to scare the animals off, and then you could land. And in the airport, I mean, this goes to show what it was like, there was no immigration, no customs, nobody was running the airport. No entity ran the airport. And you just landed there. And there were just quite a few people milling around mainly men, all of them armed.
Nick Archer: And at that point, you just sort of ... you had to have a host, somebody who met you. Otherwise, it was impossible to navigate your way around. It was an airport in name, but not in function. And so I was met by somebody there and then we journeyed into town. And we had to pass about three checkpoints on our way into town. And the reason is this, Somalia is a clan structure. It's a clan family, kind of. That's the way society's built. The north in Hargeisa has one main clan, but that clan is then subdivided into multiple smaller clan families. And in Hargeisa itself, no one entity controlled the town.
Nick Archer: And so you had to cross different checkpoints of different clans in order to get just to the center of town. And at any given time, those clan relationships could change and you could have fighting. So even the journey simply from the airport into the town was fraught with risk because you didn't quite know what you were going to face. And even on a daily basis, almost, you had to figure out where the tensions were in order to be able to move from one place to another and to do so safely. And landing, and this was an airport, if you can imagine if you've seen any pictures of those old British colonial buildings, the airport looked just like that. It was just this old colonial stone building with some old plaques dating from the 1950s on the wall, but structurally, there was nothing else. I mean, windows were gone, doors were gone, everything. It was just a shell of a place.
Nick Archer: And when you went into the town, the whole town pretty much looked like that. The central bank was nonfunctioning. It had been looted. There was nothing in there. Pretty much every other government structure was really just you may have somebody even squatting in it. There were a lot of squatters in those days, people who were trying to rebuild their lives and the only place to go was a building that it could have been the courthouse, it could have been a school, anything. And so really when you landed in Hargeisa, that's really what you faced. It was a town really with no order, no structure, a lot of fear, a lot of guns.
Nick Archer: And one of the ways this was manifested was that, if you can imagine a pickup truck, a lot of clans had pickup trucks, and they would put machine guns and small anti-aircraft guns onto the truck bed. And they would drive around the town at great speed to somehow demonstrate their authority in that particular area. And at any given time, they used to call them technicals. That was what they were called at the time. At any given time you could have a clash between two different clan families, two different militias who were trying to secure their own territory. And that was what life was like for the ordinary Somali.
Nick Archer: Even for me as a westerner, people might think, well, was it unsafe for you? Well, I would probably say it was no more risky for me than it was for the ordinary Somali. I wasn't really ... for most of the time there, you weren't significantly at risk from say kidnapping. That really wasn't a dominant factor, but just the relentless instability of life was one of just the defining issues of Somalia in those days. And even when you went to leave the country, you had to figure out how you could get safely to the airport.
Nick Archer: I remember one time I left, it was a couple of years later, and things had not improved in those two years. You had to try and book a seat on a United Nations plane. The UN run services into Somalia to and from Nairobi, even to Djibouti. You had to try and get a seat. And the system was very, very unreliable. And I remember one evening I had gone under the belief that I had a seat on a plane. And so I think I got to the airport at about 2:00 in the afternoon, and I waited and there was nothing. Of course there's no airport communication. There's nobody in the airport. And it got to be 4:00 and then 5:00, and it was starting to get dark. I was the only person in the whole airport.
Cathy: Wow. Sounds terrifying.
Nick Archer: I was the only person there. And of course you have no communication. You didn't really have a cell service that we would call a cell service now. Landline didn't work. People used to use ham radios. They were much more reliable form of communication in those days. And then I remember it was getting dark and I thought, well, what am I going to do? Because I had no ride back to town. So I honestly didn't know what I was going to do.
Nick Archer: And then all of a sudden, this plane, this small jet, it was a jet on this word occasion, this jet and it landed. And the guy in the airplane comes, he pulls up a little bit from the terminal building. He doesn't turn the engines off. Some guy just literally lowers the ladder and it's a small plane. It's a 10 sitter. He lowers the ladder, and he just waves to me and he says, "Get in." And so I run over, throw my bag in, get in. And we pulled up the gate and we are off. It must have taken like five minutes, because there was simply no order. You have to remember that. There was just simply no order. And of course I got on there, and I was expecting to see other people. I was the only one on the plane.
Cathy: Wow. Just you and the pilot.
Nick Archer: Just me and the pilot. And then he'd flown from Djibouti, which was not too far away. And then we went direct to Nairobi. And that was probably one of my more extreme departures from Somaliland. But the context is such that you realize how much we depend on structure, an organization for life to work, while this was a country where there really wasn't any, what a westerner would call recognizable structure. And that was really the dominant story, I think, of my early years in and out of Somalia, trying to support teams that we had working there.
Cathy: Wow. That's just absolutely fascinating. It's hard to imagine, especially for those of us that are used to very long TSA lines and checking your boarding pass, and going through all the security measures that we go through now and all that to get on a plane, just thinking of running across a runway all by yourself and jumping onto a plane that is still running. So thank goodness that pilot remembered to pick you up.
Nick Archer: Well, that's right. That's exactly true. I mean, because like I said, the whole system for actually getting on one of those planes, it's a bit hit-and-miss.
Cathy: Yeah, I'm sure. Wow. Interesting. So you've, I want to just let people know, you've mentioned Somaliland a couple times and a lot of people don't know the difference between Somalia and Somaliland. So explain that for us.
Nick Archer: Sure. That's a good question. So Somalia is sort of in the Northeastern corner of Africa for anybody with sort of a mental picture of Africa. And Somalia is shaped a bit like a number seven, and it's in the Northeast corner. So you've got a north coast and then you've got a sort of an easterly coast on the Indian ocean. Somaliland is in what would be, if you have that mental picture, it's in the horizontal bar of the seven. That's basically where Somaliland is.
Nick Archer: And the difference between Somalia and Somaliland is quite historical. And it has, even in its modern iteration today, has lot to do with, again, the clan structure. And a lot of the distrust that persists in Somalia and Somaliland because of the clan structure. Basically the people in the north, so the Isaac, that's the dominant clan, they very much want to be independent. They don't want to be associated with the rest.
Nick Archer: And that's partly due to a lot of what happened in the '60s and the '70s and even in the civil war, that's driven those divisions. And really the Northern part, Somali and really feels that they want to go it alone. And so they refer to their area as Somaliland, whereas probably most of the rest of the world looked at the whole country as Somalia. So that would be really the main difference.
Cathy: Okay. So Somaliland is kind of a ... it's not actually a recognized country by the world, but sort of a self-declared independent state?
Nick Archer: Correct. That's exactly what it's like. Yes.
Cathy: Okay. In the Southern part of Somalia, of course, we've got the capital city of Mogadishu, which many people have heard of and still hear about on the news regularly of bombings and attacks and things. So I think Al-Shabaab being the primary terrorist organization in Somalia, and many people may have heard about that too, but have you been to Mogadishu and what is that city like?
Nick Archer: Mogadishu, I've not been there any great length of time. I've been through it a couple of times. It's a pretty big city. Most of my personal experience has been either in the north or in the deep further south than Mogadishu, which is Kismayo in the Juba valley. Mogadishu itself was in many ways, a very vibrant community in the '70s and in the early '80s. And that part of Somalia has a lot of Italian history to it too. A lot of it is very strongly influenced by the Catholic church.
Nick Archer: One of the things that is worth noting is that one of the reasons in my own story as a humanitarian worker and as a missionary has been very much for the fact that Somalia has very little representation of the church. It's considered 99.9% Muslim. And I mean, even today there actually isn't a recognized functioning church building in Somalia in its entirety. But yeah, the Southern part of the country is very much more the economic hub. A lot of it in the Juba valley driven big projects in the '70s and '80s around sugar plantations, animal exporting, camels, sheep, and goats to the middle east. And that's what's driven it.
Nick Archer: But I think when you think about Somalia as a whole, and to give people an idea of what it's like, Somalia and the Somalis are very much a pastoral or society. Their roots are very pastoral, which means essentially they're animal keepers. By and large it's a very dry and dusty country. And for those of your listeners who are people of Christian faith, if you can read the New Testament in the stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob-
Cathy: Old Testament.
Nick Archer: Old Testament, that is very much what Somalia looks like even today. People who are animal keepers, they're herders and their livelihoods and their existence depends on two things, water and grazing. Everything begins and ends on those two factors. That's where life is, if you don't have access to those you're in trouble. And so a lot of conflict in Somalia, even not just today, but historically has been around a fight between those two things. Do I have access to water for my animals? Do I have access to grazing?
Nick Archer: You think about the story of Abraham and Lot in the book of Genesis, and how they decided where to go. And they separated based on resources in many ways. And that's just like, if your listeners are looking for a picture, that's often what you would see in Somalia today. And so when the country is ... when we talk about drought in Somalia, that's a huge, that's a big deal.
Cathy: I want to come back to that, because I want to talk about multiple times throughout history when most of our listeners would've been alive, there's been famine in Somalia and in that horn of Africa region. I want to come back to that, but just to kind of continue to paint the picture of what life is like for an average person or a family in Somalia, they're a very nomadic culture. Also, most of them, I remember seeing a picture a long time ago of ... and they're moving about in search of water and grazing land.
Cathy: And so the homes, as you mentioned, or buildings, some of them have metal roofs, but a lot of what I've seen in pictures are sort of a dome shaped hut made out of sticks and maybe some tattered, plastic or cloth kind of trying to keep the wind and the dust out, I'm sure. And that's kind of how people live. And then they just abandon those structures and move on when they need to move on.
Cathy: But I remember seeing this picture of this man and his wife and a couple of children kind of walking through the desert in Somalia. And they had a few animals with them, and then they had a camel or two just completely loaded up with stuff, I'm sure with all of their tent materials and all of their belongings. This camel was just completely overloaded on both sides of its body, with all of their stuff wrapped in tarps and rope and that sort of thing kind of tied onto the camel. And I just thought, wow, that's so different from how we live here in north America in terms of purchasing land and homes, and setting up homes and moving even, and what a different experience that is.
Cathy: So it's a really interesting life that they live. And as you mentioned, very dependent on water, very impacted by drought, dependent on rain and water and grazing land for their animals. And so when I joined World Concern in 2010, it was just before ... I remember when the 2011 horn of Africa famine began. And I remember sort of our team here at headquarters raising the red warning flag that there were signs of such severe drought, and also some conflict, some new conflict going on around the border with Kenya, that there was just some really major warning signs that this drought and hunger situation was going to turn into famine.
Cathy: And a lot of people don't know, but a famine is not declared until the hunger and malnutrition reach a certain extreme level to the point where it's actually ... that's a word we kind of throw around when we're talking about hunger and stuff. But I remember when famine was declared, it means that a certain percentage of the population is starving basically. I just remember the stories that we heard from people had everything to do with their animals. They would say, "I had 150 sheep and goats, and I'm down to one, and we're not going to make it."
Cathy: So just to kind of give our listeners sort of any kind of a connection to that, it would be like going from having a full bank account with your entire salary in there down to a dollar or a penny, having your full pantry and refrigerator or your local Costco down to a single can of soup. And that's the kind of just fear and crisis that people were living in. So yeah, anything that comes to mind for you when you think about just that tenuous scenario that so many Somalis live in where just one season without adequate rainfall can change everything.
Nick Archer: Yeah. I think we have to understand the lifestyle of the pastoralist. And people are pastoralist because where they live is frequently not suitable agricultural land. And so pastoralism is the logical livelihood. That's what you do to survive. And I think for pastoralist, the animals are their bank account. That's what feeds them. And people with camels and goats and sheep, they use the milk, they use the meat, and they use the skins.
Nick Archer: A good pastoralist is always balancing his herd. When he or she withdraws, in other words kill some animals, and then what the reproduction rate is. And of course, along with that where are they going to feed them, and where are they going to access the water. So when a pastoral society faces a drought, which then if its persistent leads to famine, is that you are really depleting that bank account significantly.
Nick Archer: And the problem is, the challenges is that when it depletes to such a point where you only have one or two animals left, you simply don't have enough resources to rebuild. And the problem then means that those people then actually become destitute and end up as displaced often in their own country. They don't have the means of rebuilding. And I remember one story, I was talking about the horn of Africa, I was there and I was visiting a feeding center that we were running with another organization. And I remember, I don't think I told you this story before. I apologize if I have.
Nick Archer: But I talked to a woman there and she told me what her story was. She had walked from an area I mentioned earlier, which is the Juba valley. She'd walked about three or four days with her three kids. And they started out with a donkey. The donkey died halfway. And they walked the remaining day and a half just ... I mean, she had small kids five and seven, that age range and one small child, one baby, all the way to get to this feeding center.
Nick Archer: So for her story, she'd not only left everything, what she had, what little she had, she'd left. If she had something she wouldn't have left, but situation was got to the point where if she was going to survive, she had to move. And she basically, by the time she reached the feeding center, she had nothing left. I mean, she barely got there. And that's the story of really a fortunate person. There are many others in situations like that, where they don't even make it that far. The drought and the famine because of the drought just leave them so weak and emaciated that simply they don't have the option to leave to find something else elsewhere.
Nick Archer: And so we have to remember with pastoralist people, which is the most of Somalia is, it's a very fragile existence. It's very fragile. You're living on the edge all the time of survival and need. And if the weather is consistent and you get rains at the right time, in the right place, and in the right quantity, everything is good, but yet there are also times, and we're seeing it more and more today where those patterns are increasingly unreliable. So it leaves people more and more vulnerable to famine, and to poverty and to death.
Cathy: I want to just pause for a moment and thank our listeners for joining us today. If you're just hearing about World Concern for the first time, and you're curious to learn a little bit more about who we are, and what sets us apart from other organizations you might be familiar with, please visit worldconcern.org/podcast, and learn a little bit more about what we do. And now let's get back to our conversation.
Cathy: The water situation is really interesting and extreme in a place like Somalia. People sometimes ask, why don't they just dig Wells? The truth of the matter is, you can dig pretty far down there and the water is still salty and unfit for human consumption or even for animals because of the salt content in it. Another thing I remember from the past with World Concern was, there were some years there where we helped communities construct these things that were called berkads. They were giant concrete, underground water catchment tanks, basically.
Cathy: And so I remember just trying to wrap my head around the fact that it might not rain in some parts of Somalia for a year. And then it will rain for a day or two, and it will rain so hard. And of course the ground is so dry. It can't really absorb that much water very quickly. So then you have flooding, but if you can create sort of channels for the rainwater to then go into these berkads that you can collect. I mean, it's like probably the size of a giant swimming pool, an Olympic size swimming pool. And you can collect that rainwater and actually provide water for a community for six or eight months from that rainwater collection. So really interesting how organizations that are helping in that area have to innovate and come up with new ways to help people with the water situation.
Nick Archer: I think in a water poor country like Somalia, you have to find different ways to capture water. So you can capture it from the roof of your house. If you are fortunate enough to have a house with a tin roof, you can put simple gutters on there, and then divert the water into one or more storage tanks. You've got w=ells which work in some parts of the country. In some places you've got a salt problem. In other places you have other mineral problems where there's such a high concentration of something like where you could say arsenic in the water and things like that, which have a very negative impact on both animal health and human health, and so it's barely drinkable.
Nick Archer: But berkads, you gave a good description, which is really just like a good size swimming pool with a really low roof over the top. And you put the roof on, one to catch water and then to channel it into the berkad and also to stop evaporation as well, which is the other thing you have to try and stop. And so they're actually quite traditional. They've been used in many parts. Sort of Eastern side of Somaliland they're very common. That's something that World Concern has done a lot of work with helping to improve them, improve the quality, improve retention.
Nick Archer: So some of those you have to put like a concrete liner in them to stop water seeping into the soil. It depends what the rock formation is. And they collect a lot of water, and then the community then rations those over the subsequent months, and obviously to give people a sort of a breathing space to be able to continue to live and continue to live well. Now people are not ... they're not necessarily piped into a community. Women will go there with say a 20-liter carrying can for water. That would be a day's ration of water for them and their family, or maybe even for longer. And that's just one of the number of ways that you have to try and find water in a water resource, poor country.
Cathy: It's a really challenging circumstances in Somalia. I'm sure that some listeners might be thinking as I am like, is it hopeless there? Is there really anything that can be done or that people can do who live there to improve their lives? I know World Concern is doing, again, some innovative things in terms of helping people identify the warning signs of drought, possibly sell off their livestock before it gets to the point where they all die, and then have some money reserved to try and survive a crisis like a severe or prolonged drought.
Cathy: I've seen some pictures of some small scale, vegetable farming and different methods of trying to irrigate small crops, so that there's a little diversification in their diet, and in how they're getting food and that sort of thing. But if someone were to ask you, World Concern has been in Somalia for decades, since the '80s, I believe. Why do we stay? Is it hopeless? Talk a little bit about that.
Nick Archer: That's a good question. I mean, it's a very logical question. But just to pick up on one point you said there, you say, well, why don't people sell off their livestock before it gets so bad? That's a really good question. Why don't they? But then I would actually give you an analogy for that. Why do people not sell their stocks when the market's falling? Because they hang on because they think it's going to get better. It's exactly the same principle.
Nick Archer: A farmer hangs on his animals because that is his lifeblood. He doesn't have anything else. He doesn't have a plan B. And so they hang on, and of course if the drought persists, then they're in real trouble. I thought I just mentioned that because although we look very different on the outside, a lot of the things that drive us are actually the same. I think one of the things we're seeing now is that there is diversification.
Nick Archer: So particularly for families who have lost animals and have moved in closer to a bigger town, then small gardens, kitchen gardens are very much ways that we can help people transition to a different way of income generation, a way of livelihoods. That's one thing. I think another thing that's changing of course, is that the availability of education. So children are growing up now with skill sets that are more suited to a more industrial society. And so whether it's things like computers, whether it's sort of business management skills that people are learning. And I would say I like the Somalis.
Nick Archer: The Somalis are very entrepreneurial people. They actually like to do business. And so whether it's the business of selling animals, whether it's a business of selling cell phones, the Somalis can actually be or actually are very entrepreneurial people. But it's about giving people those opportunities, introducing different ways of survival, of growth other than purely pastoralism. So those things are definitely there.
Nick Archer: I think the reason why we persist in being there is this, that there are still many pockets of the country that are very, very desperately poor. The Southern part of the country now, which is an area that we have more concerns had a long history in an area called the Juba valley. That's very, very ethnically clan wise, it's very, very mixed. And many of the lower status clans are very, very poor, living very much in a subsistent lifestyle.
Nick Archer: And a lot of our work is with them on a more agricultural basis, trying to find alternatives for income generations, if they live along the river, whether it's fishing. Do they do farming near the river banks? Do they do irrigation? Do they adopt irrigation? Things like that. And I think those are the reasons ... one of the reasons we're still there. And part of it is obviously because we are an organization, which is very much faith driven. And you know that we have a strong commitment to all people everywhere, regardless of what label they put on themselves, whether it's Hindu, Muslim or whatever. And we believe that God gives all of us hope.
Nick Archer: Somalia is a country, often many people that I've talked to in my own sphere in the humanitarian space, a lot of them have no interest or passion to work in Somalia because of its it's challenges. Somalia has very interesting people. They're fascinating. They can be ... if you're ever in a place where there's a lot of Somalis, it sounds like everybody's yelling at each other. Everybody's yelling. And you think to yourself, why don't you talk with a normal voice. For the westerner, that's what it looks like, but they're just actually having a normal conversation with each other.
Cathy: It is very enthusiastic.
Nick Archer: Very enthusiastically. So there are a lot of dynamics of Somali society that particularly for Westerners that are very hard to digest, but they're fascinating people. You can have really deep relationships with them. You can also have very difficult relationships with them too. It's about the fact that God really loves everybody. We believe in a God that really has a heart for all peoples everywhere, including the Somalis.
Cathy: Wow. That's beautiful. I love that. The last question. I want to just hear a little bit more about what God might be up to in a place like Somalia. So any moments when you've been in Somalia where you felt like that's the fingerprints of God right there? I sense his presence here. Or how do you experience God in a place like Somalia?
Nick Archer: I do remember an instance where I was in the south one time, and this is way before we had modern technology through cell phones that we have now. And I just thought to myself, gosh, I'm a long way from anywhere here. I could have broken my leg, fallen down a Well, and nobody would ever know I was there. I mean, I could. I could have had a heart attack, and I probably would've been found five days later. You're very, very remote, and you're very, very away from all your support systems.
Nick Archer: But one thing that struck me when I was there was to recognize that, you know what, God is here just like He is in my own church at home. God is not bound by nationality, tribe, region, ethnicity. God is as present here as He is back home to me. And just as He was present to Abraham, when Abraham was journeying through the middle east, God is just as present. And that was a revelation for me because it sort of broke a barrier or sort of a mental barrier, or even maybe you could even call it a spiritual barrier. I could see the footprints of God in a place like that.
Nick Archer: And to be honest, I have had wonderful conversations with Somalis on this issue, because one of the things that all of us in the human race face is problems with our own selves, our own guilt, our own, if you want to use a religious word, sin, the things that are wrong in our lives, the Somalis they have the same challenges with that as I do. And yet God provides an answer to that.
Nick Archer: And I've had wonderful conversations with Somalis on this issue of, how do you find peace with God? How do we find peace with God? What does that look like? Do you find it in your own relationship with God now? What do you do with your own guilt and your own failings and your own brokenness or the brokenness in your community? Just the same questions that I ask, what do I do with the brokenness in my own family or the brokenness in my own community? In that level, we are all the same. We're all looking for answers is to my own weakness, my own struggles. Where do I find peace? Where do I find peace with God? What does God even look like?
Nick Archer: For me, I've had just incredibly rich conversations with Somalis on this issue, even religious leaders. I mean, I can think of people even now who I've had very specific conversations with about faith and about peace and about how our wrongs ... how does God address our wrongs? How does God give us peace and give us rest of spirit? Because essentially we are all spiritual beings, as much as we are physical beings and emotional beings. And we're all looking for peace with God.
Nick Archer: The Somalis are very religious people. For those who know anything about Islam, they're from the Sunni branch of Islam, but they also practice sort of an aspect of that called Sufism. And they can be quite sort of spiritually aware. Religion for them isn't just sort of about deeds and simple observance. There's also, if you are talking about ... I always say that if you think about Christian traditions, we have traditions that are quite expressive so like Pentecostals, for example, are very expressive often of their faith.
Nick Archer: The Sufi side of Islam is many ways a little like that. It's that more, that experiential side of religious behavior and understanding. And that's a very strong element in Somali society. And they have tombs to saints, for example. And you can visit the tomb of different saints across the country. So Somalis are very aware, a very strong sense of their spiritual reality, but at the bottom of it, we're all asking this same question, how do I have peace with God? And the Somalis are no different to me in that regard.
Cathy: That's incredible. I love how you kind of show the connection, the similarities that we all have. It makes Somalia feel less ... We talked in the beginning about how far it is and how foreign and how different it is from what we might be used to. But in that sense, it brings it home a little bit. It makes us feel like, okay, God is present there, is working there. And that people are people. And no matter where you are in the world, no matter how far and remote, and it's something that with this theme of the end of the road on our podcast, we want people to be thinking about that these places that we're journeying to might be really physically far away, and yet we can feel closer to people in those places because they're people just like we are.
Cathy: And I love what you said about, we're looking for peace with God, ultimately. And I think many of the listeners will relate to that and feel that connection to this place. So that's a great takeaway for us today to think about, and also a great way for us to know how to pray for the families, the mothers like the one that you described that are walking for days in search of water or food, and are willing to leave their home, because whatever they can find is better than or more than what they're leaving behind. Just a really incredible look into a culture that has otherwise been quite mysterious to a lot of people. So thank you, Nick, for taking us on this virtual journey into Somalia, and giving us just a glimpse of what life is like there. Any closing words you want to say about this place?
Nick Archer: There's a lot I could say about Somalia. I have so many rich experiences there. It is often a much maligned place, but it's usually maligned because of a very small minority of people. But really I gruesome so much as a person and in my faith because I've worked in Somalia. And I met the people who looked at life very differently from myself. And I became richer because of that.
Nick Archer: And also my own Christian faith went deeper because of it, because I had to wrestle with really hard questions about what God looked like, how does he manifest himself in so many different circumstances and situations around the world. And that was just so incredibly amazing for me. And while some people look at Somali and can't find a really good thought, I always look back with a lot of joy and appreciation for those that I've met over the years, and still continue to meet too in different walks of life, even here.
Cathy: I love that because we want for our listeners to experience God. And what you've shared today is basically how you experienced God at the end of the road in a very hard place like Somalia, and it changed you, and it changed your faith, and it grew you in your faith. And so that's really our hope for our listeners as well, is that they will grow in their faith as God broadens their horizons and they learn about places like Somalia. So thank you again, Nick, for just your insights, your stories, your experiences in Somalia. It's been really, really a joy to talk with you today and thanks again to our listeners for joining us today.
Nick Archer: Thank you Cathy. I really enjoyed it. I always find a lot of fun to talk about Somalia.
Cathy: I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope that your mind has been opened up a little bit. Your heart has been touched through some of the stories that you have heard today. As I mentioned earlier, if you're curious about learning a little bit more about World Concern, about our work beyond the end of the road, you can visit worldconcern.org/podcast to learn more.
Cathy: I want to thank Crista ministries, World Concern's parent organization for making this podcast possible. And I also want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production and editing and consulting expertise, for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today. We look forward to more stories at The End of the Road next time.