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The Last Nomad

Normally, I read books about constitutional law, history, and biographies of historical people. However, I was in the mood for something different, and this book certainly was different, introducing me to a world and way of life heretofore unknown to me.

The book is "The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert". The author, Shugri Said Salh, was raised in the unforgiving desert of northeast Africa, and is a refugee of the Somalian civil war. She is a born story-teller, from a long line of born story-tellers, and one heck of a writer. Ms Salh does an excellent job of conveying life in the Somalian desert, where the daily routine is consumed by a constant search for water, and grazing land for her goats and camels–while ever on the lookout for predators waiting to devour livestock, and people. It's a close-knit world governed by a complex, conflict-filled clan system where family ties are everything, and where men dominate family life. The author writes: "It's a world where warring clans gave each of their young, virginal daughters to create allegiances and hoped for peace." In order to insure that daughters remain virgins, at an early age they must undergo the gruesome ordeal of what is called "female genital mutilation"– without anesthesia, or medication to protect against infection.

Ms Salh began her life on the desert at the tender age of six, when she was sent to live with her nomadic grandmother (whom she refers to as "Ayeeyo"), who taught her how to master the rigors of desert living. While hard and unforgiving, she missed its rhythms and stark beauty, and her special relationship with her Ayeeyo, when as a teen, her family removed her from the desert, introduced her to city living, and put her in a public school, where she learned to read and write.

It was while living in the city, that she learned of the growing political and religious tension, that would one day erupt into to the Somalian civil war. It was a brutal war, that would destroy countless families, as well as the way of Somalian desert life that had existed for millennia, and eventually forced her to move to North America–first to Quebec, Canada, and finally to Sonoma County in California, where she now makes her home. She has continued her education by attending nursing school at Pacific Union College, where she graduated with honors. Today, she is married and has three children.

Proud of her upbringing and early way of life, she writes: "I want to say to readers, don't paint Somalis with a single brush. We are not only victims. Our culture is not only barbaric, and not only noble. I went through that, but I'm also a soccer mom, a Californian who's a bit of a hippie. There's no single story about my life." She is also the last of her kind, indeed, "The Last Nomad."

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