Ethiopia: The cost of war
17 September 2008

While some Somali women do not cover their face with a veil, others do. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
The war has left a scar that changed her entire life.
Addis Ababa, 17 September 2008 – In current Somalia there is little hope for an improvement of the situation. Thousands have become victims of the war, are displaced and exiled, killed innocently, wounded or disabled. 

The JRS team in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, witnesses the consequences of this war every day when accompanying the victims and while advocating on their behalf. Here they share about one of their encounters with a 24-year-old Somali asylum seeker:

Nadifa* first came to the JRS office on 28 August 2008. She was dressed in the traditional Somali costume that veiled her whole body, including her face. 

Following the usual office procedure, we asked her to unveil her face to carry out the interview. “You may not want to see my face,” she said humbly. We were surprised by her response and insisted on her unveiling her face. When she finally took off her veil a disfigured human face appeared. We had not expected that and felt pity about what we saw. 

The war leaves a scar

Nadifa is still young, she must have been pretty and told us she often smiled but now her previous appearance remains nothing but a memory. “It was on August 2, 2008, while I was dreaming of peace right at midnight, “she explained.

“The sound of huge artilleries woke me up. Since I had become accustomed to the sound I tried to ignore it and to go back to sleep. But a sudden blast nearby shook the entire house. I decided to run out of the house but soon there was another blast, and a big shell landed on me as I ran for cover. It grazed part of the left side of my face.”

Now, Nadifa looks completely different. The war has left a scar that changed her entire life. The left side of her face and one eye are disfigured. Life is different now and she lives witnessing the high cost of war. 

Grateful for being alive

She only needs to uncover her face to show what words cannot explain. She is forced to cover it not only because of her religion but because of the disturbing empathetic reactions she gets from those who see her without a veil. 

Most of us were surprised when we heard her thanking God for being alive: “I have seen people counting their dead; and what if I was one of them?”, she said.

Other asylum seekers told Nadifa about JRS. With JRS support, she received medical assistance, has hired a room and is trying to adjust herself so that she can face the future with confidence and present her case to the government - a process, which could take long and of which the result remains uncertain.


*not her real name