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Sunday 14 July 2024

Opinion

My lifelong search for like-minded pen pals

27 June, 2024
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Abdirahman Adan
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Exchanging correspondences with friends has enriched my life and built a strong network which have uplifted us all. 

Over the years, I've had and still maintain a group of close and distant friends who I regard as pen pals. As time and circumstances change, so have our interactions. 

Early set up  

During my first year of college, particularly while studying courses like Effective Writing Skills, I vividly remember collaborating closely with some classmates. The coursework was intensive, packed with assignments that encouraged creativity, innovation, extensive writing, and the submission of transcripts for review, feedback, and grading. 

Ridwan Osman, a classmate at the time, fell into the category of a pen pal. Although we were physically together and studying under the same roof, we actively exchanged notes, challenged each other, and provided editorial support before submitting assignments. This arrangement worked seamlessly for both of us. 

As a PhD candidate and member of a local council now, our connection didn’t end after graduation; rather, it matured and blossomed into our post-college professional lives. Despite being physically separated due to circumstances, we continued to correspond Recently, a simple email search revealed dozens of exchanges that left me deeply nostalgic. Our discussions centred on topics such as quality education, employability, community service with integrity, and political discourse. 

After graduation, Mukhtar Maidhane, now an MP in Somaliland’s lower house, became another pen pal, maintaining a sustained correspondence over time. A skilled writer, our exchanges covered multidisciplinary issues, exchanging views, and collaborating on successful projects, albeit with some that did not materialise. Our conversations revolved around topics such as genuine learning, citizen engagement, analytical reviews of theories and techniques, the nexus between humanitarianism and development, and economic growth. 

Around mid-2007, harnessing technological advancements, we established a larger group of like-minded young professionals to address societal challenges. Under the banner Friends for Development, our email group spanned multiple locations and involved multi-member teams exchanging insights on the Awdal Region and broader country issues. During deliberations, we identified seven interconnected societal challenges: youth unemployment, responsible media deficit, high public illiteracy rates, prevalence of khaat consumption, weak community cohesion, and inadequate recreational facilities. Regrettably, many of these issues persist today. 

Our exchanges focused on enhancing positive concepts while tackling these challenges head-on. 

Efficiency amidst bustling environments  

In post-graduation life, Mustafe Khaire, a communication expert and coach based in Hargeisa, became a serious and committed pen pal. Both avid lovers of books, we remained engrossed in literary discussions. I am deeply grateful for his role in reading, reviewing, and editing my two published books—Laba Kala Leexday and Dan iyo Dareen. Now, as I prepare to embark on my autobiography, which will be in Somali once again, I am confident that Mustafe’s critical review will greatly benefit the manuscript. 

What remains strikingly remarkable is his consistently detailed yet efficient feedback, often conveyed through comments, despite our demanding full-time schedules in different organisations. To this day, we continue to exchange insights on unpublished works, focusing mostly on book summaries and a few published articles. 

Years ago, a friend introduced me to Liban Obsiye, then a young graduate student in the UK, who is now a senior policy advisor with the Somali government. Our ongoing correspondence has left me amazed at the frequency, content, and intellectual depth of our exchanges. Our discussions have primarily centred on the challenges and opportunities linked to rapid urbanisation, urban regeneration, ecosystem restoration, and local economic development, all contributing to the broader goal of sustainable development and shared prosperity. Back then, both of us were fresh graduates, brimming with transformative ideas. 

Another valuable addition to my pen pal network is Abdi Issa, a young colleague and entrepreneur based in Mogadishu, who brings energy, stamina, and insightful contributions. His passion for reading, writing, and debating issues and theories is truly outstanding. Our exchanges have not only involved written dialogue but also his generous sharing of numerous books across various disciplines. 

The English translation of my Somali fiction, Laba Kala Leexday, translated to A Divergent Pair, which will soon be published, has greatly benefited from Abdi’s critical feedback among others. 

Dependable friends  

Abdi Aziz Mohamoud Jama, a close friend and London-based cybersecurity practitioner, is also a valuable pen pal whom I have been blessed to have for quite some time. Despite his demanding schedule and perfectionist attitude, he promptly reviews any thoughts I share with him and provides feedback that keeps me motivated. 

Mahdi Sheikh, an educationist, is another great friend with whom I frequently exchange drafts across various disciplines. I always appreciate his verbal feedback, which often offers unconventional perspectives across different sectors. 

Maintaining a wide range of evolving pen pals with varying frequencies and levels of engagement, I cannot do justice to everyone. I would like to mention friends such as Mohiadin Abdirahman, Abdifatah Omar, Sharmarke Geelle, Hussien Mohamed, Omar Abdillahi, and Abdillahi H. Said—a multi-disciplinary team spread across multiple locations—with whom I maintain ongoing pen pal relationships. 

Lastly, my daughters Mabruka and Muwahib, aged 16 and 17 respectively, are the latest additions to my intellectually stimulating network. Lately, I rarely release any piece of writing in English without first discussing it with them. I genuinely benefit from their reviews, sometimes through innocent, youthful perspectives and at other times through energetic and fresh cognitive abilities. As amateurs, they also share their thoughts with me for review and discussion. 

The beauty of having such a network primarily lies in the diversity of generations, geographical contexts, and fields of focus. While I used to look up to some of these individuals while growing up, others, now my former students, have grown into non-amateur professionals who continue to contribute effectively to my literary and professional discourse. The combination of these diverse groups with varying perspectives is what keeps me motivated. 

A final word 

Beyond my keen interest in writing, regardless of the topic—whether it’s a significant global event with far-reaching consequences or a specific thematic discussion like urbanisation or decentralisation—I perceive writing as more than an art form. David Scott, an academic at Columbia University, reflected on his correspondences with Jamaican-British sociologist Stuart Hall, which resonated greatly with me. He noted that during their voluminous email exchanges, they aimed not only to chat and find points of agreement but also points of “friendly divergence”. “We were always trying to work out not just what we shared but what we didn’t,” writes Scott. He also said he was able to keep a sense of Hall as an addressee with whom he was engaged. Writing, for both, serves to sharpen their skills, express ideas more articulately, advocate for or defend positions, and, simultaneously, stay engaged through the power of words. But it also teaches us how to do it amicably and constructively. You have to engage with the counterpart, even if you wish to find your point of “friendly divergence”, and so talking through or over one another isn’t possible. It cultivates a different approach to communication.  

In an era marked by technological advancements, with Artificial Intelligence platforms being the latest development, genuine human-generated texts still hold significance and convey a wealth of emotions. While these tools aim to simplify and enhance human creativity, sadly, many now use them as an alternative to human cognition! 

Nevertheless, through focused yet multifaceted engagement, writing and critical review not only stimulate curiosity and creativity but also contribute to shared knowledge.  

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Note: The author sadly passed away recently on [june 2024] in Nairobi, Kenya. He spent a part of his final days working on this piece for Geeska. The magazine wishes to send its condolences to his friends and family. Samir iyo iimaan.