Iwas on my way to school when the soldiers stopped me.
My house is nine kilometres from the Salama school in the Lower Shebelle region of Somalia, where I teach secondary school students.
I said to the soldiers: “Please let me pass. I am a teacher. I am going to school and I am late for my job.”
For the past few years, there has been unrest in my country, as Somali Federal Government forces clash with al-Shabaab militants. Since I first started teaching in 2004, I have always tried to do my best for my students, despite the challenging circumstances. But this morning was different.
It was a Monday at about half past seven. I was walking down the road towards the bridge where I cross the Shabelle river each day to get to school. When I reached the bridge, I saw that a large group of people were being detained there by soldiers.
The soldiers did not discriminate. They had stopped elderly people, women, children and even students in school uniform. They had made everyone form a long queue and ordered some people to lie on their chests on the ground. Soldiers torture people here and I knew that I was in danger, so I attempted to return the way I had come.
'Let me go to school'
But as I tried to leave, one uniformed soldier, who was carrying an assault rifle, shouted at me that he would kill me if I moved one step.
I was in shock as a group of four soldiers came towards me. They caught me by the neck and pushed me hard, ordering me to join the queue.
I said to them: “Please let me pass. I am a teacher. I am going to school and I am late for my job.”
I showed them my identification to prove my story and kept pleading with them, repeating, “Let me go to school.”
“You are talkative man,” one of the soldiers said. “If you talk one more time, I will shoot you. I never went to school myself and I don’t care whether you are a teacher or a student.”
I spent the days wondering whether I would be killed without even going to court
I saw then how bad the situation was for me. They had no respect for teachers, because they had never been to school. When a young person is educated and goes on to become someone, they will remember their teachers with great respect. But that was not the case here. Women were crying and people were begging.
The soldiers detained us for hours. Eventually, some people were released but others, myself included, were taken to jail for no plausible reason.
For three weeks, I was in prison. The conditions were terrible. There were no toilets. I slept on the floor and did not have enough food or clean water. I spent the days wondering whether I would be killed without even going to court. I knew it was easy for them to do this, because five men had already been taken away and had never come back again.
In the end, I was released because a group of parents of the students that I taught, other teachers from my school, and some elders from the local Afgoi communities went to the police and told them that I was a teacher and not a criminal or member of the feared militias.
I was very fortunate. When I returned to my job, everybody in the school was welcoming and charming. My students told me that they had missed me and that they had been praying for my release.
It was a very difficult experience, but I decided not to stop being a teacher. I will never give up if I can help to eliminate illiteracy and ignorance.
With thanks to Africa Educational Trust africaeducationaltrust.org
Sa’ad Hintir Omar is a secondary school teacher at the Salama school in Somalia