MR. MARTIN KAPLAN'S VISIT TO AMOUD UNIVERSITY

 

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Somalia 2000

A Somali friend (Jaafar Jama)and I had the adventure experience of my lifetime. We traveled to Somalia to see what we could do to further the goals of Somali education, especially at the newly minted Amoud University (AU). This was the same place where I had been a Peace Corps teacher in 1962. Several of us here in the Portland area have formed a non-profit group called the "Committee to Aid Somali Education," with the acronym CASE.

Our trip to Africa was via Ethiopian Airlines which first took us to Djibouti and the next day to Addis Ababa. A small Somali run airlines, Dallo by name, flew us to Borama. Unfortunately, it was by a circuitous route since heavy fog prevented our landing at Borama. Instead we flew on to Berbera and then changed planes to fly to Hargeisa. The latter aircraft had 4 engines, only 3 of which worked for a while. Dallo then rented a car for our drive to Borama.

While at the very busy Hargeisa Airport (no change in size since 1962) we met the American Ambassador to Djibouti and several other Somali dignitaries. Fortunately, one of them was Jaafar's uncle, Galbeddi, the former Foreign Minister, who helped smooth our way through immigration and customs. After getting my visa stamped (my name in the visa: Marian Kaplan) we went to see some of Jaafar's relatives. Who did we meet at his uncle's house? None other than Buni, our house boy at Amoud in 1962. Of course, he was now a man in his 50's. I don't think he remembered me but I recalled how we got John King (Peace Corps Doctor) to operate on his thumb and make it usable. I was shocked to find that Hargeisa was now a major city of beween 300,000 and 900,000 depending on whose estimates you believe.

The trip to Borama over a paved road (I thought) would be a snap. Well it was paved half of the 75 miles. The other half wasn't finished by the Chinese due to the eruption of the Civil War. My insides weren't used to being bounced around so, but I did survive in fine fettle. The sleepy little town of Borama had awakened in the intervening 38 years. What had been a street or two of mud huts had become a city of about 200,000, with cars and taxi's everywhere, with a bustling market (from dawn till 11 at night) and downtown section. As I was to discover, there were lots of problems (not much different than in 1962) which became magnified because of the size of the city. Problems of sanitation, adequate water, plastic bags (millions of them just left on the streets), thousands of dogs belonging to no one, animals just living on the street and eating garbage, etc.

We were met by the President of the University, Suleiman, who was a fellow about my age who had gotten his graduate training at Kansas State U. back in the 60's. The other gentleman who was instrumental in the start of the university was Aideed, chairman of the Technical Committee, whose function was to obtain funding for the operation and see to it that all other aspects worked smoothly. Both of them were very pleased that we had come and I was happy to note that the Peace Corps connection still means a great deal in Somalia.

Jaafar and I were put up at the University guest house in Borama and were treated as honored guests in every way. It had running water and two kinds of bathrooms, western and arabic. Our food was brought to us by a restaurant in town (the Djibouti Restaurant and Baar). Everyone had been forewarned that I was a vegetarian and wherever we ate people did their best to prepare the kind of food I could eat. That reminds me that Nur, our cook back in 1962, still lives in Borama and he came to see me. He looks pretty much the same, and is the same sweet gentleman that I remember. Bottled water was plentiful and that is what I drank during my stay. I remained quite healthy and yet in three weeks I lost 10 pounds. We are thinking of running "weight-loss safaris" for overweight Americans.

Suleiman picked us up in the morning and brought us to AU where we met the staff and students. They have been open since November, 1998 and have about 100 students. I learned that AU was a labor of love by the people of Awdal District and that its existence is truly due to community involvement. There is a freshman and sophomore class. Prospective students are given 9 months of intensive English training (because of the war a whole generation of students missed out on any schooling) and then take an entrance exam. At that point they are accepted either into the business or education faculty. There are plans for many more disciplines, but that is for the future.

At first, it was a little strange to return to the place I had taught at 38 years earlier, but slowly either I became younger or I just got used to the surroundings again. In any case, I taught English, Chemistry and Conflict Resolution. My English students told me that they understood everything I said and that my New York accent was no problem for them. What most surprised me was the response I got from the Conflict Resolution Workshop I gave. There was so much interest in it that the students spoke about it for days afterward. I hope that some of the information stays with them and get's put to good use.

After talking at length with the teaching staff at AU about their needs, Jaafar and I will work with our organization, CASE, to try to get the kind of help that is needed. This entails providing, funding, equipment, books and teachers. We'll do what we can and hope for the best. In the meantime, another University is starting in Hargeisa. They are having trouble getting off the ground but I assume that it will happen. When it does, some of CASE's work will be devoted to it.

 

 Biography

I was born in New York City in 1935 and lived there until the age of 22. My B. S. in chemistry was obtained at City College of New York. Following that, I worked in medical research for two years and then went to Florida State University for my M. S. in chemistry. While there I

was a teaching assistant and one of my students was Frances Fisher who was to become my wife 6 years later. In 1960 I went to work for an oil company research center in California. After two years I joined the Peace Corps and went to the Somali Republic as a teacher. In my first year I taught at the Teacher Training Center (Amoud) and in my second year at the Intermediate School at Las Anod.

I returned to the U. S. A. in 1964 and went to work for AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey as a research chemist and remained there until 1994. Frances and I married in 1964 and we had a son, Jason, in 1969. In 1970 I received my Juris Doctor degree from Seton Hall Law School, became a member of the New Jersey Bar, and practiced law until 1994. Thus, I was able to work in two professions simultaneously.

Following early retirement in 1994 my wife and I lived in Perth, Australia for one year where I did research and she taught art therapy. We returned home and decided to move to Oregon which we were able to do a year later. After moving to the west coast both of us continue to teach at the university level, I chemistry and she art therapy.

 

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