The Guardian – Sada Mire on Somali architecture

I first learned to construct nomadic huts with my grandmother in the summer holidays – spent, whether I liked or not, living in Dayniile, near Mogadishu. Being a Mogadishu girl, living in a comfortable villa, I hated it at first so my father sent, as a surprise, a tiny battery-run TV, which transformed our evenings at the nomadic camp.

Although we never planned to live like that, later, as it happened, we became refugees and ended up internally displaced in what would have otherwise seemed like barren landscapes. But thanks to my childhood experiences we were able to construct houses on our own.

We knew where to source the material, get water and even medicinal flora: we made mats of fibre and used dried and shaped acacia roots to serve as pillars. This was before aid arrived and plastic tents invaded the region. Unlike the plastic tents, which are hot during the day and cold at night, the nomadic huts are suited to the arid and hot climate: they are cool during the day and warm during the night, thanks to their natural ventilation system. It is eminently uplifting to construct your home as a way of dealing with loss in the emergency of war.

Along with the ongoing conflict, Somalis also face an environmental emergency thanks to deforestation. People are consuming their future by burning the same acacia trees they need for their homes into charcoal for the international trade. These trees take years to regenerate. Soon, it might be that people won’t have any other option than to wait for plastic tents from Europe.

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Photograph: Alamy