There are few things in the world more depressing than the knowledge that a 65 year-old Somali gynecologist has bigger balls than you could ever hope to achieve even if you gave yourself steroid collagen injections to the scrotum every night and set up an induction port that allowed you to inflate them with an air pump like a basketball or those high-top sneakers from the early 90s.
Meet Hawa Abdi. A woman who has never raised her fist in anger against another human being, but also one who could perform three C-sections on dirt-poor women, wash her hands, then go straight outside, stare down an army of gun-toting hardcore fanatical Somali militiamen, and with four words send them running for their lives on a light-speed rainbow of shame and self-loathing without even fucking blinking. A woman once appropriately described once as "one part Mother Teresa, one part Rambo."
You don't have to on the Digitally-Enhanced Deluxe Double-Stuffed Special Edition Director's Cut Remastered Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack Quarter Pounder with Cheese version of Black Hawk Down to know that Somalia is a pretty righteously fucked-up cesspool of soul-crushing misery that, in terms of gigantic screaming hellholes, falls somewhere in the realm of Satan's asshole, Eastern New Jersey, and that river of lava beneath Mount Doom that melted the One Ring and flayed Gollum alive Terminator 2 style. This is nothing against the people who live there, many of whom are honest, upstanding people who really want nothing other than to live their lives without having to worry about some hash-smoking dope fiend child soldier smacking them in the back of the face with an unsharpened machete, but any time you're talking about a country that has been officially designated by the United Nations as "Totally Boned" you've got to at least consider the argument that maybe this nation isn't the best place to host Girls Gone Wild Spring Break Drunken Debauchery Dance Party 2013. The longest running failed state on the planet, Somalia is a war-torn wasteland of anarchistic warlord-controlled destruction so miserable that the UN has referred to it in official documents the "worst humanitarian crisis on the planet" and a place so totally fucked that all international aid groups have completely pulled out of the region due to safety concerns and a complete lack of cooperation from local leaders. The capital city, Mogadishu, is in ruins. 1.5 million people have been displaced. It's the sort of thing to make you almost think twice about not bitching and crying just because you can't get decent enough service on your Verizon iPhone to upload your Comic-Con photos to Facebook (almost).
Unlike many of those people trapped in this war-shredded country without any hope of escape, Hawa Abdi doesn't have to put up with this bullshit. She's rich. She's respected. She's an internationally-recognized physician trained in some of the best medical schools in the world. Any country in the world would grant her asylum. But fuck that – Somalia is her home, saving peoples' asses is what this woman does all day every day, and she'd rather die than turn her back on a countryman in need.
A typical grocery store parking lot in Mogadishu.
Mama Hawa was born in Mogadishu in 1947. Born to a wealthy family, she got a good education, received a full scholarship to study medicine in Soviet Ukraine, earned a law degree, survived having a tumor removed from her brain, and then went on to become one of her country's first female OB/Gyns (this is a big deal in a country under Sharia law, where some dudes don't really see the point in a woman doing anything other than cooking dinner and shooting out babies). In 1983, fresh off her successes in Mogadishu and looking to set up her own practice, Mama Hawa opened up a tiny, one-room free clinic for women and children on her family's farmland, 15 miles from Mogadishu, offering cheap, good health care to dirt-poor families who would never have been able to afford it otherwise.
People traveled from across the land to see her, some women carrying their infants for days on foot across the countryside, and before long Mama Hawa was seeing hundreds of patients a day. That number increased exponentially after basically the entire fucking country exploded into civil war in 1991 and roughly every single man in Somalia picked up a rusty AK-47 and proceeded to bash all of his enemies to death with it. As if it wasn't enough that the entire country became enveloped in an unbelievably-violent death feud of furious anger, other neighboring countries like Ethiopia tried to take advantage of the fucking anarchy and invade, further throwing the country into an epic downward spiral of violence and brutality.
Dr. Hawa didn't blink. She sold all of her jewelry, liquidated her assets, sold off parts of her land, and pleaded for humanitarian aid from NGOs. Despite the destruction, war, and subsequent famine ravaging the land all around her, Hawa Abdi spent the next 29 years providing a safe haven for the displaced, turning her tiny one-room shack into a 400 bed hospital, and her 1,300-acre farm into a refugee camp where 90,000 displaced Somalis received free food, clean water, free health care, and a clean place for women to give birth. She built a school that educates 850 children between the ages of 7 and 18. She negotiated for fishing boats and farmland so her people could grow and fish for their food. She personally spent 12-hour days, 7 days a week, delivering babies, treating gunshot wounds, and setting up IV lines for malnourished children, and she's done it all through donations and her own personal funds, without hardly any international funding or aid.
Oh, and this isn't even the badass part yet.
Despite all the good this woman was doing for the displaced people from her country, apparently there are some pretty magnificent pieces of human garbage who felt like it was totally bullshit how this woman was using her own money to help people – over the last 20 or so years about a dozen local warlord douchebags tried to shut her operation down at gunpoint solely for the sake of being basically the biggest asshole pricks the world has ever seen. They've blocked aid, raided her camp with machine guns, and threatened her life dozens of times.
Hawa Abdi could give a shit. She's not impressed by dickless bullies preying on the weak and the wounded, and she's more than prepared to lay it all on the line for the sake of defending her people and exposing these spineless asshats for the chumps they truly are. In the early 2000s, when an International Red Cross aid truck was blocked by a local militia band, Dr. Hawa rolled up her sleeves, walked out there alone, stood between the militia and the Red Cross trucks, and told those jerkwads she was going to personally take the food to her people – if they wanted to stop her, they were going to have to put a bullet in her. The militia leader protested, Dr. Hawa argued back, shook a finger at them disdainfully, and told them to slow their fuckin' roles, and when the sun set that night not only had the militia troops allowed the aid to come through, but they personally gave the good doctor's supply convoy a full military escort all the way to the hospital.
Cute guns, but Hawa Abdi is not impressed.
One of the biggest threats to Hawa's camp came in May of 2010, when a rampaging band of 750 Somali pirate motherfuckers showed up at her front door with AKs, RPGs, and mortar launchers, demanding that Dr. Hawa come out and surrender the hospital. Hawa Abdi, 63, unarmed, walked out there to meet them. She told them to get lost. They said they needed to talk. She invited their leaders to dinner – a pretty generous offer that I have no doubt had all of those assholes' heads spinning. While they were considering the offer, she sent the word out for the women in the hospital to get their shit together and sneak out as quickly as possible, a move that probably saved a shitload of lives.
At dinner, the leaders of the militia told Mama Hawa that since she was a woman she had no business running anything. She told them, "I've been working for the country for the past 20 years. What have you done?"
This didn't go over well.
The militia terrorist baby-kickers attacked, opened fire with machine guns, mortars, and rocket launchers, shot the place up, looted everything worth looting, broke every generator and piece of medical equipment they could find, beat a bunch of people up, and took the men, women, and children inside prisoner. Dr. Hawa was thrown under house arrest, barricaded in her room by armed guards. They told her to sign the papers and hand over her shit. She told them to get fucked. They told her not to do interviews. She got a cell phone and gave interviews to anyone who would listen.
You're gonna have to do better than that.
Between the international media, a national outcry among the Somali people, Dr. Hawa's own outcry, and a fiery revolt among Dr. Hawa's imprisoned people that bordered on full-scale rioting, the bullshit militia suddenly started to lose their nerve. They came to Hawa and told her they'd leave and let her run the joint, but only if she signed over the rights to the place to them. She told them to piss off. Then they said they'd leave and let her keep the place, if she'd just get it up and running so that the militia troops would stop getting heat from the media and the populace. She told them she'd only re-open the place if she got a public written apology from the militia leader, a dude who has been on basically every NSA terrorist watch list of the last decade.
She got it.
The militia left, she got a written letter apologizing for the damage, rebuilt the place, got the hospital generators back on-line, and went to work saving lives once again. Since 2010 she's fought off another rebel attack on her hospital, and is currently battling some bullshit attempt by rich fucks to seize her land, but a woman like this isn't one who's going to back down from a fight, especially when there are tens of thousands of lives hanging in the balance.
She's just been nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.
Donate to the Foundation
Interview with Dr. Hawa
Under Siege in Somalia Interview
Glamour Person of the Year
Another Guardian Article
NY Times Column