The world is so used to bad news from Somalia that something like this qualifies as a bona fide miracle. Dr Hawa Abdi is a doctor by training. Her job is to provide miracles by the hour in Somalia. In a country that has not seen peace in over 20 years of civil strife, her hospital compound, based on over 1,00o acres of ancestral farmland, has succored enormous numbers of people. Sometimes there are as many as 100,000 people crammed into that compound. To feed them the good doctor has branched out into farming whatever available land comes to her notice. The land has been abandoned anyways, and she has even got a fishing fleet of 20 boats working for her. In the May of 2010, a group of militants walked in and began smashing things. According to their lights, a mere woman should not be in charge like this, and to prove their pious point they smashed all the hospital equipment. “You can kill me” she told them, “but I am not leaving. I am a woman but I am helping people. You are young men but what have you done for your country?” Abashed at this sheer force of presence, and awed that a submissive populace began openly protesting this bullying, the militia retreated. Dr Abdi had pulled one more improbable rabbit out of her turban.

In her lifetime of consistently implausible victories, Dr Abdi is one of the gigantic triumphs of the human spirit. Somalia is a country where aid agencies do not venture; they go to Afghanistan but not to Somalia. It is that dangerous there. This is the complete breakdown of civilization, and the only pulsating heart of hope in that wretched place seems to the good doctor and her two daughters, also physicians like their mama, and determined to hang on and help. Why do they do this? Except for George Clooney nobody is interested in Somalia; the world very obviously does not care. But somehow they care, they stay, which is perhaps the greatest, most courageous thing an educated Somali with options could do. Dr Abdi was rich, with property, a holiday home, qualifications; she could have left anytime. {Her husband actually did, starting a new family elsewhere, but her children stuck to her.} Confronted with goodness of this magnitude, even armed militia feel the insignificance of their outlook and slink away. She made them write a written apology, and their spirit broken, they actually complied! Glamour magazine fell under the spell too and nominated Drs Hawa Abdi, Amina Mohamed and Deqo Mohamed as their Women of the Year, 2010. It breathlessly intoned that “They are fearless. Their life’s purpose is to be of service to Somali refugees, and their unwavering fortitude in the face of insurmountable obstacles is a testament to the warrior spirit of women.”

This journey into stubborn, unflagging goodness began in 1983, in a single room medical clinic Dr Abdi started. That one room has expanded into the peaceful city that her hospital compound represents. At 12 she had watched her own mother die at childbirth and that determined her choice of medicine, ob-gyn when she got a chance to go with 90 other Somali students to learn medicine in the Ukraine. She was the only girl. She was only 17. She became one of her country’s first qualified doctors. Since then it has been a life of helping her fellow citizens; she uses her own money and takes whatever money is donated which is infrequent. Nobody is turned away untreated. George Bush senior had once landed in the compound in his helicopter, assured them that all would be well and then left office. Clinton pulled US troops out after the famous Black Hawk Down episode and the UN troops followed soon after. Dr Hawa Abdi, like her country was left to Fate.

She is 63 years old now, and has 400 full hospitals beds, 6 doctors and 43 nurses to take care of each day. It would break anybody else, but the good doctor soldiers on. She had a benign tumor removed from her brain recently which has slowed her down but not by that much. This is a level of toughness that is incredible. Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times hailed her as “Heroic, Female and Muslim” saying she is the sort of role model that Muslim societies would do well to emulate, at least as a corrective to the ‘wild fanatic’ cliché that comes so easily to so many people when talking about Muslims. But Dr Abdi is more than a Muslim heroine. She is the sort of person who makes us simultaneously proud and ashamed to be homo sapiens sapiens. She has persuaded herding nomadic communities to take up farming and fishing. She has convinced them to send their daughters to school, with so much success that 850 of them are crammed into 8 rooms. She even runs a prison, for husbands who think they can continue to beat their wives under the eye of Abdi!

The hospital has no X-ray or ultrasound machines, {courtesy of militia thuggery} medicines and drugs are always in short supply, and they have one generator which barely functions. Measles, malaria, diarrhea, epilepsy, tuberculosis and malnutrition are a given. She does not send anybody away untreated. In a society, indeed a continent, rife with clan loyalty and clan prejudices, she will have none of it on display at her hospital.

One has heard of chutzpah, read of moxie, and witnessed audacity but this lady is in a class all by herself.

Note: This article was written in 2011.