After my publishers (Frances Lincoln) read the first draft of ‘From Somalia, with love’, they called me in for a meeting to discuss it. It was then that it emerged that one of the editors actually thought I was half Somali. And that ignorance about Somali culture is found everywhere, amongst Muslims and non-Muslims. So, the question remains: how did Somali culture end up being the inspiration and focal point for a book by an ajnabi? Working in East London first introduced me to Somalis (this is a story I tell in my book ‘From My Sisters’ Lips’) but living in South London brought me into closer contact with them. I fell in love with the Somali women I knew: their strength of character, their beauty, their love for the Qur’an, their seeming fearlessness: so many of them reminded my of my mother. But these were women who were my age and older. In order to write FSWL and make it believable, I needed an authentic voice: the voice of a fairly typical Somali teenager. And I knew just where to find that: the Somali forums online. Nothing could have prepared me for that!

Love Comes From Somalia

British soldiers, who had earlier been wearing red tunics, had to switch to camouflage uniforms due to the increased reach of modern weapons. The time of traditional British formation battles was over. Canada’s land forces were among the most effective during World War I and an important section is dedicated to the critical battle of Vimy Ridge. My tour guide Eric mentioned that the First World War was initially a very popular war and that after the declaration of war in July of 1914, Canadian soldiers even expected to be home by Christmas. 1 of 8 Canadian men joined the war and interestingly, conjugal consent was required to enlist for married men. Support for the war dwindled as time went on and as people learned about the devastating effects of trench warfare which are illustrated effectively in the Museum.

A powerful exhibit includes an outright scene of devastation that shows a recreated landscape after a devastating battle where all surrounding structures have been destroyed and soldiers are lying dead face-down in the mud of the battlefield. My guide Eric also enlightened me on the Halifax explosion of 1917 when two ships collided in the Halifax harbour and one carried huge amounts of ammunition. This event represents the largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bomb and much of Halifax was levelled. World War I also saw many technological innovations such as artillery canons and water-cooled machine guns. As a result of this heavy equipment, soldiers became less mobile and trench warfare came into being. This gallery explores Canada’s role in fighting dictatorships overseas during the Second World War.

Canada contributed one of the largest armies in the world, on land, at sea and in the air in addition to providing important industrial and logistical support. A key artifact in this section is one of the last remaining parade cars of Adolf Hitler, an armour-plated black Mercedes convertible with bullet-proof windows, apparently the only one of its kind in existence in a public museum. My guide also pointed out the Wasp flamethrower which could generate flames of 90 m in length. To give you an idea of the size of these flames: the Peace Tower of the Canadian Parliament Buidlings is 92 m high, so this was indeed amazing firepower. Particularly interesting exhibits from this era include a battlefield surgery kit that illustrates how primitive medical equipment and techniques were at this time.

Another highlight is the pigsuit, a full body suit for pigs that was intended to investigate the protective capabilities of uniforms under wartime conditions. Pigs were used for this purpose as they have very similar genetic makeup to human beings. This section of the Museum looks at the tenuous peace during the post-WWII Period where Canadian forces participated in a Cold War against the Soviet Bloc. During this era, Canada also took on a leading role as an international peacekeeping nation, a role from which Canada derives great pride. The post-war era of the 1950s and 1960s was an era of great paranoia. A machine called an “electro-psychometer” (similar to a lie detector) was employed to determine the sexual orientation of civil servants.

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