« Desert Island Discs

Edna Adan Ismail

2017-10-22 | 🔗
Edna Adan Ismail is a midwife and campaigner. As a 12 year old growing up in British Somaliland, her dream was to build her own hospital. It took her some 50 years and all her savings to realise her ambition, and the state of the art hospital she built is a testament to her passion and dogged determination. Nursing and midwifery have been her life since she won a scholarship to study in the UK in the mid-1950s, when she cycled to appointments in her black raincoat to deliver babies all around London. Married at one time to the prime minister of Somalia, she juggled the high profile role of First Lady with shifts at her local hospital. "I was born with this desire to fix things," she says. As her country's first female foreign minister, she broke deep-rooted taboos by publicly condemning the widespread practice of female genital mutilation - FGM. Her opposition stems from personal experience - she was only eight years old when she endured the invasive procedure herself. Now 80, she lives on site at her beloved hospital, where more than 22,000 babies have been born since it opened in 2002. Presenter: Kirsty Young Producer: Paula McGinley.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the baby say hello. I'm christiaan welcome to desert island discs. Where every week I asked my guests to choose the eight tracks, the book and the luxury item that they want to take with them. If they were cast away on a desert island for rights reasons, the music on these pot cost versions is shorter than in the original broadcast. You can find over two thousand more additions to listen to and download on the desert island discs website. My customary this week is the midwife and campaigner. Edna Adam is smile as a child growing up in what was
and british somaliland in nineteen forties. Her dream was to build her own hospital by the mid fifties. She'd want to see ship to study in britain, but life as it has a habit of We got in the way it took, fifty years and all her savings to find Realize her dream in two thousand and two HU, the edna, Adam maternity and teaching hospital emerged from the rubble of a bloody civil war testament to my castaways personal mantra? If I don't do it, then who will it's? A dixon she's lived her entire life by married at one time to the prime minister of Somalia. She juggled a high profile role of first lady, with nursing shifts and later as her countries. First ever female foreign minister broke deep rooted taboos by publicly
damning the widespread practice of female genital mutilation, a public health scandal. Yes, but a highly personal struggle to aged just eight. She herself was violently disfigured by f g m. It was her grandmother who had arranged the procedure. She says, don't say you have nothing, you have a brain and that is, everything you should give up saying I cannot do and say I will try to do and sue welcome edna in the fifteen years, then, since your hospital opened twenty thousand baby. So can deliver. Does not. I think we were close to twenty two thousand now. What can you do? but can you remember the very first burst that you hold is no sooner or later, the very first one was born about eight hours have to be opened up, The big ceremony of the vice president of the country was then not dignitaries and what of women singing and dancing, and then joyful event a few hours later, a woman was brought in labour value boy,
is in our fifteen sixteen years old, and hopefully he will. I'm a doctor one day because that's what it wants to become and where you present the delivery. But, of course why would somebody else have all the joy of living, my baby and my hospital, the husband. I took my whole life to build you a once described in print. I saw as as tough as general betraying says, compassionate as the pope, as tireless michael felts, as beautiful as tina turner and with a work ethic two rival bill gates. Unlike what do you make of that description, look. It describes a woman who has to put in a whole lot of ours and ninety ninety one. When we emerged from a civil war where everything was lost. Ninety five percent of the city was flattened: no hospitals, no schools, no homes, one doesn't have time to think twice. What wouldn't you
to be done. You too rigidly opened this agreement is a bright shining beacon to see photographs of it looks extorting that looks relatively state of the art, relatively high tech hospital, and I'm gonna give a gift. It has to be a good, but it was supposed to be just an attorney. Hospital and very quickly. That was not the way it worked out. What happened an eight year old man was knocked down by a donkey card just outside in the hospital, and he was brought in. We need to search ahead. We need to stop at bleeding. We need to take care of him and worry about whether his pregnant or not another time, but we have to start the breeding. Why not it's my decision is. My hospital do you live on site? You live in hospital, I cannot afford live anywhere else. I lived on the site for eight months before the husband was opened, but I had no windows. I had no electricity. I my water was brought in by a bucket, and the construction cruel would come in the morning at six o clock and continue the construction at night. I was the only ghost floating around there and
these switch off, when do you switch off then the other I'm a midwife? I was trained to wake up in the middle of the night, so he's staying up for me an ordeal it's something of them all my life. Let's take a look, then your music, your desert island discs. Tell me the first one we're going to here and tell me why you ve chosen it happy is of a happy song and on a particular occasion I was travelling. I was in transit in dubai airport angle. with e, with airlines for having misplaced my luggage and the connection to some other land was delayed, and I just heard this music it made my burden so much light on my knees, less aching. Whenever I feel a little bit depress, I listen to it
it might have been taken when a cattle battle began. It was forever Williams and happy and I should remind list and then that somaliland declared independence in nineteen. Ninety one sits just in the horn of africa population of around about four million ordered by Somalia, with djibouti to the northwest and Ethiopia is to the south and west. and it is, as you have said, an area that has been driven over decades but by civil war by brutality,
somaliland itself remains internationally unrecognised. I would like you if you could just to give us a snapshot. Given everything. That's happened, shove of how stable place it is to live currently its table and has a governor elected president. We have a constitution, we have a law, we have the courts, we have the police force, we have demobilized the militia of somaliland and nineteen ninety five. Ninety six and he were, of course, the pioneer the woman who was at the very beginning of these changes and somaliland in nineteen sixty one. You return to your country as the first ever qualified nurse and midwife and proud of it. Yes foreign aid in Britain and what are the challenges you max when you went back where the challenges I met with before I came to england, because at that time the nursing profession was seen as something that was below the dignity of the daughter of a doctor, people with
Go to my mother and say? Oh, we heard the bad news. You poor thing, your daughter, chosen to become a nurse. What would become of her? Who will ever want to marry her, and I love nursing. I was passionate about it. I love midwife, So when I went home and I can sixty one, I had to introduce nursing and with prefer to my country and start training midwives. Today, families come to me and say we want our daughter, to become like you and how was your hospital funded I'm in day to day everything is not free. Of course. I have stellar is to pay. I food provide medicines and equipment, but then my husband was built for that poor woman, who has nothing was bleeding, was dying and was no rose to go these women I treat for free, but other patients who have somebody says I want I had my left, have a private room. Is it good? You can pay twenty five dollars a day It is a nomadic culture. How far have people sometimes
travel to the doors of your hot. He will come to me from wherever they wished to come from. They come from neighbouring somalia. They come from a heel, pierre. They come from djibouti. They come from all corners of somaliland. For instance, children with hydro carefully we're the only possible in the horn of africa that inserts shots into the heads of little children. So this is a glad like spring can do here. They re watching the brain with opera him four or five hundred children? If they were to go elsewhere and go brought, it would have cost and fifty thousand dollars we threw them for free letter credit in the bank upstairs tell me about your second piece of music- what are we going to? Have you behind him? Hey than to issue will be used to sing it. When we had the communist occupation, and it was a song of resistance going
no that was I've been a lovely and edna, and I'm going to ask you to see the title of the song, because if I say it, I'm gonna absolutely mangle it. How do you say that my hey than to asia we'd, then it's a song that gives you hope and even though you had drought and dryness god will send the reins and you were swimming pools of rain water when you were. Dark, the moon come out just before you step on the snake on the road, so don't give up hope and he was a. U yourself, certainly look as if you been drinking at the fountain of use, because in my notes he says you were born in nineteen thirty, seven, which I find it impossible to believe looking into her face, and it was initially eighty well congratulations for that. It was a relatively privilege.
environment. You were born into just tell me a bit about your family. So when my father was a doktor, my father was somebody who is known as the father of health care. I was privileged to go to school, went to school in djibouti because there were no schools for girls in my country, but if someone lampert and you see your father was this very prominence. Physician did. Did you spend any time with him at his work lies, around the hospital you and give him a hand, and he would say it could go watch this forceps for me and if he had a traveller overnight and two or three days he leave me alone, list and who, when I'm away make sure they do this released a scaffold to make sure that remove the suitors tomorrow. So as the bosses daughter, I would make sure that the instructions followed, and he was my hero still is I never be as compassionate as he was. There was no I'll, never be used as kind generous this time with his emotions with his affection, a good man. What did he do legislation should be treated with respect and others.
the incident he was opening long. She got access and, of course, a dirty elderly unclean person, and I was home. The ball under the jaw whatever was coming out, should go there It must have shown in my face and when the patient was clean, there was of the you close the room and he said: don't you ever their show such an ugly face to my patience that old man was even more precious than his first born me, the person who is referred to as the apple of his but the patient came first. You have said that the idea of building your own hospital began to germinate when you watched your father going about his work as a doctor So. When can you place that way was about? I think I was about twelve or eleven, and by would often here in life
the voicing a wish. The oh. I wish I d better force extend this. I wish I had a pair of scissors that would cut. I wish I had a better hospital and I just made a mental note that one day I would build a kind of husband. My father would have liked to work and how are we would do it? I didn't know. What I would use to make it happen. I didn't know, but I added in my mind and in my heart and whatever tired at eight sixty That's what I had a time when I had the opportunity and I had the the means and resources in which to do it. I asked you about your there. I you spoken clearly so full of love, but your father. How mentioned your mother would tell me about your mom when my mother was a great woman of a woman who had wished normal girl who didn't go out to work, couldn't write bicycles, who didn't
boys who didn't kind trees. Someone who just sit at home and learn to cook and prepares have to become a good wife. She never gave up on me until she died. She positions short few. They short of ninety two, but is I wish I had been a normal girl. Tell me about your sorry. It didn't work out that didn't work. I tell me about your thirty's of music gonna. Do what we can all? norwegian oval criteria by edit puff, and I have absolutely no regrets. Noto gets being immerse. Noted, let's be a midwife. No regrets climate is No regrets na I believe that
You know I mean it, knows- and I regret that was a spin, so adam female genital mutilation of gm. It is a very difficult and dressing for people to approach- and it is one efta and continues to be deeply culturally- drink in your home, and why is that? What it's in greenland? But sixteen countries, my country among them, but then midwife, I went home to my country's Atlanta, one land and nineteen sixty sixty one, and for the first time in my life, was delivering women whose baby had to be born through a passage that had been so damaged and so changed
which was not the case when I was the living babies in england and had brought back the p in an endless vault. I felt against this practice, which has no place in Islam, its total against the teachings of his love. So I started talking about it, but then very few people would listen to us. That would think it was so rude and in polite and shameful to be talking about reproductive part of the woman's body. But then the comes a time in life. When you have to call a spade a spade and am I picked up, microphone and spoke against it in public. Everybody was angry that I, as the daughter of doktor, so also in the form of wife of the first president of some, land after independence could pick up the microphone and speak about it, but somebody here What do you remember about the day that it happened to you pain, pain, tat? I have never known the same since,
My mother's friends, my grandmother was there was a big fat sheep there waiting to be slaughtered, because that would have a feast, because the doctors daughter had been purified and they just grab. You tie you down, grab your legs and an old woman reaches between your legs and with a knife, away. No one sees you, you bleed, you scream, you faint and eu rule is suitor together, not with needle and thread but with acacia thorns and tied together. So when my father came home at night unfounded, this had been done to me so my soul tears in his eyes and seeing the anger of my father and how he he was angry of his own mother and my mother, his wife that gave me the message that what had been done to me was wrong. Apart from the appalling physical injury,
must surely have taken long years to recover from how did it eventually never recovered from rice, the wound he'll, but you rebellion since the emotional pain never goes, and it just makes you want to do something about it, and I hope that by bringing about the world, that there is a voice now and in the world is listening to it and realising that it should not be done. Women must have your next piece of news and what we can stopping buys woods on us evening by robert frost and wisely chosen, this I'm a midwife. I have miles to go before I sleep because other things, neatly done stopping by woods, honest now we evening whose words these I think I know his houses in the village. So he will not see me thing here to watch his woods. Philip was now. My little house must think queer does,
without a farm house near between the words and frozen lake, the darkest deepening of the air he gives his highness bouncer shake to ask. If there is some mistake, the only other sounds sweep of easy wind and downy flake the woods, a lovely dark and date, but I have promised to cape and miles to go. If I sleep miles to go before I sleep, let was robert frost reading his input stopping by woods on a snowy evening answer edna and when you came to britain in the mid fifties to take up that nursing scholarship, it was It was hardly a place where women were treated equally to man, but I'm guessing. It must have felt much freer than your life had been his ear. Female in somaliland. What sort of things did you do here that you couldn't have done it whom I went to the bottle polytechnic by the way now the university of the south bank, but a college were boys and girls that it together we play sports together
we were in the same courses together. We rode the same buses, so I was just a person like every other student and did you learn to drive? I learn to drive yes and I love driving and where you allowed to drive when you're about to some allowed. All that was a big it took them six months to accept me to drive and then they would go to my father. Is it not? Rather, we saw your daughter driving. your car again don't letter and why not but she's a girl, and if so, what do you think? I do not know that my daughter is a girl and it'll them six months and I refuse to give up and continued and eventually became the first female today the driving licence- and I continue ever since and by the way I took part in a rally once when it was the required that it would be a driver and a female companion. So my brother's wife became my com, in both wearing trousers and capps how'd you get on. I was the fifth car and I should have been given ever wanted a trophy, but because I was in person
a man. I was find little when I guess I can personally and a driver is a driver. Of those of the seven year over seven years. You in the uk is not. This was a time of explicit hassle ingrained racism in the uk. Did you meet any of that? They are probably the only black face in the class but term I made free, with everybody. I loved what I was doing. I was in favour, passionate student and in five ahead of scottish friends, and I used to be called edna. Mac smell, and when I had irish friends I would be edna. O is male and you actually worked midwife I worked as a midwife. I was trained at hammersmith, hospital and lucian hospital and road. My bicycles delivered women in their homes. You roger bicycle, Ella called a midwife dejesus off because we have about black raincoat captain a black bag and that we would go to address so and so and deliver woman and love it time from you,
Edna and tell me what we're going to hear now we're on your face. My fifth is frank sinatra, my another favorites singled than I have and his is my way and it describes so much my life also, the end saw the final say miles. State my what I was frank sinatra and my way so. Madam your first husbands, mohammed ego, was a somali politician, but you'd actually met him in london. When you were student, isn't back. Then you dated briefly, but it was a good number of years later that you, if sort about the blue europe,
give this proposal, but what happened? I first met her when I first came the uk, let him fifty four use one of the many somali young men who were studying ear mohammed, was born to one of the richest man in my country, so for him, no setting beautiful flowers in picking me up in his red convertible mg. How clamour? Yes curtains, would be if you The commission look at this little somali girl in the somali man in this convertible red energy and then he disappeared and heard from him for a long time did know what happened to him. But it seems that his father had a stroke, so he had rushed back. I forgot to write, and until one day he asked for my hand so angry when my goodness an educated man, he should get to know me first, and he should asked me whether I want to marry him, I'm not being rich. and doesn't by my emotions, so he asked her father. He asked how the which was as white thing in the coach to do, but I repented against. You should have asked me first
Anyway, when we married, he was the leader of the opposition rise, so he did one thousand nine hundred sixty seven, he was elected. Prime minister of the united somalia, then some land and Somalia, united I've seen many all of them very glamorous photographs of you. Meeting as it happens and dignity in lots of fairy fabulous, rocks and jury coming, you met, give much all the goal and president Lyndon Johnson Johnson. Why didn't you just try minister, had a will sign ass? I enjoyed it, I loved it. When did you fit in the nursing shifts as well? that's what I have read that you will. I was in those before I was married, so my husband had to understand that, and the arrangement was the two days a week. I would still continue to go and teach my students and deliver babies in the maternity water.
there are uniform. So even though I am the wife of the prime minister when I got home before I came to work this morning, but when I am with a patient, I treat her with respect with kindness with affection and how were you treated by the people working around you at that point? There are shocked, they thought was this. This is not good for the prime minister and help the prime minister allow his wife to go to work, but after a while people We came to accept that and accepted it. Then they saw the work I was doing in nineteen sixty nine there was a military coup and the president's, not the prime minister, but the president shocked. How yes was assassinated. You are put under the restaurant number. For six months and months I deduce gatepost arrest a hotel caught fire
and there were announcement on the radio that all health anybody trained and healthcare was required to come to the hospital to take out of the wounded. So I walked out of the house. The guards had not been given the instructions to shoot me and they didn't know what to do, and I look I'm going to the hospital. There are wounded. I will help there and I will come back. You come with me and come back with me if you wish or wait for me here, because I will come back and I walked to the hospital worked all night and the next morning. walk back home and there were no guns and they never come back again. Tell me about your six choice of the morning after my six choice, of course, is elevate generals, my favorite singer. I love elephants general. She seen me through so many things, but on this particular occasion I choose it because when my husband was in jail with all his cabinet and all the members of parliament and we how to communicate with animal visit them, and when I came out of my house
so rest. Six months later, I would take my car, and this is one of our favorite songs and would play it. Full volume take the button that controls the volume of the car and you are sitting outside the prison. I have just just after the prison and arrange to have a bunch of tyrol just released to the air out of my tire, so I cannot move at the police. Traffic police would come and say what. How did this noise style and as the outcome of the nice little button, it will move I have a puncture tire, so they would try and help me to change my type, but in the meantime my song would be heard and twice. I did that and my husband confirmed to me that he did hear it on both occasions. cigarette strange, and turkey
still these four things some, thereby elephants child so Edna added by the late seventies. You were living in oh mom, I loved my time and oh man, lease will spend six years. The only problem was if I couldn't work as the life of the ambassador and I was about to paid or unpaid work- and this was your second husband ass. My third husband who's your son zionist one. I'm suddenly manage that turkey, whose my third and last husband, and so they I just continued to do one consultancies for the EU and because I am it work, I started nurses and midwives in djibouti. When I was the wife of the ambassador in a man- and you say this was your third and last marriage, what sort of wife of you made over the years? I was not
ideal, somali wife. I think I work I voice my opinion. I have a brain. I try to use it, I'm a hopeless cook, I did not bear. Children was the time when you wanted to have children or did it never nearly all the time. I think every hormone ever invented was tried on me, a ruddy obstetrician, but he just didn't happen, and maybe it is a good thing that they did not because at the end of the day, if I had children, I would not have spent so much time and resources and energy on my husband today and when I was praying for just one or two children, I think god had four million then more for me, and today, every every child is my child. May I devote whenever time and
gee I have on my patient and you say you think now run about twenty. Two sons and babies have been born in your hospital. Just tell me for a minute a boys I had read. I don't know it's true that at the point where you were trying to fund the hospital and get its building off the ground, sold, not just your fine jewelry and not just your beloved mercedes, but yours even soldier dishwasher- is that true love us dishwasher under microwave from washing machine and electric cook at one of these gonna do for me and somaliland. What I had no electricity would have no running water. I had gifts of jewelry, I never wore them. They would always in a safety box a role as a burden to begin to ensure them how to lock them up. Today, I'm free I'm liberated, and I use my jewelry everyday, because I spend that money to put in the pilots
the wolf taps and wash basins. So I use my jewelry several times a day and so do several hundred people in the hospital and you use your world health organization penned likeness ma. Am I what I'm alive my pension comes, but today I will die. The husband has to learn to fend for itself, because, although we do have the cost sharing, we still have a lot of expenses to be, I subsidize and then and cover it. Hadn't been your dream from the age of twelve years old and when you were selling your various possessions to joint funding in the beginning. Was that every moment when you thought I don't think this is going to happen, I don't think he's can become. to see. Oh, no! No, I never had any doubts. I knew how to make it work.
with my resources would ever be sufficient to build a kind of hostile. I wanted that's without came now. Tell me: what do you think your father would have made of this hospital? I think he probably would have approved of it. He would have liked to me to have had people to help me because he would be wiser than I am. I don't know how much longer I be able to run the place. I still don't have somebody who is crazy enough to table for me He probably would have told me delegate, which I'm trying to do now, tell me about your next piece of music than what are you gonna hear now. My next piece of music is by whitney Houston. I will always love you and I will always love me- profession, and I will always love my people and I will always love somaliland, end
That was whitney houston and I will always love you, and you said during that to me edna, and that you said my life has been filled. oh, I had so much love. You were talking about encountering little kids in the street unless in somalia is in the streets in villages have been invested in, and sometimes they see me on tv you. They know of me in the atlantic nine wave to me and were you born in the hospital, when some of them say yes, yes, we were then somebody else's narrow. He was not, he was not, I was, but he was left with a love it. I had a wonderful I'm
Husband, of course, is, as we have learned today, has been a life pretty much devoted to helping others. Then you do play it down, because you seem to be somebody brimful of hope, but full of appalling and demanding circumstances often surely have their ever been times when you have felt personally overwhelmed, but they have. They have been occasions when I have been scared and worried. Then am I doing the right thing than I take on more than I could kill and then the next emergency happens. We save a life, I say yes now I know I did it skills you evacuating casualties from a hospital during the war and a car breaks down at night, an hyaenas smell, the infected wounds. Try to attack us another was very scary, and I think, my god, what am I doing and I to them from one husband to take them only to be. Can I buy hyenas? That was the very scary moment. Put me
jail you, you spend thirty experts birthday, I wasn't it and I dont know what I was in jail for. My husband. Both were arrested and I said what what did you do and is what did you say what They tell you you would entail. We worked supposedly plotting to escape from the country, but I spent nine days of my life in jail for that. Let's talk for a moment about being area you too, because we too, this idea that man, you have clearly proves that you can live pretty much without creature comforts when you are cast away on this, ireland, when there is new to do list when people are not knocking at the tiny door of of your room and saying and come and help us with this, that in the next thing, when you are all alone without your beloved hospital, in all your colleagues, I will it I wouldn't I will kill me. I love being needed. I love to be able to help. I loved her
something to wake up four in the morning. Something to do. I've gotta have a challenge. It I'm lucy tat. I was born with this to the desire to fix it, and if I have nothing to fix them, I would know how to deal with my life. I've recently celebrated your eighteenth birthday. What are your plans for the future? I continue to work for as long as I can for as long as it safe for me to work for my patience and I hope to die with my proverbial boots on and if I can contribute to women's education to fighting upward practices. Don't think of yourself is just a girl I do I was a girl once and look what I've done get up and go, and do it tell me about your final piece of music than what we can hear. My final piece of music would be. This is my island than the sun. By had a profoundly love at about one thing,
I saw my father's singing eyes shining eyes morning breaks. I was harry better and island in the sun, and you mentioned chewing mass edna that you cute up outside the amis miss polly. You think it was nineteen, fifty seven, fifty eight efforts with the aid to get too has to see it's gonna. Take it to see him. Oh, my goodness of the great single it's time now for me to give you the books, you gets the bible, or would you prefer
I prefer, the corfu, the koran and the complete works of shakespeare, and you get to take one other book along with you. What will you blow that book would have to be half the sky by Nicholas Christoph? It has a chapter about my husband as well, and I haven't had time to read all the other chapters. We shall give you that book than that you asked what you're allowed to have a luxury. What's your luck should be well, I would have loved to have had a pair but if you would allow me now, we want our so give me some seeds, vegetables and beans and tomatoes and peppers to grow something living to take care of. I can certainly do that Your light one track to save. If the waves were to threaten to wash away these discs, which one would you Oh, I will always love you. It's you. My little is left my country
Edna Adam is my you. Thank you very much for letting us here desert island discs. Thank you. It is such a pleasure. I hope you enjoy this addition of desert island discs, you'll find more interviews with comedians isis musician scientists, sports stars. bbc dot, co, dot. Uk desert island discs.
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-12.