Abdi Bile was resplendent in the azure and white silks of Somalia. There were 800 meters to go in the 1,500 at the World Championships last September in Rome, and Bile was patiently running 11th, wearing the colors of his nation's flag—water and sand, sky and milk, the blue of everything that is empty and the white of old grievances.
Of the last, one was personal. Bile twice had won the NCAA 1,500 for George Mason University of Fairfax. Va., but he had been frustrated all season by being unable to force a race against the man running in second. Steve Cram of Great Britain, the world-record holder in the mile and the world champion at 1,500 meters.
During the summer, in Oslo in July, the promoters had blatantly switched Bile out of the mile race into the 1,500 meters. Cram won the mile. Bile came in second in his race. And again, in August in Zurich, the two could have met, but there Bile ran and won the mile, while Cram won in the 1,500. By offering a little protection from major competitors, a meet often lands the stars. Bile was good but not a star, a threat but not a draw. So he was expendable.
Bile would seem to be an apt name for a bitter man, but it is pronounced BEE-leh, and the runner wasn't consumed by resentment. He would get his chance at the worlds. "If things go well always, you get lazy," he would say later in reflection. "I was angry, but it didn't hurt me at all. I just tried to improve to where that wasn't going to happen again."
It won't. When Cram began his move for the lead with 500 meters to go in Rome, Bile went with him, his emotions surging. "Sometimes it's difficult to know the difference between being afraid and being anxious." he said. "But I felt something great happening."
By the last turn, Cram was dead. Bile shot past and drew smoothly away. "The main thing," he said, "was to carry the dignity of the flag, the name of the Somali people."
He won by 10 stately meters, ahead of Spain's Jose-Luis Gonzales and the U.S.'s Jim Spivey. Cram, exhausted, finished eighth. Bile's time was 3:36.80 (the world record is 3:29.46), but because the early pace had been bovine, the true measure of his race was his last 800, covered in an astounding 1:46.0. (When Peter Snell of New Zealand won the 1960 Olympic 800 in the same stadium, his time was 1:46.3.)
But what lingers in the mind is the image of Bile crossing the line, adding the incandescent white of his smile to the blue of lonely victory, happily bringing proud Somalia, for better or worse, to the attention of the modern world.
A man with no land on earth will have no land in heaven.
Somalia is the Horn of Africa, an Arabic brass ornament hammered over the northeast corner of an ebony chest. The nation has 6 to 6½ million inhabitants and 1,700 miles of coastline, along the Gulf Of Aden and the Indian Ocean, but only two rivers, both in the south. Wastes of flour sand rise to plateaus veined with wadis that are either dry or raging. In the north are the stark heights of the Golis Range. It was below these, in 1962, in the village of Taleh, near the town of Las Anod, which in the Somali language means "Milky Spring," that Abdi Bile Abdi was born.
A Somali has three names: his own, his father's and his grandfather's. Among the clans, familial relationship is prized and exaggerated. Children with the same grandfather call each other brother or sister. Bile is one of his father's 15 children by three wives, but because his three uncles have 35 offspring, he is brother to 49.
Somalis belong to the Cushitic group of peoples, so named after Cush, the son of Ham, grandson of Noah. According to traditional tales, they were blackened and dispersed to these ocher horizons after the Flood.
In more verifiable fact, Somalis have herded camels over their desiccated land throughout their history. They shipped frankincense and myrrh to the Egyptians 5,000 years ago. Islam reached Somalia from Saudi Arabia in the seventh century A.D. and for the next 900 years Arab coastal settlements absorbed waves of nomadic pastoralists—the Samaale—from the northern interior and the desert. Each tempered the other. Somalia is the only African nation with a single secular language, and its people—tall, reserved and hospitable—forsake fanaticism, be it Muslim or Marxist.
The flag is that bracing blue with a single white, five-pointed star. Each point originally stood for one of five provinces, but the symbolism is obsolete because three of the original provinces have been lost. One is now the independent nation of Djibouti. Another is a portion of Kenya. The third is the Ogaden region to the west, which Ethiopia grabbed in the 19th century. Somalia has been trying to get Ogaden back ever since, notably in a 1977 invasion that tried to take advantage of the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.
When the Soviet Union withdrew its support of Somalia a year later and backed Selassie's apparent successor, the Somalis threw out their Russian advisers. But in so doing they also condemned their reoccupation of the Ogaden to failure, and hostilities continue to this day. In December the Somali Airlines 707 from Cairo that brought Bile home for the first time since his victory in Rome kept to the Saudi and Yemeni side of the Red Sea, rather than risk being fired upon by Ethiopian batteries.
The war's result, greatly exacerbated in recent years by drought, has been tides of refugees flowing into Somalia from Ethiopia, the Ogaden and the poorer northern regions of the country itself. At least a million are fed by United Nations and private relief agencies.
No one has ever found oil in this land, although its geology seems to suggest that it is present. Agriculture is possible only near the rivers Juba and Shebele. The vast ocean rolls on, lightly fished or fished by others, for the Somalis have been exclusively herdsmen.
The camels are packed and ready for the weary trek. And men's thoughts dwell on distant destinations.
—AXMED ISMAACIIL DIIRIYE
Bile's development recapitulates his nation's. He, too, began as a nomad. Until he was seven or eight, he traveled with his parents, tending flocks of goats, cattle and camels. "It was, it is, a simple life." he says. "When the grass is gone, you look for lightning on the horizon, and when you see it, you load the camels with the aqals [huts made of wood sticks and mats] and head for the rain you hope is there. You go as long as it takes, four or five days, 150 kilometers, 300 kilometers sometimes." And if there has been rain, by the time you reach where it fell, there is the beginning of grass.
"And if there is not," says Yusuf Mohamed Abdi, Bile's older cousin who now manages a livestock/range project funded by the World Bank, "you have the camels. To us the camel is life, the most precious thing. We don't really value goats and sheep. The camel is all."
"Most herdsmen's children have only camel's milk for their first two years." says Bile, who as a child drank little else. "And they grow up to be tall, handsome and muscular, with strong bones. They cannot be missing anything."
Nor are they short on excitement. "The whole life was an adventure," says Bile. "You heard the lions all night and you were afraid. Children were lost going out to the flock. Just vanished. Could have been lion, or anything."
Were there snakes? he is asked. Were there cobras?
"Of course," he says coolly. "This is Africa." It is an Africa he feels is presented too often as naked savages fleeing from or butchering wild animals. Thus he is unwilling to relate more than a few youthful survival tales, wishing not to let his origins become his story.
The country teems with poets....
19th-century British explorer
At six, Bile attended Koranic school and at seven or eight was taken in by an uncle. Mohamed Abdi. a police officer, so he might go to school in Las Anod. "I always had in mind the life in town." says Bile. "So I enjoyed school." He was a good student, best at math and languages. "At that time, we learned English. Arabic and Italian." he says.
Remarkably, his own language, Somali, was not written down until 1972. Yet the tongue has the richest of oral traditions. "The Somali people are not educated," says Bile, "but they can make a poem on the spot, boom, with no writing. It's amazing."
Somali poets compose verse on all important occasions, especially political ones, and serve as historians. Then there is the concept of godob, or poetic slander. "If someone makes an insulting poem, it is the same as a physical attack," says Bile. "You have to answer, to make a poem back. It has to be squared."
When Bile was 16, he moved to another uncle's house, in Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean, the country's capital and largest city, with around a million people. Here he enrolled in the School of Animal Science. Mogadishu is Somalia's eternal city, built and rebuilt of coral blocks and plaster since 1500 B.C. From a distance, the city gleams. Its harbor ships the meat and fruit that earn Somalia its meager income. Its beaches are white, the water over its reef tourmaline and inviting.
But in the streets the mixture of dust and diesel exhaust that typifies a Third World country settles into walls and pores. The resort aspects of Mogadishu are a mirage. A slaughterhouse north of the city pours blood and offal into the sea, with the result that Mogadishu's lovely surf is patrolled by immense sharks. In other oceans, saw sharks are small (less than five feet), generally harmless bottom feeders. But off Mogadishu they can be 15 feet long. "They take children out of the shallow water, many children," says Ali Birik Mohamed, a commentator for Radio Mogadishu. "They cut them in two first, with the saw, then eat."
Mogadishu's open-air markets cover a vast acreage and are so crammed with trash, so filled with wandering, calling people, that the scene evokes nothing so much as a recent airplane crash. A hot wind whips up dust and the smells of leather, curry, rotten papaya, goats. All the unadjusted traveler wants to take away is a photograph, a reminder of the faces and dress of the beautiful Somali women, serene amid this cacophony, or of the old men carrying camel sticks and prayer beads.
Of course that's the one thing you can't have. Picture-taking offends Muslim sensibility and seems one-sided to Somalis. "They think that only pictures of the bad are shown," Bile said, "never of the good." Even with a photography permit from the board of censorship, you have to slip a few Somali 100-shilling notes to a cop to quell the uprising.
The lesson of Africa, it seems in the dust, is Africa. It is nothing transferable. Africa is so brutally elemental, so rife with famine and poachers and sharks and congealed custom that its children are bred and hardened to endurance, dignified endurance, as the way of all life. And the Africans who live on the self-selected edge of the edge are the nomads.
"All aspects of life that are in any other society are in nomad society," says Bile. "The people are very smart and have complicated ways of choosing chiefs, sharing the land, marrying across families, burying their dead and casting out criminals. And the nomad ways go all through Somali life, whether people actually travel with the herds or not."
Nomads, it has been observed, live a paradox. The mobility required of them, even the most well-to-do herders, dictates limited households. "[Nomads are] avid for increase yet disgusted by possessions," is how Bruce Chatwin puts it when discussing Australian aborigines in his book The Songlines. "They are achievement-oriented," says Bile, "but their goal is not necessarily riches. The real respect goes to the man who sits down and makes a poem an hour long, and to the man sitting next to him who hears it and memorizes it instantly and then travels days and nights and repeats it perfectly."
As an adolescent Bile played soccer in Mogadishu's stony alleys. When he was 18, he was seen in a soccer game by a high school track coach, who coaxed him to try a 400-meter run. Bile ran 56 seconds on a track so sandy it was worth 52. The word spread, and Hassan Warsame, the city's track club coach, urged Bile to join. In 1982, at the urging of 800-meter runner Jama Mohamed Aden, who had earned a scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University, in Teaneck, N.J., Bile entered the 800 and 1,500 in the Second All-African Track and Field Championships in Cairo.
"I'd just trained a couple of months." Bile says. "I had a hard time understanding the laps in the 1,500. I did 3:51. Winning was 3:42.2. I didn't seem that far back, not after expecting to be lapped. It gave me a lot of motivation."
While Bile trained. Aden returned to the U.S. and raved about him to eastern track coaches, including George Mason's John Cook. The U.S. Information Agency's ambassador of sport, 1948 and 1952 Olympic 800 champion Mai Whitfield, provided Cook with Bile's records, showing him to be an A student, and George Mason gave him a scholarship.
He arrived in Fairfax on a rainy Fourth of July 1983. Cook, who is short, frenetic and a habitual worrier, took a look at this wet ebony stick and started to worry. "It sounds cold." Cook says, "but I was concerned whether the guy could run. I took him to a five-mile road race in Reston [Va.]. It was hot as hell. He set a course record."
I bade you farewell. Wished you a journey full of blessing;
Every hour you exist, when you go to sleep
And when you awake,
Keep in mind the troth between us
I am waiting for you, come safely back
Come safely back.
His land, his life, had prepared Bile to hang in. So to hear him tell it, his 1983 adjustment to life at a leafy, academically demanding Virginia college was not unduly traumatic. But he suffered. "The winter was cold." he says. "We Muslims eat no pork, and sometimes it seemed I was faced with pork at every meal. I never stopped thinking about Somalia."
English was Bile's millstone. "If it took U.S. kids a half hour to read something." says Cook, "it took him two hours because of looking up all the words. He was too dogmatic about school. His eyes went bad, and his back went out because of six or seven hours of reading every night. We had him skip cross-country season so he could study."
Cook argued for a better balance. But Bile dug in. "This was my mission." he says. "School is what I came for as much as my running." He adds, with deceptive lightness. "You know. I never give up."
"Even so, he got discouraged." says Cook. "Once he got a 79.5 on an accounting exam. Eighty was a B. It took me three days to prop him up. I talked to the professor. He just said. "It's like the difference between running 3:59.5 and 4:00.0. I knew enough not to pursue it."
"That day I just cried in the class," says Bile. "Only twice in my life have I cried."
He was more stoic about his injuries. The unaccustomed weather, road running and weight training, along with a late growth spurt of two inches, left him vulnerable to pulls, strains and breaks. "All the coaches, trainers and doctors did their best," says Bile, who was touched. "Mary Cook. John's wife, used to take me to the swimming pool at 7 a.m. when I had a stress fracture before the '84 Olympics."
His talent shone through the setbacks, and Bile was soon a force. He finished fifth in his semifinal in the Los Angeles Olympic 1,500, in 3:35.89, but was disqualified; officials apparently felt that he had pushed a runner who had fallen. That was the second time he cried.
Few, if any, college track coaches have the luxury of conservatively grooming talented milers. "I felt pressure to stay within the system," says Cook, "the cross-country in the fall, the indoor races all winter, outdoor all spring. That first year I sure didn't do him any favors throwing him into all that, and I regret it."
Bile knows his coach's remorse is unwarranted. "I think he did a great job," says Bile. "We always got along, and a lot of other college coaches...well, they would have killed me."
"After that first year, I realized I had to pull back. I came under his influence," Cook says. "You listen to him, and he usually makes so much sense. We talked about the big picture, the world record, the two-year plan, and after a while the NCAA stuff wasn't that important anymore. If he could run, fine, but even if he couldn't—and a hamstring injury kept him out most of 1986—I knew there would be sunshine at the end of the tunnel."
Once his running and English were up to speed, one might have expected Bile to come down with a delayed case of culture shock. How, he is asked, did a Somali nomad deal with an America of shopping malls, sorority girls and cocaine? "There is no shock," says Bile firmly. "If you don't judge. You see differences, but you have to get along with people."
He is at once austere and sweet-tempered. "He took the good," says Cook, "and left the bad, and did it in such an unrebellious, uncrusading way that he just stayed Abdi.
"He speaks for the other guys on the team. He'll come in the office, peaceful and quiet, and telling me something. And I say. 'Yeah, I was hard on the guy. Yeah, I didn't think of how he'd be hurt. Yeah, I'll see what I can do.' He's a conscience in a lot of ways. Sometimes I hate to see him coming.
"I don't want to get all corny here." Cook goes on, "but I have a certain love for Abdi. I hesitate saying that because I have to, uh...."
"...Push your friends," says Bile, smiling.
"...But if he weren't likable, he wouldn't be what he is. It's all part of that inner strength that makes him so stable. Even his racing tactics flow from Abdi's calm."
In the classic Bile race he drops to last in the first 200, and from there surveys the elbowing, spiking pack. "He's not a power runner," says Cook. "He's an efficient runner. He gets to the last lap more easily than anyone."
The extent of Cook's advice to Bile in the Rome World Championships was "Don't let 'em surprise you."
"I was amazed that Steve Cram's coach almost went out to the starting line talking to him," says Bile. "It's all over by then."
In theory, a consistent training year should bring Bile within reach of Sebastian Coe's 800 world record of 1:41.73, Said Aouita's 1,500 mark of 3:29.46 and Cram's mile of 3:46.32. But records aren't Bile's focus this season. The Olympic 1,500 is. Or, to personalize it, Aouita is. The magnificent, maddening Moroccan is the last man he has to beat.
Aouita outran Bile decisively in the Oslo 1,500 in July, then escaped Bile's revenge in Rome by running, and winning, the 5,000 there. At the World Cup, Aouita put on display his usual heedless hauteur. 'That 5,000 was no harder than sitting in a chair and watching it on TV," he said, and added that he would be returning to the 1,500 for the Olympics because there was no one to challenge him in the longer distance.
If there is one thing Bile knows from both sides now, it is milers' rhetoric. "I'm the world 1,500-meter champion," he says. "Aouita is not. He might feel he needs to beat me, but I don't feel I have to go hunt him down. If he comes for me, I'll be ready."
When fortune places a man even on the mere hem of her robe
He quickly becomes overbearing.
A small milking vessel when filled to the brim soon overflows.
It happens that the plane bringing home Somalia's only world champion in all eternity touches down at Mogadishu's pastel pink, blue and yellow airport on Christmas morning, scattering a flock of ibis. Bile is first off, in suit, tie and Rome gold medal. He survives a 200-yard receiving line of dignitaries and dancing, chanting women. Girls known as "Flowers of the 21st of October Revolution" strew petals in his path. He is taken to a steamy, tumultuous VIP lounge, where he assures everyone that he remains unspoiled by victory and is but the first of many Somali champions.
Then a small man stands before him, clutching papers. The room stills. "The Somali flag has long been suffering unfamiliarity," the man begins, speaking in Somali, "but today is different...." Bile's expression softens, his gaze going far away.
"This is our welcome," continues the poet, "from our president and people. You have defeated both enemies and friends of Somalia. We praise thee, brother, for raising the flag in a place it has never been. We welcome you to enjoy the wealth of our country...." The verses continue for a full five minutes, describing everything Bile will see on a journey home, including "all the beautiful girls you know."
Bile blinks a lot, solemnly, and wipes his brow. When the poem is done, there is loud applause. "I am also a poet," Bile says when it dies, "and I am so moved that I'd like to reply...but not now, not without thought."
Then everyone sprints for the cars. Bile is put in an open-topped van, surrounded by an honor guard of runners, and leads a procession the three miles into the city. Hundreds of barefoot kids run ecstatically beside the waving champion: they appear from the rocky side lanes, the tin shacks. Mothers come trotting with their babies. The cars wedge past donkey carts piled with firewood. Thus the ancient Olympians were carried toward their city's gates.
The Somali faces along the roadside are bright or bemused, thoroughly thrilled, but gently so. An old clubmate of Bile's, one of his vanguard runners, seems to acknowledge this. He yells, "It is even more marvelous than you see!"
One characteristic of the Men of the Golden Age: they are always remembered as migratory.
The Song lines
A few days later, after an onslaught of official dinners and appearances with politicians, Bile and an array of his cousins, each a success in his own field, take guests to a quiet lunch. The restaurant affords a view of blowing dunes and white-capped sea.
"A man on this beach was told there was a shark net here," says cousin Yusuf. "He swam and within four minutes was eaten. Well, there was a shark net. The problem was they put it down when the sharks were beside the beach. They couldn't get out. They got hungry."
Somehow the conversation turns to teeth. They are honored among Somalis, who care for them incessantly with sticks of aday wood. "The root is the best. The wood makes tiny fibers as you work it," says Yusuf. "There is a lot of phosphorus and calcium in this wood. If a man doesn't clean his teeth with his stick brush, he's not a true Somali."
It comes out that Bile has never been to the dentist. "Well, once, for a checkup," Yusuf reveals. "The dentist just took a picture, to put on his wall as an example of a perfect set of teeth."
Bile will graduate from George Mason in two more semesters, with a degree in finance. "While I'm running, I'll continue to live in the U.S. and train with Coach Cook," he says. "But after, I have to come here, come home. My family is what lifted up my life. I want to come back to be a part of it."
So that the visitors might better understand his country, Bile and his cousins drive them south of Mogadishu. "I used to run this road down to Gezira beach every day," Bile says. The land is low scrub, rising to acacia. He hopes to find camels. The striking blue of a herdsgirl's dress attracts the eye, but she is herding only ignoble cows. At last a camel's head rises from the thorn. Its forelegs are hobbled. Bile walks to the camel, strokes its neck, and the animal grows calm. "You see." says Bile, "camels are cool."
The owner appears, less cool than his beast, but Somali hospitality prevails, and everyone must walk down to this man's brush corral and hut, where he offers large warm mugs of camel's milk.
"Go easy," cautions Yusuf. "When it's fresh, it's a laxative."
The consistency is that of thin cream. The taste is of thick hickory smoke. "That's because of the wooden container." says Bile, "from the way it's charred on the inside to keep things clean."
In an orange sunset, they are content to sit and sip the camel's milk. A caravan of donkey carts creaks past in the dusk, bearing wood, carrying on the relentless deforestation of the continent.
Then centuries are shaken off with the opening of a car door, and everyone heads back to town. "You've got to see the riverine farms," Bile cries to the visitors. "Promise me you won't go until you've seen all of Somalia's economic zones."
Wherever one looks, the life of this world depends on water.
But if the water it self feels thirsty,
From what well can one quench its thirst?
—XASAN SHEEKH MUUMIN
"The poet does not mean real water, I think," says Ali Birik Mohamed. "Somali poetry is indirect. People sing about love and mean politics. The water can mean the land, or the leadership. Everyone likes to consume, but if the prosperity of the land depends upon those leading it, what happens if they are without?"
Thus Bile, at home, is understood as a crystal spring of inspiration. Giving a clinic for young athletes, he does a jostling warmup jog with them on the shifting dust of the practice track near the National Stadium in Mogadishu. Bile notes that the stadium offers a racing surface of poor, weedy sand. He hopes his success will somehow galvanize the government into springing for an all-weather track.
The kids assemble in the stands. "I'm happy to have opened a path many of you might take." Bile tells them. "It's good you have a chance you didn't have before. But you have to work. You won't make it by training one afternoon. You have good teachers. But the teacher only shows the way. It is you who travel it. The only difference between here and the U.S. is facilities and climate. The important thing is effort. Effort wins here. Effort wins there. Any questions?"
His audience is squirming, resistant to the sternness of this admonition and this challenge to come and follow him. "We request." says a tiny boy, "that when you race internationally, you run in front of the pack. Because when you are behind, our hearts pound. Please don't give us heart attacks."
Bile collapses in laughter.
The Mogadishu city council gives a lunch for him. He is driven 10 miles into the interior, where gangly cows graze and weaverbirds are thick in the trees. A roofed pavilion shades long tables. "The food here is, uh, a little different," says Bile to the visitor. "You're going to eat with your hands. Don't be excited. It's mostly rice."
Bile has been feted solidly for a week and still looks fresh. "I feel fine," he says. "I love seeing all these people." He will undergo an award ceremony before 40,000 in the stadium and a trip through adoring crowds in the north before he will find himself exhausted and content to return to Fairfax.
The table seats about 70 city officials. Waiters pour water, so you may wash your hands. All is decorous.
But, in a rush, platters of rice crash down on the table, followed by rib cages of goat, haunches of beef and calabashes of salad. Growling, the diners attack. What seemed food for the weekend is devoured in 10 minutes. Then, as if a storm has passed, the dignitaries groan and stand, and sluice the grease from their fingers, and listen to speeches.
"There is no doubt that the night Abdi Bile was born a man came into the world," rumbles the chairman of the city council. "Millions of women have been influenced by what he has done and are now making traditional dances, shouting the name of Abdi Bile Abdi."
Bile stands and says, "I never fought for my country. I'm a coward." There are bellows of disagreement. "I don't know how to fight with a gun. But I know another way to bring respect to the country. Today in the world people have stopped fighting because of sports. Whole nations can rise and be understood by their athletic achievements."
He leaves them spellbound. Later Yusuf will say, "No, not politics. He doesn't like politics. Business, that's where he'll be best." All the same, one thinks, heroism agrees with him so.
Bile confides that his trip home was richer in show than substance. "I was telling the president and his ministers all the time that the least a country with a world champion can do is have a track," he says. "I kept expecting them to say. "We'll build one.' But they didn't."
It is put to Bile that he must have seemed a windfall to his strapped government, a champion who came absolutely free, one to be feted, photographed with and forgotten. Bile doesn't like the idea but admits the possibility.
At last, drinking powerful, sweet Somali coffee in an outdoor cafe, the runner is asked about these claims that he is a poet. He says he dabbles but not lately. He is pressed. What are his favorite verses?
He leans against a wall, and a rift deepens in his forehead. He takes the visitor's notebook and begins to write in a neat, swift hand. After a few lines he consults with cousin Ahmed in Somali. They argue about a word. Their driver leans in and adamantly dictates a phrase. Patrons from other tables take up this mysterious poem. Finally the page is filled.
Then the whole discussion is repeated, over how it ought to be translated. They conclude that the poem's power and humor refuse to depart from Somali into any baser language.
"Of course this is only one small part of a longer work." says Bile at last. "It is by Ismail Mire. Here goes:
" 'A man, weak from thirst, lay under a tree. He heard a guuguule bird singing, "I'm hungry. I'm very hungry." "You guuguule bird, if you are crying for the lack of the spring rains, if you think you are the only one suffering under this harsh drought, you are mistaken. This dry season has injured every human on this earthly spot. Such hunger prevails that people are even hunting after you, little meatless guuguule bird, just to survive. So my advice is to stop crying so that your noise doesn't end your life." ' "
It is a poem to kindness and flint, and it seems a fair basis on which to comprehend Bile and his country. This miler is not a small vessel who will be unable to hold all his good fortune. Rather he seems the water the land has thirsted for, the one who brought a Somali essence to its fullest and won. Now those he lifts are sure to claim their birthright. Somalia, as ever, is on the move.
AFTER HIS VICTORY IN ROME LAST SEPTEMBER, BILE, THE CONSTANT NOMAD, RETURNED TO MOGADISHU AS THE CENTERPIECE OF A CELEBRATION
AT THE WORLDS, BILE HELD HIMSELF FROM THE EARLY ROUGH AND TUMBLE TO CLAIM A CONVINCING WIN OVER A FADING FIELD
WINNERS IN ROME (FROM LEFT): BEN JOHNSON (100), BILE, PATRIK SJOBERG (HIGH JUMP) AND EDWIN MOSES (400-METER HURDLES)
OUTSIZED WALL POSTERS AND FLOWER GIRLS IN NATIVE DRESS WELCOMED BILE ON HIS TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO SOMALIA
A GROUP OF LOCAL ATHLETES FOLLOWED BILE'S LEAD IN PUSH-UPS DURING A TRAINING CLINIC HELD AFTER HIS HECTIC HOMECOMING
BILE, WHO WAS BORN AND RAISED AMONG THE NOMADS, GREETS A CAMEL, THE BEAST MOST ADMIRED BY SOMALI HERDSMEN
COOK MAY BE BILE'S COACH AT GEORGE MASON, BUT HE FREQUENTLY FINDS THAT HIS CHARGE IS THE ONE DOING THE LECTURING