By Mikel Guillén
Born April 9th, 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia. He grew up in a family of five. Mahdi had a sister and a brother. He had a relatively normal childhood; he went to school, made friends, his grades were acceptable.
His father was a business man; his mother was a stay home mother. They belonged to a middle class background. His mother had a good heart but worried too much for her kids.
Mahdi’s father was very strict, disciplined, and with a cold demeanour. He focused on two things, work and religion.He would come from work and read the Koran. He would talk about it at length, and oftenprayed out loud.Mahdi’s mother was dedicated to the house chores and their children. She knew what her role was and the father’s too.
He loved reading. Mahdi was forced to read the Koran by his father. Mahdi was never religious. He felt like he had to do it, because his father demanded it. He never understood what it meant. He saw a very different reality. Every day life had very little with what he read.
He was bothered by extreme poverty. Days felt longer when there was less to eat. In his youth he was sociable but a bit shy. He was confident but not outgoing. Mahdi grew up with a non visible handicap in his left foot. He was down for a moment in his life but his determination to study and learn was clear.
Mahdi’s passion for photography came about as a mere accident. When reading, sometimes Mahdi would turn the TV on in the background. One day while doing so, the image on the screen froze. Mahdi was struck by this moment. He wanted to reproduce images like that. The particular image was of somebody killing a dog.
He bought his first camera at 16.
Mahdi had only two relationships. One conquered his heart, married him and became the mother of his daughter Khadra’s. Unfortunately, she died in a bombing of a building.
The relation with his father was difficult from day one. Throughout the years communication was minimal. Only when it was related to reading the Koran. Once, when he argued with his father Mahdi was punished by force. His father used a belt to remind him who was the patriarch of the house. Mahdi received a scar for life.
That skill was the one that gave him the inspiration to be a photographer. He didn’t agree with war and how humans were destroying themselves. He saw the world through the eyes of a humanitarian
His mental well being was fine. He was very spiritual but he knew that something wasn’t quite right. He felt his spirituality, rather than seeing it anywhere.
Togane was such an influence on Mahdi that he not only read Togane’s work but also recited it. He found that thepoems shed a true light on his life and reflected back an true understanding humanity.
Toganeat one point, had been a refugee in Canada. This was the first time that Mahdi heard the word: Canada.
The passing of Mahdi’swife was a shock to him and a turning point in his life. He felt as if he was suspended in a car crash. This was one of the most difficult times in Mahdi’s life. He felt incomplete, uncomfortable. His only goal was to take care of his daughter and now his mother-in-law.
He was disgusted by soldiers driving Jeeps and scaring people with their guns. Killing people on their way for food.
As far as Mahdi was concerned, they were cowards with costumes of power.
Mahdihad a special way of walking; he had an awkward lilt, where he leaned forward, balancing towards the front.
Both of his parents died within 3 years of each other.Mahdi was 23 at the time. Their deaths, coming so closely together at a young age- impacted him greatly, and altered his emotional landscape. He remembered both of them vividly. Like if he was in two worlds. His parent’s world and his world.
Photography helped him a lot, not only disciplined in school but also provided him with a medium of expression –an ability to say what was inside of him.
The challenging part was that Mahdi was quite ambitious, conniving and driven. A lot of people were aware of these character traits- his friends and his wife were sometimes concerned. He would often get angry when reading foreign media, knowing that no one was doing anything for his country.
Mahdi smoked for four years. He never used a lighter, only matches.
Detailing his exit plan took quite some time. He wanted to help his family and dear daughter.
Zahira, his mother in law had no place to go when Naifa died. Mahdi invite her to live with them.
When Mahdi met Jim, the Austrian photojournalist, he knew that he was his ticket out of Somalia. Mahdi studied him, hung out with him and started to do business with him. It was a long process but with Tagone as an inspiration along with his own drive to succeed, he knew that that would make it.
Mahdi loved his daughter and he was prepared to do anything.