PUBLISHED: 17:01 EST, 18 August 2012 | UPDATED: 17:02 EST, 18 August 2012
The twin brother of Britain’s Olympic gold medal hero Mo Farah has spoken for the first time about how they were torn apart as boys amid the chaos of civil war in Somalia.
In a heartbreaking story of a childhood fractured by violence and turmoil, Hassan Farah has revealed he and Mo had such a close bond that they slept in the same bed and shared food from the same plate.
The pair were so strikingly similar that teachers and even friends confused one for the other.
But the boys were forced to say goodbye at the age of eight when their parents made the agonising decision to send three of their six children, including Mo, to Britain for a chance of a better life. It was a wrench neither of them has forgotten and it was a full 12 years until the twins saw each other again.
Mo Farah’s twin brother Hassan is pictured doing the ‘Mobot’ outside his home in Hargeisa, Somaliland
Mo Farah was sent to England with his two older brothers to live with their father, while Hassan stayed behind
Hassan grew up amid dust and poverty in the African state of Djibouti which borders Somalia, and has watched without bitterness or resentment as his brother, who excelled on the sports fields of England, became a world-class athlete.
Mo has rarely spoken about his family back in Africa. But The Mail on Sunday tracked Hassan down to his modest home in Hargeisa, northern Somalia, last week.
It was here, half a world away from the Olympic Stadium in London, that Hassan watched TV with pride and happiness as his brother secured an unprecedented double gold triumph.
It was midnight before well-wishers stopped calling at Hassan’s door to share their excitement and joy at the town’s famous son.
Yesterday, still celebrating and still wearing his white Team GB jersey, Hassan spoke about the extraordinary events that tore him and his brother apart.
‘We had been together in everything, we were inseparable,’ he said. ‘We shared food from the same plate, we shared a bed and we played and studied together. There is a special love between twins that is different from other sibling love.
‘When Mo was sent away I was left with an empty space in my heart. That space has never been filled, but he is still somewhere in my heart and I know I am in his.
‘Like many Somali families we were torn apart by war. In my case it felt more tragic than most. I feel I lost the other half of myself, my twin brother.
‘These days we are all still close, despite the difficulties of travel and communications in this country.’
Hassan believes they can never make up the lost years spent apart, but it is telling that when Mo triumphed with gold in the 10,000m, his brother was one of the first people he called.
Hassan said: ‘He told me, “Pray for me, my brother. I have great hopes that I can win a second gold. It is what I’ve waited for all this time”.’
The twins’ father is Muktar Farah. He had left Somalia as a young man and settled in London where he worked as an IT consultant. During a holiday visit to his homeland he married Amran – and decided to stay. They made a life together in Mogadishu and already had two sons and a daughter when the twins arrived.
Mohammed and Hassan were born in Mogadishu in March 1983, at the beginning of relentlessly troubled times for the beleaguered capital city of Somalia. Fighting between deadly rival clans was becoming a daily hazard in the city. The president, dictator Siad Barre who had seized power in 1969, was under increasing pressure from warlords who joined forces against him. Barre was finally ousted and exiled in 1990, and a long, bloody civil war was to shape the country’s future for more than 20 years.
Cautious hopes for security and stability are only now being expressed, with democratic elections planned for next month.
For Mo and Hassan’s parents the disintegration of their country after 1990 meant harsh and agonising decisions. Hassan recalled: ‘We were small and there was shooting and killing every day near our home. We knew our father was going back to England to try to make a family home for us there, and our mother was taking our brothers back to her home village in the north.
‘Everyone’s family was in turmoil during that time. There were refugee camps outside the city, people living in tents. Others were desperate to get out, and although we were very young we knew it was a time when families were making painful decisions.
‘They sent us, and our older sister Ifrah, to live in Djibouti with our grandmother so that we could have a peaceful childhood. For Mo and me, it was enough that we were staying together.’
The boys’ maternal grandmother had settled in a poor suburb of Djibouti city. The monsoon blows all year in a climate officially described as torrid. From October to April the average temperature is 37C (98F).
Hassan said: ‘We were sporty kids, Mo and me. But it was too hot; too hot to do almost anything. We played football in the streets and we ran around a lot, playing chase and always beating the other boys.
Hassan Farah pictured in the market in his home town of Hergeisa in Somaliland
‘But there were no facilities, just the streets. We were keen on football and Mo and me were never picked for the same side, no one would have been able to beat us. There we were, refugees from a war, living without our parents, and I remember a very happy childhood. All I needed then for my security and stability was my brother.
‘We did everything together, we were best friends. There was occasionally a fight and it would last one minute, both of us collapsing with laughter.’
No one could tell the twins apart.
‘We used to swap clothes halfway through the day just to confuse everyone.
‘It drove our teachers to distraction, even in the serious atmosphere of the madrasa we attended where we learnt the Holy Koran.’
Hassan remembers a day sitting on the front step of their grandmother’s house. ‘I said something cheeky to a girl walking by, and when she came back with her brothers to get me into trouble they found Mo sitting there instead. I nearly let him take the blame but in the end I couldn’t do it, I owned up. That’s how it was with Mo and me.’
The boys’ mother had settled back into her rural home, a tiny village in the remote desert area between Hargeisa town and the Ethiopian border. There, she received news from her husband in England that, as an asylum seeker, he could bring their children over to join him.
But crucially, he told her he could take only three – as many as he could afford to support.
MIGHTY MO ON TRACK FOR MILLIONS
Mo Farah yesterday added a lucrative sponsorship deal with Virgin Media to his growing portfolio of endorsement contracts as he reaps the rewards of his gold medals.
The 29-year-old will earn between £250,000 and £500,000 in an advertising campaign with fellow Olympic hero Usain Bolt. Both runners will wear Richard Branson goatee beards.
It will take the earnings of the winner of the 10,000m and 5,000m titles up to an estimated £2.5 million a year.
Before the Games, Farah earned a reported £500,000 in endorsements, including sponsorship deals with Lucozade and retail giant Nike.
Scottish Widows, the official pension provider for the Olympics, predicts he will pocket about £5 million by the Rio Games in 2016 – and he could command a £1 million appearance fee if he runs in the London Marathon next year.
Hassan and Mo were told that only one of them could go with their older brothers Liban and Omar.
‘They found a way to soften it, to make it seem as if it would be all right,’ Hassan says, with no apparent bitterness. ‘My grandmother told us that Mo would be going, getting on a train to Addis Ababa then on a plane to England.
‘I would have to wait but one day I would join him.’
Hassan remembers the night they said goodbye. ‘It was my bedtime, and there was all this fuss with him leaving the house and taking his things, getting into a car. I was OK because they kept saying I would be with him again soon.’
Mo began a bewildering new life in England. He has spoken recently of difficult times at school, trouble with learning English, and finding solace only on the sports field where he was eventually recognised as a major talent by his PE teacher.
Several years went by in Djibouti, with Hassan receiving continual but empty reassurances that he and Mo would be reunited. It was not until 12 years later, in 2003, that Mo finally came back to Somalia for a visit. To this day Hassan has never been to England.
He has watched as his brother began to get the recognition he deserved as a potential star. Back in dusty, poor Djibouti, Hassan – despite his identical genes and potential – had not the remotest chance of athletic success, though he was just as good a runner as his brother.
‘Of course Mo and I were on a par as runners,’ he said. ‘Sometimes I would beat him as we chased each other around, sometimes he would beat me. But now he has had the most technically-advanced training and advice available in the world, with top running tracks and gyms to work in, and I have had nothing.
‘Who knows what I could have become? We could have been famous twin Olympic athletes. I couldn’t help thinking about that when I was watching him in the races on television. But he’s my brother, I love him and I rejoice in his great successes.’
As a teenager Hassan returned to Hargeisa and was reunited with his extended family. He lived with an aunt and did well at school. He married and now has five beautiful children.
The Akal (hut) former home of Olympic golden boy Mo Farah in the village of Iranka Deriynka
Mo Farah and wife Tania are expecting twin daughters – younger siblings for daughter Rihanna
Life in Hargeisa is hard and sometimes chaotic – donkeys, goats and camels wander the streets and unemployment is rife, with most families living on money sent to them from relatives abroad.
But Hassan, bright and ambitious, is a successful telecommunications engineer with a steady job. His modest home is carpeted and nicely- furnished and he provides well for his family. ‘Mo’s wife is expecting twins, we hear,’ he says with a smile. ‘Maybe if my wife and I keep trying we can have a set of twins too. That would be good.’
Last week Hassan’s mother was visiting him and they will celebrate the Islamic feast of Eid together.
Her village, the tiny homestead of Iranka Deriyanka – which Hassan, Mo and their siblings all consider home – is several hours’ drive through scrubby desert west of Hargeisa town past several police checkpoints.
Last week I made the long hot journey to the village, accompanied by two armed soldiers in uniform.
One of them explained: ‘We can’t go there in four-wheel drive vehicles, with white people, without potential trouble. It could be youths throwing rocks at us, or worse. It could be trouble at checkpoints. We need to be careful.’
We were to be accompanied by the important tribal chief of the Habar Awal sub-clan of the dominant Issaq people, Boqor Muhumed Geele Sed. He welcomed us when we stopped at his house in Gabiley town.
He said: ‘We are overjoyed at our son Mo’s success, he is a hero to us. We want to rename his little village Mo Farah Village, we want him to come home to us often and support our people.
‘He has already brought happiness to our lives. Many people walked six kilometres to watch him race in the Olympics. They have no electricity and they had to get to the nearest place with a television.
‘Mo Farah is a great son of Somalia. He ran with the British flag but he belongs to our nation and we know he loves us.’
Mo has already launched a charitable foundation to help Somali youth develop sporting skills, but the task of permanently changing lives in this remote part of the world would be overwhelming for him.
As we drove into the scrubby desert, wheels spinning in the muddy clay, donkeys and goats scattering, we came across a group of families working on their maize crop.
The women in brightly-coloured hijabs performed an impromptu celebration dance at the mention of Mo Farah’s name, and their children raced around like budding athletes, desperate to emulate their hero. Two young women approached us. ‘We want Mo’s success to help change our lives,’ they said. ‘We want the world to see us and the hard way we have to live. We have no hospital or clinic, many women bleed to death in childbirth in the fields.
‘There are no schools and no roads, and the women walk for miles every day to fetch water from wells.’
The community is spread out in tiny homesteads, roughly fenced off from wandering livestock by hedges of dried branches. Their traditional aqal – round huts fashioned from branches – are covered at this time of year with multi-coloured plastic sheeting to keep out torrential rain.
Inside there are home-woven rugs, a dirt floor and mattresses.
Cooking is done over an open fire outside, and the staple diet is maize-meal porridge.
At Mo’s own tiny family homestead – where his mother and two sisters live, tending their goats and cows to sell at market – one of his sisters, Nimo, barefoot in her hijab, was carrying her two-year-old son who has polio. It’s a disease virtually forgotten in the West but blights this community because there is limited access to vaccinations.
Mo Farah’s sister Nimo is pictured carrying her two-year-old son who has polio
Nimo said: ‘Life is so hard here. We love this land and we belong here but it is hard just to survive. We need schools and better healthcare. We want more for our children. We hope Mo’s success will mean he can help us.’
In the fields nearby her brother Faisal, the eldest of Mo’s siblings, was working with his tractor, the pride of the community and a gift from Mo. It trundles to market days in Gabiley, towing a trailer with livestock for sale.
Mo’s mother Amran is a slightly built woman in her forties with the same huge tell-tale smile as her famous son. She wears traditionally modest Muslim clothes in patterned red and green silk and is shy of visitors and reluctant to speak.
She and Hassan have found it hard to talk about the decision that tore the brothers apart, but she says: ‘I would love to see my twin boys together again, of course I would. I can’t talk about what happened all those years ago, I would just love to see them getting together at last.
‘I hope Mo will visit us here soon, or I can go to England with Hassan to see him. That would be wonderful. I am so full of pride I feel I could burst with happiness at Mo’s success. He’s my wonderful son, my hero.’
In a country where traditional courts and Sharia law dictate that the killing of a man can be appeased with a payment of 20 camels by the perpetrator, but the killing of a woman attracts only 10 camels, it was almost certainly not Mo’s mother who made the critical decision to take him away from his twin.
This week, she was asked on Somali television to talk about Hassan and says, poignantly: ‘His twin Hassan is a bright man too, a good runner like his brother, but he just didn’t have the same opportunities.’
Today there is no bitterness from Hassan – just deep sadness – and he has been touched by a statement from Mo’s tough training coach.
‘He said that Mo had more heart, more guts and more soul than any other athlete he had ever met.’
Hassan added: ‘We share the same genes. I would love to hear someone say that about me.’