It feels like a combination of lockdown and military camp up in here..there’s a tenseness in the air, so palpable that any efforts to exhale and inhale have been reduced to short quick gasps. My level of education is moot, my gift of gab secondary and any arguments I may have are pointless.
I have landed in Mogadishu as a guest of Integration TV, but have no contacts on ground. My contact, Hodan lives in Canada and the guy at immigration is testy about that. I am asked to sit aside. Two plane loads of passengers, are cleared to enter but I am kept waiting. A man from one of the East African countries is also told to wait aside. He is suited up and occasionally shows them some communication on his laptop. He says he is commissioned to work with the UNDP but for some reason, not even the evidence of communication is enough to let him pass.
After two hours of deliberating, the immigration hand me over to the airport police and I keep calm really not knowing what to expect. I am surprised when they offer me a seat in the cool air-conditioned office, and speak to me kindly, the Somali police seem humane in comparison to Kenyan police. They flip through the pages of my passport and question me further. They call my contact in Canada again but nothing comes forth, it’s probably a few hours after midnight there.
A friendly middle-aged policeman in plain clothes comes over and begins to talk to me in dutch. He heard that I live in the Netherlands, and he lives there himself. While he is in Mogadishu for a year working, his wife and children are back in the Netherlands. He asks whether I have had some lunch, and goes ahead to order for me a tasty meal of spaghetti, spicy sauce and a banana, which I eat and wash down with chilled mineral water. He thinks it is a bad idea for me to be here. He candidly informs me that just the day before, terrorists rammed a truck of explosives into Jazeera Hotel.
“This is no place for tourists,” he says, and just for emphasis, advises me to stay in my hotel the duration of time I am here. The AMISOM guard from Uganda repeats the same thing at a checkpoint, “There was a major threat here, so we are on full alert.”
But I haven’t waited a good part of my adult life, to get to Mogadishu and be holed up in a hotel room. As well, I am not here as a tourist but as part of a media team showcasing Mogadishu. Years ago, working at Wilson Airport in Nairobi, each time I would voice my desire to visit Somalia, a colleague would shake his head vigorously and with his characteristic acerbic humor spit out, “Carol, there’s a fine line between insanity and bravery!”
And just recently, before leaving the Netherlands, I was given looks of incredulity when I voiced my desire to visit Mogadishu. Somali-diaspora women winced in pain at the mention of the city, one giving me a cautionary wag of the finger, and a statement coming out as a command, “Do not try it!”
I am glad we finally got through to Hodan, and I was let into the country, with contact information for the team in Mogadishu, a letter and a driver on his way to ferry me to the hotel I was to stay in.
While Aden Abdulle Airport in Mogadishu is brand new, glossy, spacious, clean and even has a prayer room; the exit side of the airport is a quite intimidating with several checkpoints, and high sandbags reminiscent of the scenery from a war-zone.
You very often see soldiers in camouflage gear and other uniform with big guns, jumping onto the back of pickups and military vans, but they are hardly in combat; just ensuring that people have security. There’s the general wariness over Al-Shaabab. This extends to almost everywhere, so there are armed security guards at the entrances of hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and so forth.
Those living in Mogadishu confess that such a high-level of security is necessary as they co-exist in the same city as the terrorist group Al-Shaabab who are known for mercilessly sending themselves and other people to the after-life without notice.
Further away from the airport, into the heart and soul of Mogadishu, you realize that the capital is not all bombs and bullets, but rather a city that is pulsating, ever so alive with people going about their business, living the best way they know how, to the full.
You bump into a good number who have spent years in the diaspora, and have come home armed with a good education, foreign accents but a fluency in their mother tongue. They tell me they are here to stay. They love the weather, the grand beaches and the wholesome organic food. The diasporas are back with an earnest desire to rebuild their beautiful land.
(continued to part two)