Mogadishu is a unique travel destination for me, so sometimes I do feel boxed in. Although I am from neighboring Kenya and can possibly pass off as a local, with skin the complexion of dark chocolate, and the traditional garb slipped on; a long abaya, a headscarf and another scarf covering my head, chest and shoulders, I cannot just get up and go. I am not permitted to go out of our heavily fortified hotel without the presence of heavily armed security.
I quickly realize I just can’t have a water-tight itinerary, as the driver may wake up and choose to take his kids to Afgooye, or the armed guards who are meant to accompany you everywhere may not be available, so pretty much you do spend some days sheltered in the hotel or doing some shopping at nearby clothing and perfume stores.
But Hotel Makkah Al-Mukharama has a beautiful courtyard and a grand rooftop with a fresh breeze blowing in the hot Somali weather. The palm trees sway about in the wind, and uniformed waiters are ever present to take your orders. The food is first class and I feel the tight bond of brotherhood, people looking out for each other. I can’t sit alone for a minute without someone coming over to say hello and ask where I am from. On several occasions, I am asked to pull my chair close and join in the conversations. I get to talk to ministers and government officials who patron the hotel frequently, which is pretty cool.
The dread and sober realization that each day I spend there would potentially be my last, quickly fades away as the city welcomes me as it’s own. I have heard a couple of shots ringing out in the day and night, but my hosts say that sometimes shots are fired as a warning to scare someone who’s not listening. So aclaimitized are the locals to the background noises of gunshots and odd grenades that they have a name for it: Mogadishu music.
Mogadishu is a highly conservative and strictly islamic city, so covering up is compulsory. I get to visit Liido beach stretched out in its white sands to water an azzure shade so blue. Kids are playing and wading in the water, the women swim with their hijabs and abayas on, which is a surprise. I get by feeling the sand through my toes and waiting for the waves to run over my feet. Men with big guns milling around make their presence felt, and the restaurant next to Liido Beach serves platters of seafood, al-fresco style. I as well get to visit Jazeera beach and go out to the waters on a boat. There’s an ancient relic, an old abandoned mosque that stands on cave rock jutting out into the water. I manage to purchase a shell at the end of my tour and the friendly seller gives me a tiny shell necklace free of charge.
The next few days involves interviews, I get to talk to Mohamed Sheik-Ali Ahmed who is organizing the first International Book Fair in Mogadishu from the 26th to 28th of August, and then I am asked if I’d love to go to a Somali wedding. It is all fun and pomp at the wedding, I get to enjoy first hand, the culture, the food and the strong oral tradition of the area.
(continue to part three)