Monday, April 30, 2012

Time Somalis recognised and appreciated AMISOM's work in Somalia.

An exchange on twitter regarding AMISOM's presence in Mogadishu rubbed me the wrong way and I am amazed at the animosity towards these soldiers serving the interest of Somalia and Somalis at such a high price. They put their lives at risk and fight wars most Somalis, especially those in the Diaspora, are not willing to fight. They have massively contributed to the growing peace and stability in Mogadishu and most of them serve for a stretch of 6 months before they can go back to their families and take a break. You tell me how many Somalis in their comfortable Western countries will sacrifice their comforts to fight Al-Shabaab in a country where the AMISOM are not only outnumbered but where they can't even tell the difference between a civilian and a combatant, fighting ghostly figures hiding in the population.

Yes most of the soldiers are motivated by money and they get paid well for their sacrifices but they could have chosen to go to Iraq or Afghanistan or another messed up country in need of peacekeepers, there is no particular reason those individuals chose Somalia. 

I think these soldiers are doing a great job and my recent trip to Mogadishu has left me really impressed with what they have achieved, working with the TFG. Mogadishu was a no-go city for many years and last time I was there 6 years ago, I couldn't have walked freely in the city without armed guards but this time, I was walking around Waaberi, Wadajir and Xamar Weyne with no security at all! If it was not for AMISOM's presence in Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab would have seriously threatened TFG's weak and disorganised army. Mogadishu is slowly coming back to life and everywhere you drive you will find construction and buildings being rehabilitated, it is incredible that the outside world isn't witnessing this almost miraculous transformation, for a city written off as hopeless. 

Somalis need to recognise and support the efforts of the AMISOM and the great work they are doing in bringing back peace and stability to Mogadishu. These soldiers are cleaning up the mess we have created at a great risk to their lives and they live harsh and isolated lives in their Mogadishu baraks. Like a lot of other Somalis, I also would hate to do this job but am grateful to them for their work and for the countries who have and are still sending young men to help Somalia bring this endless war to a stop, which has has claimed so many lives and created so much misery.

Scratch break

Forget 'smoke break', in Mogadish you will need a serious 'scratch break' every 20 minutes. At least that is what I needed at that hotel with no AC in the lounge area. I would keep the AC in my room running at 16 degrees so when I can't take it anymore, I can run to my room, take off that horrid cover (personal prison), and scratch myself till my skin is burning! I don't remember Mogadishu being this hot and humid, but my memory isn't reliable. 

I found the humidity a bigger threat to my security and a potential spoiler of my plans to make Nairobi-Mogadishu a base one day. Luckily, am told it only gets this hot + humid in March and April, phew! Otherwise, I would have had to buy myself either a special body scratcher or an AC I could wear. 

Maybe Al-Shabaab had a point when they banned the bra, imagine the guy who took the time to think thru this one. I hate bras in general but when it is hot and humid, it is inhumane to make women wear bras and that Godforsaken nylon slip. And to think most of the day traders in the markets under that heat are bra-wearing human beings with nylon slips! I am surprised they are sane and look after husbands and children, respect.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Longest flight from Mogadishu to Nairobi

I reluctantly left Mogadishu this morning after a short week's visit. On the other hand, I was really glad to take a breather from the relentless heat and humidity, I have never sweated that much.

I got to the airport with just the driver, at 8am, and found myself in a bizarre fight with one of the ladies at the AMISOM security check point. I walked into the room and found 3 ladies busy with other passengers so I waited till the Ugandan officer was free, the other 2 were Somali. I found them all to be rude and have an attitude issue but kept my mouth shut. Then the Ugandan lady only searched one of my bags and walked out! I stood there to see what would happen and then one of the Somali ladies, while busy sending an SMS, made a weird remark: "She is too proud to be searched by a Somali so let her wait for the Ugandan lady to come back", referring to me! I was like, WTF woman, it is too early in the morning to pick a fight so let's just get on with it. I told her I had no reason to be too proud and if she doesn't mind to plz search by bags as I am already late for my flight. She gets more aggressive and gets up to give me an aggressive lecture about the bad attitude 'Somali Diasporas' have when they 'show up' in Mogadishu...Err! I then lose my cool and tell her to go get laid so she will be a nicer person. That didn't help, she just got madder so I had to walk out and speak to her supervisor, a calm Ugandan soldier. He must have found the whole thing too weird, having to mediate between 2 Somali women shouting at each other in Somali, not a graceful sight. 

I finally get the eff out of that place and in to the literally melting airport. Visa's are charged at 50USD and exit tax at a hefty 40USD and yet the small immigration hall doesn't have AC and the 2 toilets are filthy you would easily hold it till you get to Nairobi! Where is the money going? The airport is constantly busy with at least 2 flights 3 times a week, how come the place looks like an IDP camp?

We leave for Nairobi almost at 11, don't count on public information or an apology if your flight is late, you just have to sit there and marinate in your sweat. Flight to Wajir (the mandatory stop for any flight leaving Somalia/land for security reasons) took a short 45 minutes. We get ushered like cows into the immigration office with strict security checks, all the bags are loaded off the plane to be screened as Mogadishu still does not have screening machines. I find an elderly Somali man who has never traveled outside Somalia and doesn't speak English. He seemed weak and limped, when I asked what is wrong with his leg, he showed me a big bandage covering most of his leg to stop the stuff coming out of his swelled skin. He was going to Nairobi for treatment and his son was waiting for him there. I filled the visa form for him and translated when needed, he was so calm and patient and a gentle soul. I decided to hangout with him, maybe he can rub a bit of his gentleness on my badly wired mood this morning. 

45 minutes later we board the plane and head for Nairobi. You would think 2 screenings in Nairobi and 1 in Wajir would be enough, no. We are made to go thorough security check all over again in Nairobi. This time they have to meticulously check each name and passport photo against list of passengers given by the airline. There are 2 immigration officers, a police officer and the captain checking. We landed at exactly 2pm and by the time they were done it was 3:20! The taxi driver outside called few times but I tell him there is nothing I can do and to please wait. We get out of that hell place and I am thinking, finally, we can just walk thorough immigration since we have visas from Wajir. Turns out few people, including the elderly man with leg injury don't have visas and I will have to fill the forms all over again and wait with him till he gets the visa! So, we start the process again and when he gets his visa, it is 4pm. I am growing inpatient by the second but this sick elderly man who has never traveled and relying on strangers to help is super patient and keeps looking up from his airport wheelchair every now and then with a patient and genuine smile! How the hell does he do it? I want to shout insult at the immigration officers for putting us thorough all these stupid screenings as if we are all criminals, fucking hell. But I breath in and out and keep going.

We had another VIP passenger today, the minister of defense and 5 of his entourage, am told. They sat in first class, of course, and they were always the first to board and to alight. They didn't have to deal with any of this mess, they practically walked thorough Nairobi immigration barely checked. How privileged to be zooming in and out of airports with ease and leaving behind elderly and women with children and never complaining to authorities about how flights from Somalia are overly screened. Not even a consideration to allow the sick, elderly and those with young kids to  go thorough first. Instead, the fit and healthy minister with his bulldozers go first.

The elderly man and myself are the last to leave and collect our bags and find his sons outside. Then I realise, in the rush, I had left my ipod and headphones in one of the screening points, shit. I rush back and ask airport security. They are kind enough to send someone and they said it was found but to go to the airline office outside to collect it. I find my taxi driver, who waited for 2 hours exactly! I feel bad for him, it is no one's fault but he could have made money all those hours he sat here. He kindly agreed to come with me to the office and when we followed by 3 of the ladies who were screening our bags. I was casually handed the headphones by a gentleman I recognised also from the screening point. Imagine a grown-arse man handing you headphones without the ipod when it was clear no one else had access to them, the cheeks! I asked what happened to the accompanying ipod. He proceeded to get rude and nasty and asked if I was accusing him of having stolen it! WTF man, I just want my ipod and to get to the guesthouse. At this point, I have no more energy to fight, I pick up my headphones and get into the taxi. Enough drama for one day.

Soon as we drive out of the parking lot and towards the city, I am greeted by giraffes grazing on the side road! How amazing is this? Typical African experience, you will be driven to a point of madness and then calmed by amazing creatures that you instantly forget any problems you have had. How many places in the world do you drive out of the airport to see giraffes on the road side? Apparently, they are part of the Nairobi national park wildlife that come to graze near the airport where it gets green during the rainy season.

It also hits me during the drive to the guesthouse that my period is a week late! Damn, if only I was aware of this, I would have paid more attention to my mood and reaction to things. PMS feels like this fish looks, goddamnit.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mogadishu Madness - Part 2

The hotel is basic but clean and with friendly staff. As we have only a week in Mogadishu, no time to waste and Sunday is like a Monday here, offices are open. We shower, have a quick bite and head to the office. It is literally 2 houses away from the hotel but because of security regulations, we have to be escorted by the same guys with guns who brought us from the airport. I don’t even try to fight this, am just happy to be in Mogadishu and gonna go along with madness. We drive for like 30 seconds and get to the office. Staff are helpful and make the time to learn details of what I am here for and offer to help by arranging visits to beneficiaries and calling the local authorities in advance. Am really grateful coz these guys can make all the difference to my trip and if they are helpful then my mission will be accomplished. 

We spend couple of hours going thru the details of the next 4 days’ visits and we choose 2 groups of beneficiaries to visit: people receiving cash relief as a result of the recent droughts and small business grants given to beneficiaries trading in local markets. We choose 3 districts: Wadajir, Xamar Weyne and Waaberi. I am particularly excited to visit Waaberi because I partly grew up there and hoped to have a chance to steal a visit to my grandfather’s house, where we lived.

There is no movement at all in Mogadishu after sunset and so the office closes at 3:30 to give staff time to get home before sunset. That gave us time to rest and prepare for a busy week. I had no idea that it was a hot and humid season, it was unbearable to wear the hijab in this heat and the only ACs are in our rooms and offices. The hotel reception and lounge area, the only place with internet access, has no AC! So you choose to sweat with your internet at the lounge or be comfortable in your room with no access to internet, nice. I would worry about that 2moro, today, am just too tired and going to bed early.

Next day we go to the office at 7:30 to learn the city is at a standstill and colleagues on the other side of town can’t come to the office. Apparently, the army is celebrating, who knows what, and they road-blocked most of the city to avoid Al-Shabaab infiltration. This means no beneficiary visits, welcome to Mogadishu, where plans change by the second. I spend the day at the office to learn more about the beneficiaries and projects I will be working with. It is also an opportunity to spend more time and get to know the staff in Mogadishu office. Am amazed by how competent, knowledgeable and helpful they are. Anything I ask, I get detailed and very helpful answer, they seem on top of their work.

Day 3 in Mogadishu, no drama and no army celebrations so we are clear to go and I am accompanied by 2 staff one male and the other female, one with the Cash Relief project and the other with the Small Biz Grants project. We start with dress code to ensure I don’t stand out by wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes. My female colleague is kind enough to bring me an acceptable and popular wear called ‘jilbaab’, only problem was, it was blood red and I felt like a walking target for Al-Shabaab, lol. She assures me I will ‘fit’ right in and no one will realize I am a ‘Diaspora’ Somali who probably have left her culture and religion behind! Cool, I am not sweating the little details and anything to get me to ‘blend in’ I will do. I dress in red and we start our visits with beneficiaries in Buulo Xuubey market in Wadajir district. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mogadishu Madness

Mogadishu drama started at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I showed up at 6am for my 8am flight. At the entrance to the check-in, I am greeted by 5 Somalis, 3 women and 2 guys, with the luggage of 10 people. Chaotic, loud and all over the place. I decided to leave them to their business and rushed to the check-in to avoid the madness. It said on my check-in card to report at gate 3. It turns out, gate 3 is at a place not fit for humans. A room at the end of the airport and in what looks like a basement, where unwanted ppl are shoved.

The room has groups to 3 destinations: Mogadishu, Libreville, and Kinshasa, all the loud and trouble-makers of Africa, lol. We wait and wait in a hot and stuffy room. The 2 other groups are called and the rest of us, mostly Somalis, wait with no information of why our flight is delayed. Every time Mogadishu is mentioned, even tho it is an announcement for the private flights like UN and EU, most of the ppl in the room rush to the gate and are stopped by one of the unhelpful gatekeepers and told to ‘please sit and wait some more’. Around 9pm, we finally get called and my colleague, who is based in Mogadishu and does this trip often, warns me to stand close to her as it gets ‘real chaotic’. It took me few moments to understand what she meant. Bus 540 parked outside and even tho they have announced they will send a second bus if this one filled up, the men just rushed into the bus like it was the last one standing! I and my colleague were at the front of the line so we managed to get in and it was fascinating to watch how the men behaved. We were about 10 women and more than 80 men. Out of the 10, half of them had children, some babies. The men did not seem to care and rushed passed them to help themselves into the seats, I was shocked! So I asked the flight attendants why they don’t first let women and children get in. She says, “Sorry we expect the men to give up seats for the ladies with young children”,  right. One young man stands up and asks the others to kindly give up their seats for the women with children. Few reluctantly get up and the women take the seats, some of them get the children to sit on the floor of the bus. It is amazing how insensitive and selfish this whole thing is and am thinking, people are acting like this for a seat on a bus that will take 2 minutes to the plane, how would they act if there was a serious crisis?! It gave me a taste of what might be ahead in Mogadishu and I didn’t like it a bit.

We board the flight and take off shortly. Interestingly, during the flight, the women are loud and vocal, talking like they are in a meat market, shouting from the back to speak to someone at the front, lol. So the men are aggressive in action and the women in words, interesting.

We arrive in Mogadishu an hour and 19 minutes later. Last time I took this trip in December 2004, there was no airport, just tarmac and men with guns. To my pleasant surprise, there was a proper airport this time, with clean and proper tarmac and an immigration control. We had to wait for few minutes for some VIP politician to get off first and meet the official welcoming committee, who strangely were allowed inside the airport and were in a file outside with flowers! OK, at least no guns so am not complaining. Few minutes later, we get off and are escorted into the immigration room. I notice a lot of AU army presence, including women dressed in military uniforms and with no headscarf. Mogadishu is sunny, hot and humid, a contrast to the weather we left behind in Nairobi. The immigration room is packed with 3 disorganised lines, there seem to be no different lines for nationals and foreigners. So we join a random line and much later notice, there was a separate women’s line! Good thing we didn’t see it sooner. We fill arrival form with the Somali flag, I am mildly impressed that there is a proper airport, immigration room and now a form, nice! Lol. 

There are aggressive guys who come upto you, they can sniff a fresh fish from miles, and ask if you need help with filling the form?! Visa is one thing, now you get help to fill a form by someone who looks like he needs to go back to primary school, how did they master the art of filling an immigration form? Amazing miracle. We tell them, no thanks and try to stay calm in the sweaty hot and unbearably loud room. We get to the front of the queue and the guy smiles and takes my passport and 50USD visa fee. This is the friendliest welcome I get at any airport! Few minutes later he gives me back my passport and a receipt and says since you are Somali, I won’t stamp your passport! What, you mean I get a say in whether I get a stamp on my passport or not, damn, I feel proud to be Somali, lol. Seriously tho, this means a lot right now, coz that is the last free page on my passport and if he doesn’t put a visa on it, it means I can come back without having to reply for a passport for least 3 more times! Finally, something good comes out of being a Somali, lol. He also tells me I can get a Somali passport in few hours! Damn, I should have come here much sooner.

We get out and the nice work driver is waiting outside. He picks up and drives like 5 minutes to the hotel, with a car full of heavily armed militias following us. I can’t stand these guys and avoid eye contact with them. Luckily for me, that is the last time I see them until I am leaving Mogadishu.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Is Allah really gonna solve the Somalia problem?

In an answer to the common and passive Somali response to any tragic event in Somalia: " "Ilaahay ayaa Soomaaliya u maqan", which translates roughly into "Allah will find a solution for Somalia." Here is what Idilay had to say: "Allah got his plate full with Syria and the US elections…Somalia is not on this year's agenda. Try next year...There's an opening between Palestine and 'I don't give a fuck about Africa." LMAO

Dear reader, if you are a Muslim and offended by this, I understand and thank you for your tolerance to visit this blog and read the rant. However, no point in going ahead and quoting me a chapter from the Quran. Coz it won’t make a difference, so don’t waste your time. Just trying to make sense of this madness.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On the hunt for a missing exit stamp at Jomo Kenyatta Airport

Half a day spent with the nice ppl at Nyayo House searching for my multiple visa application, which seemed to have gone walkabout...Go to room 15, no room 19, no room 27 on the lower floor, no room 32.

2 hours and 4 rooms later, I get a letter with “sorry your application has been rejected”! Because, wait for this one, our system doesn't show evidence of your exit! If only I was invisible for real. But wait, don't you have copies of my last 7 entry visas and exit stamps? Yes we do but there is no evidence on our computer system. And why is that when I am always made to go thru security and my passport is scanned? Well mam, sorry but there is just no evidence of your exit and there is nothing I can do. Your only option is to reapply on your next trip. Can you at least give me back my application which has like 20 documents. Sorry mam, we can't do that, you need to get all those documents again.

And then room 15 smiles and says: I tell you what, now that I have met you in person, I can fix that problem. Yeah, how? Resuscitate the dead computer with my scanned exits? No, just bring a completed new application form with the supporting documents and I will “fast track” the application for you so you will get the visa before your Sunday trip! Er, thanks a million, but this sounds just a bit off. Because you have met me in person you are no longer concerned I turn into an invisible alien when exiting the glorified kiosk that is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport? Well, thanks mam.

I am traveling on Sunday and can’t wait to sneak past the heavily guarded 4 immigration booths with cameras, digital finger-print machines, computers and immigration officers with life-or-death expressions permanently fixed on their faces.