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.