Stomping Grounds: Mogadishu

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So there we were, feeding fatty chunks of camel meat to a three-legged cat.  “You are journalists?” came the question.  No.  Or maybe yes.  The concept is muddy.  But no, we call ourselves tourists.  Foreigners are enough of a rarity here in Mogadishu that celebrity chef Ahmed Jama brought his son to meet us at his restaurant The Village.  Jama was the subject of an episode of Channel 4’s paradoxically titled “Unreported World” series back in 2012.  Neither of us are really talkers (evidence that we aren’t journalists), so we just let him tell us his story of leaving London to open business in a place with fewer competitors.  It was a surprise to us that this city with no immediately visible middle class could support a restaurant that serves $10 entrees.  It was a surprise to our guide that camel meat wasn’t eaten in our country.  There are many things to learn about camel meat.

After lunch I asked about seeing some live music.  It was half joke.  I asked the same of our guide in Tehran and she laughed at me like I was the second coming of Carrot Top.  Mogadishu is also Muslim and similarly devoid of nightlife.  Our driver Omar responded to the request enthusiastically.  He’s a musician himself and quickly got in touch with some colleagues who had a gig at a wedding nearby.  The band welcomed us into their room and played some Somali love songs on oud and a Yamaha electronic keyboard.  Somalis like Somali music, we’re told.  They don’t just listen to Pitbull like a normal country. (In fact, if you want a taste of what it’s like to drive the streets of Mogadishu, find the few seconds in Black Hawk Down where no one is shooting and watch it on mute while listening to Boqorka Rapka’s ode to Mo Farah. –ed.)

We couldn’t stay for the wedding.  Our security team liked to have us tucked in by darkfall.  Al-Shabaab and whatnot.  There was a car bomb attack on our last day in Mogadishu.  We didn’t see anything.  Ten people died.  Some outlets say as many as thirty.  Reporting isn’t very solid around here.  Maybe we should be journalists.  Must get a better laptop and a hatband large enough to hold a press pass.

Most historic buildings are inhabited by squatters and we have to ask permission to visit.  Sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t.  They tell us that the government wants to restore these places to working order but they can’t just displace people.  I find this notion of a government staying expropriation dubious.  Generally these people allow us into their homes–bombed out Italian ruins filled with goat bones, sandals, and water bottles.  It puts one in mind of Abe Simpson being raised in the Statue of Liberty’s head.

The star of the architectural show is Mogadishu Cathedral.  Here Bishop Salvatore Colombo was martyred in 1989.  The roof is gone.  The walls and altar are holding up fairly well.  The armed soldiers escorting us take a break from looking intimidating to come inside and marvel with us.  The Crusades are still happening.

It must be tough for these guys to show off their city when it hasn’t exactly been putting its best foot forward over the last 25 years.

Democracy is a recurring subject of conversation.  We just had an election.  They’re about to.  We ask our guide Nur if he’s excited about voting for his chosen candidate.  He reminds us that he’s not voting.  Despite the preponderance of campaign banners hung about the city, it’s the unelected parliament of elders who are choosing a leader.  Still, he’s hopeful that the citizenry might get to vote in 2020.  And he hopes that in a few years we’ll be able to walk the streets without armed guards.  We can sympathize:  we elected a guy with dumb hair.

 

 

 

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