I confess readily I am not a story teller. I struggled with essays and those who receive my emails can attest to their brevity. So with this confession behind us, I can tell you about my visit to Somalia. I will share photos in a different post since I am doing this from the phone.
I had been told to be at the airport by 5:00am, with time enough for check in. Most times I have travelled out of the country, the airlines are usually quite organised. You are screened, you check in, pass through immigration, screened a second time and you know when your flight is expected to leave. This is when you are dealing with normal airlines. African Express is not a normal airline.
I was at the airport at 5. In about 5 minutes I had finished with the first security check point. Under normal circumstances you would be checking in or there would be information as to what time check in counters open. No such thing. Between chatting with those who were awake that early and reading War and Peace, I saw time fly away. It was 7 am. The queue kept growing but no movement towards the counters. 8am comes and goes then at 9 there is activity. And what happens next felt like the third scramble for Africa, that is, who starts what conflict where and who benefits from selling what. At some point I check in, then we are told to wait, the plane is full and we will be told when to go through immigration. Another hour goes by as we wait.
When we eventually board, seat numbers are irrelevant. Everyone seats anywhere. I get to seat at the emergency exit. And then drama begins. First there is this man and his family. I think they were 7 of them. There are five seats in a row. He wanted to seat the whole family in a row and it took the flight attendant some time to convince him we wouldn’t leave as long as they sat as he wanted. He finally gives in.
Next drama. A man who doesn’t want to be separated with his briefcase sits on one of the seats along the emergency exit and puts his briefcase under the seat. It takes some convincing to get him to move it. Then two women dressed in a
tent burqa and hijab seat where the dude left. They two are asked to move and after a brief exchange, they move too. Shortly a dude and his wife dressed in a tent sit there and it is the same drama. Eventually all is settled and we taxi and depart for Somalia.
Our pick up had been arranged. So we paid for visa, went through immigration and all is good. Our drive to the hotel is under armed guard. The following morning, that’s on a Monday, we leave for Baidoa. And then we meet with airport security. You see , the previous week, a plane almost blew up just after leaving Mogadishu. Things must change. Getting into the airport with a laptop has just suddenly become hectic. The number of searches you go through by not so nice people are enough to make you cancel your travel plans.
We deal with all this and this time the flight is on time. We actually leave ahead of schedule. In Baidoa, we were visitors of the state. We get picked up from the airport in a police car. We will be staying at the presidential palace for five days. It’s under Amisom Ethiopia. Our stay in Baidoa was pleasant in all ways. The town is being rebuilt. Though everywhere there are ruins.
One of the people we interact with tells us of how life was the days before the beginning of the civil war. At this point I ask myself what causes men and women to take up arms butchering one another in the name of spreading whatever ideology is in vogue? Is war the easiest way to make money? I digress.
On Saturday, we were scheduled to leave Baidoa at 11 for Mogadishu. We went to the airport, were screened by Amisom. We waited till 12:30pm. We were driven back to the presidential palace for lunch. There was a report the plane would come at 2 or thereabouts. At two, having fed, we are again taken to the airport. We wait till 3:30 when the plane eventually arrives. At this point, there is a dilemma. Some dude has been brought to the airport in an ambulance and should be taken to Mogadishu. How is he to travel. When this problem was finally resolved, he was put on the aisle in a mattress and we left for Mogadishu. Life can be shitty.
At Mogadishu, you would think because we have arrived in a domestic flight, all would be easy. You would be surely mistaken to hold such a thought. There is an immigration desk and the officer before he can release my passport wants to know who is going to be responsible for me should anything happen. This anything however isn’t defined. I contact the hotel and someone comes with a letter and again it is travel under armed escort.
I asked to see the night life of Mogadishu and so we drive around the town for an hour between 9 and 10. And then it appears to me they are not doing a good job advertising Somalia as a safe destination. Life goes on as everywhere else. There is order. I get to see the residences of who is who in government.
And finally, on Sunday, yesterday, it was time to return to Nairobi. Security checks were a pain. The flight delayed for hours but I finally got back.
That, my friends, in a nutshell, was how my sick off was spent.