ANOTHER COUNTRY BY M.M. Afrah
EXCLUSIVE TO BANADIR.COM
An extract from a new book by M.M. Afrah to be published
in Canada in the winter of 2002.
ESCAPE FROM MOGADISHU 1995
are nightmare. As soon as the hurricane lamp run out of kerosene,
an army of rats and roaches criss-cross the darkened ceiling,
so Keynaan tried to go back to sleep after he was awakened
by the cacophony created by the rats.
he could just make out shadows slipping away in the darkness
and creeping into the different openings in the roof. Straining
his ear, he detected faint sounds of the rats that sounds
like groans. He understood. They were waiting for him to go
back to sleep. He switched on his battery-powered portable
transistor radio and left a votive candle burning to keep
the rodents at bay, but they refused to go away. Then he pulled
the single rickety chair to the window, sat. He folded his
arms on the cracked windowsill, cradling his head, and tried
to sleep, ignoring the hungry rat.
the rat offensive and discomfort Keynaan began to dream. He
saw himself being chased, and as he ran his pursuers kept
gaining on him; they got closer and closer, and he tried to
hide, but they always caught him and led him away in handcuffs
Then he woke up in cold sweat.
breakfast his sister asked him:
still going ahead as planned?"
Now more than ever."
long will you need to close up?"
me forty-eight hours and you'll be packing your bags before
you know it."
Marian said bluntly.
her that when the time comes, they would just leave the house
and everything in it, and go. But now he needed an armoured
vehicle and guards to escort them to the airstrip in the northern
end of the city, some twenty-five kilometers away. Under normal
circumstances there were dozen means and places where they
could reach the airstrip unmolested, but this was not normal
he was introduced to a man who said he drove people to the
airstrip in an armoured vehicle with armed guards - at a price.
does it cost for a family of five?"
hundred dollars, US ONLY." He stressed the last two words,
to make sure that Keynaan got it right.
can we leave?"
between Thursday and Friday." His Banadiri accent gave an
air of sincerity, even poetry to his words.
whose nickname was Ganey (Broken Tooth) explained the plan
more fully. Obviously, he was right. Thursdays and Fridays
are Somalia's weekend when clan members usually lay down their
weapons and sit for Qat sessions. Besides, a light Cessna
aircraft was expected to land at the desolate airstrip to
disgorge cargo of Qat and cigarettes from neighbouring Kenya.
There is a haphazard (or informal) cease-fire during the weekend,
Broken Tooth confided to him.
It's a fair deal. You're on," said Keynaan. The man agreed
to meet him on Wednesday morning behind the mosque to introduce
him to their driver and the guards.
forget to have the money ready. And of course in US Dollars,"
he said, showing unusually large gap in his mouth. No one
remembers his real name or his tribal lineage, an important
credential in war-torn Somalia. But a childhood friend with
fantastic memory of faces confided to Keynaan over cups of
highly spiced Somali tea that the man lost two of his front
teeth in a nightclub brawl and is a former Red Beret officer,
the ousted military dictator's crack bodyguards. His real
name is Dhiblaawe and is currently engaged in all kinds of
shady deals, including drug trafficking, forgery of passports
and birth certificates for people who wanted to get out.
people to the airstrip is his side business," he said.
morning Broken Tooth showed up at a tea stand behind a devastated
police station with an older man who sported hennaed beard
and panhandle moustache. Like most drivers in Somalia, he
was wearing a sun-bleached bucket hat and sunglasses.
is your driver. He will take you to the airstrip. After that
you'll be on your own," said Broken Tooth, pompously.
if the plan fails?"
worry. We've done this before and never failed. The road barricade
minders along the road are our allies. It's a fool-proof."
always a first time,"
telegraph is very effective and reliable."
seemed to inspire confidence, but Keynaan was restless, remembering
the words of his childhood friend. Evidently, he was face-to-face
with a wheeler-dealer who could be a fraud artist for all
a line from the movie Jerry McGuire, he told Keynaan, "Show
me the money." Keynaan good-naturedly gave him the green backs.
Broken Tooth counted the money. He counted it again, turning
both sides of the crispy green backs. Then he suddenly pulled
out an electronic gadget from the breast pocket of his safari
suit and fed the American bank notes into the counterfeit
detector. He smiled, trying to cover the gap in his mouth
with the palm of his free hand. Today every businessman in
Somalia must carry this device, or else…
are genuine Benjamin Franklins," said Keynaan.
they are authentic American dollars."
Benjamin Franklin?" Broken Tooth asked suspiciously.
one of the past presidents of the United States. His picture
is on the hundred dollar bill."
now Broken Tooth didn't care much about pictures on American
bank notes. All that matters to him was their denominations
and their authenticity with the help of his pocket counterfeit
detector. But now he began to take a keen interest in Benjamin
Franklin with his receding hairline, which the Somalis call
Bidaar. Then he pulled several crumbled dollar bills out of
his safari suit and read the names GRANT, JACKSON, LINCOLN,
missing something?" he asked.
GEORGE BUSH, AND BILL CLINTON?" he said without taking his
eyes off the crumbled bills.
the American constitution does not allow the pictures of living
presidents to appear on their currency," said Keynaan. He
himself was not sure about the American constitution regarding
currency and postage stamps.
Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton
would be given that honour after they pass away," Keynaan
thinking for a moment, Broken Tooth asked: "Would they give
the same honour to Richard Nixon with his Watergate scandal?"
know. Perhaps they would."
you are lucky. You came from a world that is still free from
anarchy and mayhem, a world where you don't have to look over
your shoulders. A world where you can take for granted that
the money in your pocket is not counterfeit. A world where
a school boy with an assault rifle does not shoot you, because
he believes that you are carrying few dollars in your pockets,
a world where life is sacrosanct."
have had our ups and downs in the Diaspora." Keynaan recalled
his dilemma in finding an apartment in Toronto, because of
the colour of his skin and his debacle with the immigration
officials and the beefy security guards that routinely harass
the Somali tenants at Dixon Road apartment buildings.
is OK," said Broken Tooth with both thumps up, pocketing the
money at the same time.
Broken Tooth and the driver arrived in a brand new Land Cruiser
mounted with a .50mm Browning Machinegun and a pair of plastic
jerry cans full of diesel. Three young gunmen chewing the
inevitable Qat and smoking cigarettes are sitting on both
sides of the machinegun, laughing. Broken Tooth gave his final
instructions to the driver about the trip to the airstrip.
Then he told Keynaan at a separate meeting, far away from
the ears of the driver and the armed teenagers, that he should
hide all his cash in a secret compartment of his carryall
bag. The driver will drop them at the perimeter of the airstrip.
After that they will be on their own. Good Luck and Nabad-gelyo
iyo nooli kulanta!
to the airstrip and the surrounding areas are very dangerous
with a string of bogus road barricades manned by Keynaan's
own clansmen. And he is wondering whether there is comradeship
between the driver, the teenagers and the militia who man
is hot, dusty and armed to the teeth. It seems like everybody
is killing everybody. From the right, from the left, massacre
after massacre, senseless and grotesque. Bodies riddled with
bullets, limbs left on the roadside, pregnant women gutted,
bodies stripped and decorated with fragmentation grenades.
Between 1993 and 1994 the airstrip in the north was to change
hands dozens of times between the two Mogadishu faction leaders.
But now it is in the hands of the north Mogadishu militia.
Both sides committed a panorama of death and destruction never
seen before. In a tiny hamlet Keynaan watched small boys throwing
rocks pretending they were hand grenades, laughing oblivious
of the carnage around them. Apparently they are used to it.
new driver, unlike Tiffow, speaks only when spoken to and
even then says very little, save the famous words "Insha-Allah."
Or "It was the will of God." He was unperturbed even when
a stray bullet hits the windscreen, missing him by few inches.
Marian and the children panicked, but the driver said it was
the will of God. Keynaan remained stiffly in his seat next
to the driver, staring at the fresh bullet hole on the windscreen,
but said nothing, because there was nothing to be said at
this juncture. He had no idea who is shooting at whom and
why, but the driver as usual, remains mute as if nothing was
happening. There is a power and a tension inside him that
seemed only just under control.
the will of God," he said without looking at Keynaan.
hour later, the driver slowed down the vehicle. A makeshift
road barricade appeared in the horizon. A T55 tank was sitting
in the middle of the narrow track, its gun turret pointed
at their Land Cruiser. The driver stopped when a dozen wild-looking
gunmen poked their heads inside the Land Cruiser and pointed
their guns at the faces of the frightened passengers. But
when they saw the Browning Machinegun and the boys perched
on the hood of the vehicle with their forefingers on the trigger
of the heavy machinegun, they removed the T55 and waved the
was close!" the driver said to no one in particular. The boys
began to sing classical Somali love songs. Their imitation
of Ahmed Moge, Mohamed Suleiman Tubeec and Hassan Adan Samatar
was quite perfect and faultless.
high on Qat!
were speeding past more roadblocks, and the road became bumpy,
but the driver did not reduce his speed, waking up the family
with the jolt of the vehicle. He was relaying on the boys
and the .50mm Browning machinegun, but Keynaan was worried
sick. "I am intrigued, but can't you reduce the speed?" he
told the driver. "Nobody is busted for speeding these days.
Thanks to the civil war and anarchy," he snapped.
about the militia at the road-blocks?"
are the sons of dungheap!" He snapped again, this time in
Italian. He used the Italian word Merde emphatically on several
occasions, a prove that he had lived under the Italian colonial
shook his head slowly in amazement and disgust. He wished
Tiffow was here to give this man a piece of his mind.
than half an hour another road barricade appeared with huge
rocks in the middle of the dusty road. The usual group of
armed militia crowded around the vehicle. A middle-aged man,
holding a pistol in the Hollywood fashion, probably their
leader, ordered the militia to remove the rocks and waved
the driver through without uttering a single word, except
changing a mouthful of the inevitable Qat to the other cheek.
of a she-camel," the driver muttered, again in his colonial
© By M.M.Afrah 2001 All rights are reserved