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FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY BY M.M. Afrah
FROM 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.

PART EIGHT

ESCAPE FROM MOGADISHU 1995

Evenings 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.

Bemused, 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.

Despite 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.

After breakfast his sister asked him:

"You're still going ahead as planned?"

"Oh yes. Now more than ever."

"How long will you need to close up?"

"Give me forty-eight hours and you'll be packing your bags before you know it."

"Granted." Marian said bluntly.

He told 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 times.

That afternoon he was introduced to a man who said he drove people to the airstrip in an armoured vehicle with armed guards - at a price.

"How much does it cost for a family of five?"

"Three hundred dollars, US ONLY." He stressed the last two words, to make sure that Keynaan got it right.

"When can we leave?"

"Any time between Thursday and Friday." His Banadiri accent gave an air of sincerity, even poetry to his words.

The man 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.

"Okay. 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.

"And don't 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.

"Driving people to the airstrip is his side business," he said.

The next 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.

"This is your driver. He will take you to the airstrip. After that you'll be on your own," said Broken Tooth, pompously.

"What if the plan fails?"

"Don't worry. We've done this before and never failed. The road barricade minders along the road are our allies. It's a fool-proof."

"There's always a first time,"

"Our bush telegraph is very effective and reliable."

The man 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 he knows.

Quoting 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…

"They are genuine Benjamin Franklins," said Keynaan.

"Huh?"

"I mean they are authentic American dollars."

"Who is Benjamin Franklin?" Broken Tooth asked suspiciously.

"He was one of the past presidents of the United States. His picture is on the hundred dollar bill."

Until 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, HAMILTON loudly.

"Am I missing something?" he asked.

"W-What?"

"REAGAN, GEORGE BUSH, AND BILL CLINTON?" he said without taking his eyes off the crumbled bills.

"Well, 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.

"Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton would be given that honour after they pass away," Keynaan added.

After thinking for a moment, Broken Tooth asked: "Would they give the same honour to Richard Nixon with his Watergate scandal?"

"I don't know. Perhaps they would."

"My friend, 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."

"We too 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.

"Everything is OK," said Broken Tooth with both thumps up, pocketing the money at the same time.

SPEEDING PAST ROADBLOCKS

Next morning 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!

The road 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 the roadblocks.

The road 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.

Their 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.

"It is the will of God," he said without looking at Keynaan.

Half an 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 driver through.

"That 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.

They were high on Qat!

Soon they 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.

"What about the militia at the road-blocks?"

"They 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 administration.

Keynaan shook his head slowly in amazement and disgust. He wished Tiffow was here to give this man a piece of his mind.

In less 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.

"Son of a she-camel," the driver muttered, again in his colonial Italian.

To be continued.
© By M.M.Afrah 2001 All rights are reserved


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