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.
As the last road barricade disappeared behind them, there
was an eerie silence inside the Land Cruiser and the boys
on the hood of the vehicle ended their Somali love songs.
To break the silence Keynaan said: "I see you speak Italian."
driver opened up for the first time and said: "Yes. I was
clerk in the Italian Trusteeship Administration (AFIS) until
independence in 1960. After that I had opened my own public
letter writing office."
am tempted to ask you why you are still with these bunch of
is not bad if you consider the alternatives."
"I have been observing that you have a strong stomach for
anarchy and bloodshed."
"Under the circumstance, this is the only place I feel at
home. It is kill or be killed by a teenager with a gun.
There was a strained, uncomfortable pause.
you ever considered getting out?"
The driver reverted into obscenities, and of course in his
colonial Italian. The words came out like bullets.
getting out of Somalia because of a bunch of cut throat generals
and crooks masquerading as politicians? NEVER! This is my
country and I am going to stay put till doomsday," he shouted
over his lungs. He said that the country is under house arrest
with guns looming over the peoples' heads.
is always taking a pot shot at you for no apparent reason
other than belonging to the wrong tribe and being at the wrong
place at the wrong time," he said with bitterness, pointing
at the fresh bullet hole on the windscreen. He had all the
appearance of a mourner walking toward the grave.
"We are living from hand to mouth with the hand not reaching
the mouth half the time," he said angrily.
watched the barrels of the machineguns behind him bounce against
the roof of the vehicle. A pothole could set them off. But
the boys are oblivious of this danger.
are we doing now?" Keynaan asked, anxious to change the subject.
have at least half an hour head start on the Qat drivers."
little more than three hours of rough driving they arrived
at the desolate airstrip with its sun-scorched moonscape,
interlaced with dwarf cactus trees and occasional shrubs.
The driver had miscalculated his timing because several Land
Cruisers and Willy's World War Two jeeps mounted with the
deadly 106mm field guns were already lined up along the perimeter
of the airstrip. Keynaan was uncomfortable, but the driver
explained they were waiting for cargoes of Qat and cigarettes
from neighbouring Kenya. Others waited to be hired by an Italian
TV crew as drivers and guards.
did you know an Italian TV crew was coming?"
spy in Nairobi told me by radio."
Did his spy also inform him that it was sabotage by rival
Qat and cigarette merchants to delay the flight of a Cessna
with a cargo of Qat and cigarettes? Keynaan did not ask him.
twin-engine Tupolev arrived at exactly 6.35 a.m. when the
morning sun brought with it the heat and humidity of the day.
The weary plane, which stood on the dirt runway looked lonely
and forlorn, and very far away from Mother Russia. Keynaan
was puzzled because, according to Broken Tooth, he was expecting
a Cessna. But the driver explained that the Cessna was delayed
in Nairobi's Wilson Airport because of engine trouble. He
said that the Tupolev was more reliable than the Cessna, omitting
to mention a sabotage by rival merchants at Nairobi's Wilson
Russian crew immediately began disgorging the cargoes and
an Italian TV team of six from RAI, the Italian State Television.
With their heavy equipment, they seemed to be tense and ill
at ease. Apparently they were not prepared for the unusual
spectacle confronting them in this remote airstrip.
the whole area turned into a hive of activity and the children
are content to mingle with the noisy crowd. Even Marian had
shaded her anxiety. It seemed to Keynaan that there was a
competition to see who could make the most noise. The cacophony
was immense. It sounded as if all the furies in the world
have been unleashed at once.
It took Keynaan a minute to distinguish the separate elements
in the storm of sounds. The yells of the Italian TV crew as
they shouldered their heavy equipment through the unruly crowd;
the high pitch of small boys selling cigarettes, the shrieks
of women selling cups of hot tea, the insistent babble of
the "Technical" drivers arguing over a price, the squall of
a frightened baby and the profanities of the Qat importers.
spied the leader of the Italian TV crew as he negotiated with
one of the gunmen/drivers. He is the only person at the airstrip
who was wearing a coat, leather-patched at the elbows, and
silk tie, and a cold cigar in a corner of his foamy mouth.
He looked like Al Capone. All he needed was the gray fedora
and a machinegun. No doubt he is having trouble adjusting
to the heat and the excessive noise.
Utterly dispirited, other members of the Italian team debated
whether to call it a day and return to Italy, empty-handed
or hold out until their boss completes a deal with the vicious-looking
"I said American dollars!" the driver-cum-gunman said slowly,
showing Qat-stained front teeth.
nothing wrong with Italian liras. They've been accepted in
Kenya and elsewhere, and so will you," Al Capone whispered.
A number of gunmen are cocking their assault rifles and glancing
uncertainly from the driver to Al Capone.
a good man and accept the Italian liras," Al Capone put in
heavily accented English.
driver (in frantic Somali): "NO ITALIAN LIRAS! We have put
up with enough counterfeit Italian liras. I draw the line
here. NO MORE ITALIAN LIRAS," he shouted. He recalled with
bitterness the Italian movie director who paid him counterfeit
Italian bills that were so bad you couldn't have used them
as play money or in a game of Monopoly.
"Enough is enough. NO MORE ITALIAN LIRAS," he roared, spitting
on the dusty ground between Al Capone's Gucci shoes.
He observed their driver trying to outbid the younger driver
with his colonial Italian. But Al Capone ignored him.
the center of the hullabaloo was a middle-aged man wearing
a safari suit. He towered over the mass of noisy humanity,
saying nothing. Suddenly he produced from his breast pocket
an electronic device and started to feed it with the crispy
Italian bank notes, and all the gunmen suddenly shut up. It
was remarkable effect that silence.
all looked at the counterfeit detector with fascination. They
were struck dumb as the man clapped his hands and exclaimed
in a jubilant tone: "They are genuine Italian liras!" he said,
showing unusually large gap in his mouth. It was Ganey! (Broken
Tooth), the notorious wheeler-dealer in everything, from money
laundering, drug trafficking, forgery of passports to smuggling
people across the border. Keynaan was surprised to see him
again after their hush, hush deal less than forty-eight hours
ago. The man is every where and is practically on everything.
But now he resembled a bank executive, one exception being
that he wore a HI-Power Browning automatic pistol under his
custom-made safari suit.
he spotted Keynaan over the heads of the crowd.
to the Gateway from Hell," he shouted and immediately returned
to his business.
to the local grapevine, Broken Tooth's makeshift bank is so
secretive that even his own brother, who is a silent partner,
and his hired militia who guard it do not have access to it.
Because he hoards his hard currency and valuables in one of
several identical underground concrete bunkers built by the
Russians during their treaty of friendship and cooperation
with General Barre's regime, and it is extremely hard to pinpoint
which one holds the loot. Even the warlords simply choose
not to under estimate him. They believed his activities would
not directly affect the maintenance of their power base.
Tooth knows how to make a big entrance where hard currency
is concerned," a man standing next to Keynaan commented without
danger posed by Broken Tooth plying his trade is less harmful
than the gunmen who stop motorists to exhort money at a bogus
road barricades or the foreign arms traffickers," Keynaan
said, watching the man for a reaction.
"Nabad Gelyo," (Peace be upon you) he simply said, and turned
away without looking back, and joined the crowd.
Minutes later, Al Capone clutched Broken Tooth's hand. "Grazie,
Signore, molto gentile," (Thank you, Sir, very kind of you).
This brought a burst of clapping and cheers.
the driver/gunman said very hoarsely, almost choking, but
waving his hands gaily: "Its OK, it is a deal."
counterfeiting-detection frenzy gripped all the militia around
the airstrip. And presto! Foreign bank notes started to pop
out of pockets to be tested by the man with the detector,
at a price. It was a lucrative business!
turned away from Broken Tooth and his customers and walked
towards the plane. A member of the Russian crew was encouraging
the Qat and cigarette importers to hurry up in sign language.
Marian and her children positioned themselves near the door
of the aircraft.
The airfield is little more than a strip of level ground,
carefully leveled with rollers, surrounded by rusty barbed
wire and the occasional iron sheets and disused steel containers
full of bullet holes from previous battles. There are no control
towers or hangars. The Mogadishu International Airport was
closed after the Americans and the United Nations pulled out
in a huff.
some cruel stroke of irony a crudely painted slogan on one
of the rusty freight containers opposite the dirt runway boasted
solicitously: "Death is Acceptable, Foreign Oppression is
Not." A member of the Italian TV crew was trying to decipher
the words with the help of Italian/English pocket dictionary.
Evidently the word "Oppression" defeated him. He is wearing
Bavarian leder hose, feathered hat and surplus US Army combat
boots. He looks ready to yodel any time.
Another Russian, probably the pilot, beckoned Keynaan and
told him that the family should board the aircraft as soon
as the last carton of cigarettes was unloaded. He spoke in
Brooklyn accent. The man must have been a KGB operative in
New York during the Cold War, Keynaan thought.
minutes later the Russian returned, smoking foul smelling
wanna you guys to be ready in fifteen minutes," he said in
his fake Brooklyn accent.
Keynaan nodded and raised both thumbs up.
"What did he say?" Marian panicked.
said we must be ready in fifteen minutes. You okay?"
nodded, forcing herself to smile. But the children were beaming,
a kind of collective euphoria.
© By M.M.Afrah 2001 All rights are reserved