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My Journey to a Refugee Camp

By Abdi-Noor Mohamed
Friday, January 04, 2008

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Sometime in the second quarter of the year 2007 I received a letter from a Human Rights organization in
Sweden inviting me to attend a two-day conference in Stockholm from 19 to 20 November 2007. The conference was the largest of its kind ever held in the Nordic countries with over 2000 individuals and civil society organizations registered as participants.   Being selected as a keynote speaker of the conference I was expected to come up with a speech on the situation of Somalia with major focus on How to Attain Peace in Somalia. Speech shall be available in the internet in the first week of the new year. 


I left Mogadishu when the Ethiopian bombings in the city was at its peak forcing thousands of people, mainly women and children to flee their homes with the aim of getting safety elsewhere within the country until such time situation resumed normal (Sounds much like a deplorable wish). As transport and communication services were still working at the time, I planned to go to Hargeisa, the capital city of the breakaway Republic of Somali-Land, starting with Galkayo by plane and then covering the rest of the trip with land transport. Air travel is a hectic job for travellers leaving Mogadishu for other destinations within the country. Delays and flight cancellations are the rule rather than the exception. Though I have made all my travel arrangements perfectly well, I knew from experience that it was not possible to rely on the reservations made for you by the airline agents in Mogadishu as some unbooked travellers might show up at the airport and find their way to the plane, filling the seats intended for ticket holders. Therefore I was ready at the airport ahead of the flight time and have availed myself an opportunity to quickly assess the airport activities, taking into account the present situation while comparing it with the time the Islamic courts were in charge. The difference, I  noted, was one of great security concern: In the past Islamic Court days people were travelling on their own volition to visit their loved ones or undertake business activities in abroad whilst in the present Ethiopian/TFG days, which I believe are numbered, people are leaving the country mainly for security reasons. Finally the small Cesna plane landed and, while it was in its taxing maneuvers, everybody at the tranasit lounge scampered towards aircraft. There were some Ugandan troops at the airport who did not give much attention to the way we were behaving though a disgruntled Ethiopian soldier would have shot us all in the pretext of "keeping situation under control".  


One hour and fourty five minutes later we arrived Galka'yo, a Somali town in the heart of Mudug region which is famous for its inhospitable environmental conditions but largely reputable for producing hard and relatively intelligent people. Soon as I disembarked from the plane, which was loaded with people and goods beyond its capacity, I immediately noticed the crimson sand and the wafting winds gusting through the spiny leaves of the acacia trees. The sky did not have clouds and the sun has had an ample chance to shine as freely as it wished in utter disregard to our discomfort with its sweltering heat.

When I entered the town,   I saw sneering faces and sticking cheeks stuffed with QAT, a mild narcotic shrub often chewed by the Somalis to enjoy for a while but later on get downtrodden with feelings of emptiness resulting from the mood alterations generated by the stimulant. Depression would descend on them unexpectedly, and in  a much quicker way, like a chilly winter night falling on a refugee camp in Europe.

During my 18-hour stay in the town I learned that the the Ethiopian invasion of Mogadishu dominated much of the talk. News from Mogadishu was coming through different outlets but people liked the informal sources of information which touched areas not covered by the ordinary media institution such as the BBC and local broadcasting stations

I have once noticed a number of people stopping by at where I was having a conversation with a friend in Galka'yo. Three joined us before a minute passed and I saw two more approaching us from a corner who were craving for a piece of news about the war in Mogadishu. Suddenly the number grew to the size of a crowd and I did not know how to get out of the situation until I came up with a brilliant idea of changing the thread of the discussion. Only then did I get a chance to breathe! I had spent the night at a hotel in the town centre and proceeded to Bosasso the next day with a TAXI shared by eight people.

On both sides of the ever-stretching potholed road, I saw herds of camel with urine-stained hind legs and humps bent under the weight of their huge fat reserves. They were being taken care of by a nomad who walked with the majesty of a ruling king, brave and proud on his own way. As we drove along the hilly turns of the road overlooking the grey valley and plains, we enjoyed the serenity of the expanding horizon while the wind entertained us with sharp whistles.

Down the basin we saw goats shining from a distance like the corrugated roofs of Waxaro Cadde in Heliwaa, Mogadishu. The birds glided beautifully as they winged and soared splendid heights of pleasure. The intermittent breaks we were making for lunch and tea gave us some energy and strength to deal with the cruel bite of anxiety that had been building up due to the long hours of crabby drive.  The one-day trip, which saw us cross checkpoints manned by voluble boys, ended up in Bosasso, the old beautiful town of Punt-land.


In Bosasso I saw brisk markets and a powerful trade with precious items displayed in the stalls, shops and stores which were excessively expensive compared to the other towns I had covered in my travel. Smooth pebbles, which often struk you in the eye with reflections of a powerful glimmer, were astonishingly littered in the unkempt roads and lanes.

In Bosasso the heat is so awful that one would get drenched with sweat if he or she did not disengage from work too early during the day. With high unemployment rate in the town, loitering is used as a tactical way to beat stress or feel busy as if you are hunting for a job. But such complacency never survives long as the sun would come out with its relentless beam to sweep people away from the streets.

The flourishing religious sentiment and the thriving trade controlled by religious groups would give one the impression that the Punt land administration only stands for a symbolic representation rather than a real force that can offer a dynamic leadership and political direction to its people. There were mounting speculation and feelings of uneasines about increasing food prices and dwindling hopes of introducing corrective economic measures to curb the mess. At the back of the mind of most Puntlanders, with the exception of few, there was a mark of concealed pain and deep concern over the way Abdullahi Yusuf was handling the situation of Mogadishu.

The most remarkable view of the town was the sea and its smart breeze birthed from not-so-aggressive waves that gently soothed the soul. At dusk, when the sun fades in gold-stripped horizon, you see boats peacefully taking time on the warm read sea waters like green leaves taking nap on a hushed pond. However, my admiration of the sea did not last long as these unsafe waters have unleashed a stream of unpleasant memoirs in my mind. They have activated the thoughts of the painful sea tragedy that saw thousands of Somalis perish in the sea. May Allah rest their soul in peace and May peace dawn to Somalia! Leaving Bosaso after four days of seeing the town and meeting displaced people from Mogadishu, I took the wheels once again bound to Hargeisa in accordance with my travel plan.


Hargeisa, where Ethiopian invasion in Mogadishu has been largely muted, welcomed me with a nice and cool weather, except for one day, when I met with a man who terrorized me with a big shout when our eyes had met. "Stop... Stop... jooooooogso" he said loudly sending waves of shock in the noisy air of Hargeisa. "Are you not Abdi-Noor, the man I have killed in Mogadishu?". Ahmed Ali Jama was a long time friend of mine who has been a senior official in the Somali National Movement (SNM) and took part in the struggle against the military regime of Siad Barre during the eighties.

Mr. Jama has had high hopes of becoming a minister or getting a most coveted protifolio from the Somali-land government but unfortuantely found none.  One night while high with his daily narcotic leaves of QAT Jama went to bed too late and as his head touched the pillow he started dreaming. He had found himself in the vicinity of Alkheyria Gardens where the skeleton of a rundown fighter warplane had been hoisted to keep the pain of Hargeisa bombings alive.

Jama jumped onto the plane and tried out to fly it. Much to his amazement the plane took off. Jama now flying a MIG plane fully loaded with most devastating weapons went straight to Mogadishu to do the same as what he believed the Southerners had done to them. " I did not waste time to drop few bombs in Galkayö or Garowe because of the urgency of my mission" said Jama while feeling amused with finding me in Hargeisa as displaced person. "When I entered Mogadishu air space" Jama continued, "I have identified my target locations as those formerly occupied by the Siad Barre Military pilots" 

The bombing has begun and Jama gave no distinction between the civilians dying along with his enemies but kept his promise of taking a sweet revenge against the Southerners. The 15 minute long bombardment job of Jama has come to an end when the noise of his aircraft woke him up from the sleep. "Are you not the Abdi-Noor I had killed in Mogadishu?" repeated my friend before he hugged me so hugely with his tiny chest. I asked him how he had killed me and Jama told me that I was at the scene when when he opened fire on his target areas. "You have received a sharpnel in your chest" Jama explained, saying " I´m sorry to say but you have instantly died from excessive bleeding"  We both laughed and exchanged more hugs as he continued speaking of the details of his bombing raid, "I have tried to save you Abdi,  but unfortunately I could not do that because you sought shelter in the house of a main target. Though I knew you were inside, I had to blow everything up" concluded Jama as he sent his two hands up in the air saying "Alxamdulilaha, it was just a dream and we are together agin as friends and brothers who never had a dispute over anything, starting life afresh with a clean slate". 

From Hargeisa, I went to Djibouti and then proceeded to Addis where I caught KLM plane to Sweden.

How the people in Sweden see what is happening in Somalia shall be the next issue coming up in my next posting.

Abdi-Noor Mohamed
Writer and film maker
Götenborg, Sweden
[email protected]

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