Images Of Changing Mogadishu
I had come to visit a friend in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. His second-floor apartment was in a building by the Indian Ocean.
It was an idyllic setting: a kaleidoscope of colors. The apartment’s balcony was recently painted pink; the roving eye also took in the earth-brown of the former lighthouse. Further on the horizon was the deep blue ocean and the orange rays of the setting sun.
It was a most impressive view.
I slipped into a reverie, and felt that I was as free and light as the wind.
Just then, my friend, smiling widely and looking pleased with himself, nudged me. He raised his eyebrows quizzically as if to remind me of something I had forgotten. Before I could take in the rush of emotions, he added: “Aren’t you going to take a photo with your iPhone?”
For the better part of the last one year, my iPhone has been my best companion. Using Instagram, the photo-sharing site, I have snapped and stored more photos with my phone than with my professional Canon camera.
I have captured the sunset in the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda; snapped away at centuries-old historical buildings in Somaliland; took photos along the idyllic Red Sea coast of Djibouti, and of graffiti murals in downtown Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
However, there is a special place in my iPhone for the Somali capital Mogadishu. After two decades of war, the city is bouncing back. Mogadishu inspires hope as much as it evokes despair and desolation. One moment you are enjoying the pristine Lido beach; the next you are staring at bullet-ridden, completely destroyed buildings.
Recently, when I got back from my last trip, I came home to find my mother and sister sitting side-by-side and swooning over a photo of me, a selfie I had taken with my iPhone by Lido beach in Mogadishu. The combination of waves undulating in the background through the brown filter of Instagram gave the photo the delightful quality of an other-worldliness.
Hugging me, my mum then said: “Nice picture. Please tell me you used your phone to take it?” By then my love of the iPhone was common knowledge, and of course, the answer to her question was a simple yes!
Nowadays, the picture of young teenagers dribbling football along bullet-ridden buildings is very common in Mogadishu. Football, was banned under the al-Shabaab rule, and was deemed “un-Islamic.” During the World Cup, as K’naan, the Somali-born singer made a hit with his single Wavin’ Flag, two Somalis were killed and ten others arrested barely a day after the games first came to Africa.
An editor friend in Washington DC aptly described this photo as a “Let’s talk gun control” one. The series of guerrilla attacks and explosions that have rocked the capital Mogadishu over the last few years have forced business owners to put up signs like this forbidding guns and knives from their premises. As if mocking the sign, in mid-February, a deadly attack rocked Lido Seafood Restaurant, a popular beachfront eatery in Mogadishu that put up this sign, killing at least two people and wounding many others.
When I later looked at this photo, I laughed at the strange location of the trash bin and how it stood firm amidst the dry leaves strewn all over the ground. The photo was taken in the premises of the Hamar Jajab district center in Mogadishu. When I later posted the picture on my Facebook account, the district’s tech-savvy commissioner wrote back saying: “This is Hamar Jajab.”
A Somali police officer cocked his gun at me a year ago for taking a photo of the Somali National Theater without asking for his permission. In April, I visited the theater, this time with the blessing of the Mayor and even went inside to see the on-going renovation efforts. A relic of a two-decade war, the fresh coat of paint on the building’s facade and the spic and span signage in three languages is a sign of how Mogadishu is changing for the better.
From the balcony of my friend’s apartment, Mogadishu’s past, present and future comes to life. This photo is of the dilapidated lighthouse by Mogadishu’s water-front.
Every weekend (Thursday and Friday in Somalia), families flock to the picturesque Lido Beach to play football, swim and splash on the sandy shores. Many restaurants, offering diverse menus, including sea food, have come up on the beaches along the pristine Indian Ocean.
With improved security, people stay out in Lido Beach way past dusk, the perfect place to sip loads of sweet Somali tea seasoned with cardamoms, cinnamon and cloves and chat away.
Mogadishu City is divided to 17 districts (the newest being Kaxda), which are managed under the Benadir Regional Administration. I like to call this mural, which was painted on the Warta Nabadda District, the “Art of Peace.”
I spotted these beautifully colored quotes at a Somali government office in Mogadishu. The girl whose wall was covered with these quotes told me: “A little dose of inspiration goes a long way.”
When I sent this photo to my sister, who is a doctor, she quipped: “Are you out of your mind? Why would you buy that much sweets? You will get fat very fast and start wheezing soon.” Yes. Mogadishu is known for its delicious halwo (popular dessert) and its wide range of biscuits baked by experienced bakeries. Some of them, like Halwo Hajji Isse & Sons, where this photo was taken, were opened as far back as 1956.
The selfie which made my mum and sister swoon!