Over the past few weeks, we have been somewhat absent from our usual channels as I (Aisha) embarked on an unique and unforgettable journey to Somalia, a country that has experienced its fair share of instabilities and is often misunderstood and underestimated due to its instability. I had always dreamed of visiting and sharing my insights as I visit my country of origin. My decision to visit now was driven by the chance to reconnect with family members who were also exploring the region, adding a special touch to the adventure. In this blog post, I will shortly recount my experiences during the three weeks, spent in Somalia, starting with my first impressions of Mogadishu, followed by an enriching farm visit, and culminating in the joyous festivities of Eid Al Adha and Independence Day.
Week One: First Impressions of Mogadishu
As I touched down in Mogadishu, I was greeted by a heartwarming scene that dispelled the many preconceived notions of Somalia as a hopeless state characterised by hardship. A crowd of smiling people stood at the foot of the aircraft stairs, welcoming passengers with genuine warmth. Among them was my half-sister, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade, making the reunion even more special. Despite the turbulent history of Mogadishu marked by long period of unrest, the city now seemed to radiate a sense of newfound calmness, as it’s on a path of progress, with visible signs of rebuilding and development. The city’s transformation is further fueled by the investments of numerous diaspora members who are actively contributing to the country’s rapid development through real estate ventures and other businesses. Witnessing this determination to overcome the challenges of the past was truly inspiring, leaving me filled with hope and optimism for a brighter future.
Week Two: Farm Life
One of the highlights of my visit was spending time on my uncle’s farm, nestled about 30km away from Mogadishu in the serene town of Afgooye crossed by the Shabelle river. Although, I initially had some concerns about potential encounters with Al Shabaab members during the journey, I soon found myself mesmerized by the breathtaking landscapes. Herds of goats and camels grazed amid hills surrounded with sand and cactus bushes, creating a picturesque scenery.
Upon arriving at the farm, to my surprise after encountering the endless sand dunes, I was welcomed by an oasis of greenery and the sweet aroma of citrus fruits. Lemon, grapefruit, mango and plum trees lined the entrance, and further exploration revealed fields of corn, squash, and beans also known as the three sisters because of their symbiotic characteristic which deter pests and weeds and enrich the soil. As corn forms a natural trellis for the beans to climb, the beans, in turn, facilitate nitrogen fixation, promoting the growth of healthy plants. Meanwhile, the strategically positioned squash growing at the bottom provides essential soil protection, shielding it from direct sunlight and retaining moisture. Throughout our journey in East Africa, we’ve come across this ingenious method of companion planting. Therefore, it was a delightful revelation to witness the same practice flourishing in Somalia as well. As soon as we arrived the farm manager greeted us warmly and introduced us to the delightful local dish called ambuulo, a mixture of beans, cereal, and fried coffee beans. During the visit, I was introduced to ‘Isbandeys’ or ‘Spondias’, a delicious plum like fruit with a massive seed that was previously unknown to me, and I gained insights into Somalia’s agricultural traditions. During a much-needed break after hours of walking in the fierce sun, we found relief under the comforting shades of a mango tree, while enjoying our lunch which consisted out of papaya, rice, camel meat and milk and engaging in a conversation with my uncle. He enlightened us about the current situation, shedding light on the presence of Al Shabab and their control over the farmlands, imposing taxes in the form of money or harvest. Despite this challenging reality, what struck me was the abundance of the farm itself. It was a surprising moment, considering Somalia’s ongoing battle with malnutrition and food scarcity, often exacerbated by long periods of droughts.
Week Three: Festive Celebrations – Eid Al Adha and Independence Day
As a Muslim country, Somalia celebrates Eid Al Adha with passion and unity. The sight of numerous mosques bustling with worshippers showcased a beautiful representation of the nation’s spiritual connection. The occasion was marked by long prayers, communal feasts, and a sense of shared values. Families, friends, and neighbors gathered to celebrate this day, slaughtering goats and distributing the meat to those in need, exemplifying the spirit of compassion and generosity.
Additionally, I had the privilege of experiencing Independence Day festivities, a time when Somalia commemorates its freedom. The celebrations were filled with cultural events, lively music, and vibrant displays of national pride. Witnessing the people proudly displaying the blue and white colors of their flag while participating in various events was a powerful testament to their patriotism and hope for a brighter peaceful future. However, while walking in the streets I constantly caught my self being scared of the load sounds of fireworks in the city, not knowing wether it was fireworks or gunshots. The reality of the sudden shift towards the worst remained apparent, and I became acutely aware of the need to be cautious, especially in bustling areas, which unfortunately often serve as the epicenter of potential attacks.
Liido Beach: Healing Amidst Turbulence
Though initially hesitant to visit Liido Beach due to recent security concerns, I couldn’t resist exploring this essential part of Mogadishu. To my surprise, the beach offered a healing experience, witnessing people fearlessly enjoying their time despite the country’s adversities. At Liido Beach, I encountered tea stands offering freshly squeezed juices, while the breeze and sound combined with the stunning view of the Indian Ocean added to the tranquility of the surroundings. Next to the Liido beach we visited the fish market. where I met two ladies sitting infront of the market with a scale to weight the fish. They looked at us and asked where we came from, assuming we were vistors, as I took my phone camera to make pictures of the huge chunks of tuna and other fishes freshly caught and displayed at the market tables.
Talking to the women at the fish market, I learned that they used to live in Wisconsin, but now they’ve moved back to Somalia to start a fish business. How cool is that? They even bought five fishing boats and are working closely with the local fishermen. They sell the fish at the market and to hotels nearby, and some of their catch gets exported to the Middle East. It’s inspiring to hear stories like theirs – members of the diaspora returning to the country and making a positive impact on the Somali economy.
They told us that there are many foreign companies involved in the fish sector in Somalia, and that motivated them to be a part of it too. Their aim is to create jobs for the local fishermen, helping them move away from criminal activities and extremism. They strongly believe that by providing employment opportunities for the youth, we can keep them busy and help them earn money the right way. With high unemployment and poverty, it’s crucial to prevent young people from being easily swayed towards extremism. They made a powerful point about taking responsibility and working together to build a better future for everyone. It was a heartwarming experience to see how people like these two ladies are making a difference and contributing to the country’s growth and development.
My journey through Somalia was an eye-opening and transformative experience. It provided me with a glimpse into the country’s rich history, vibrant culture, and the uncrushable spirit of its people. Mogadishu, with its complexities, revealed itself as a hidden gem waiting to be explored and appreciated by the world. Despite the challenges, Somalia remains steadfast in preserving its traditions and embracing the future with hope and determination.
However, I must admit that amidst all the awe and wonder, there were moments when fear gripped me. The new insights, experiences, and stories shared by my family members about the hardships they endured made me reflect constantly. This special experience, though incredibly rewarding, also proved to be quite exhausting, requiring time to process everything I witnessed and learned. To be completely honest, even now, a month later, I find myself struggling to find the right words to explain how these three weeks impacted me.
Despite the delay in publishing this blog post, I want to do justice to this journey and share my experiences with others. I hope that through my words, more people will be encouraged to explore this resilient and beautiful country, to discover and appreciate its true essence and the untold stories of the Somali people. Somalia has left an lasting mark on my heart, and I hope to return someday to continue learning and growing from this unforgettable adventure. As I say goodbye for now to this captivating land, I carry with me cherished memories of farm life, the beauty of Liido Beach, and the warmth of the festive celebrations.
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Aisha & Lukas