A weekend in Mogadishu

Boys practice their acrobatics on Lido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia, on January 31, 2014. [AU UN IST PHOTO / Tobin Jones]

Boys practice their acrobatics on Lido Beach in Mogadishu on Jan. 31, 2014. [AU UN IST PHOTO / Tobin Jones]

Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, also known as Xamar (X pronounced as H), is a city of contrasts. It is a city labelled by many as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It is also the city of fun and fantods, where many seek the sun and the sand in search of solace. And what better day to shake off the worries of insecurity, war and danger than on a Friday: the beginning of the weekend.

At the crack of dawn, cocks crow waking up the faithful to go to the mosque for prayers. Afterwards, children hurriedly dress up nudging their parents that it is time to go out.

Lanky teenagers sporting the latest jerseys flock Lido Beach in groups to play football. They argue loudly, over whether Cristiano Ronaldo is better than Lionel Messi, their talk punctuated by swearing and counter-swearing. Friday football in Mogadishu will be fun and fierce.

Parents and kids long for Friday – as they break from school and work, they are intent on creating memories that last till next Friday. Women in colorful dresses stroll the streets of Xamar Weyne neighborhood, their leather bags hanging from their shoulders. Their friendly personalities accentuate their beauty. They are women of many “A”s. Affable. Amiable. Amusing.

Three-wheeled tuk-tuks, locally known as bajaaj, snake down the roads, Indian music blasting from their makeshift radios. Their boisterous drivers heartily sing along. Ahmed, a bajaaj driver, jokes that his voice can melt the heart of the most hard-hearted girl in Xamar.

On Fridays, Lido Beach is the place to be. For those who prefer privacy, the less-populated Jazira Beach, an hour’s drive away from the capital, is the ideal place to be.

Seaside restaurants, offering fresh fish, spiced rice and camel milk tea as dessert, dot the Lido coastline. Residents sip their tea, eyes fixed on the horizon, moving clouds exposing a sun that is shy to distract minds engulfed in dreams. “A breathtaking view,” someone says. “A million dollar view,” another responds.

In the beach, boys dribble football, while girls daintily dip their feet into the waters of the Indian Ocean. They extend their selfie sticks out and up, making sure to capture not only their funny facial expressions, but the breathtaking blue ocean as background. Here is a tech-savvy Mogadishu generation, so creative they would make a pimple look like a dimple. Like Napoleon of old, they come, they see, they….they don’t conquer but capture something else, they snap away at their smart phones and cameras.

As the sun sets, coffee lovers throng the various coffee shops along the city’s main thoroughfare: Mecca Al-Mukarramah. One such coffee shops is The Mug, always lively and full of boisterous youngsters. The tantalizing aroma of coffee is always inviting, and the pastries displayed under the showcase glass are tempting. The air is filled with a cocktail of accents, a south London glottal stop, an Irish brogue, an American midwestern twang, a veritable Tower of Babel.

A series of gunshots interrupts the chitchat. A lady ducks under the table. Someone murmurs that it is the police, dispersing the traffic.

“Oh My God! That sent shivers down my spine,” the lady says in a panicked tone.

“Take it easy,” twangs a middle-aged man with a goatee.

“No problem my sister.” He pronounces the “p” in problem as “b,” perhaps a slip into his Somali childhood where “p” was “b” and no one cared for the difference.

A discussion is already picking up in the next table. Life moves on!

As the day gives way to the night, the preferred spot for dinner is Karmel Restaurant. There are no menus here. The waiter calls customers to attention and shouts out what’s available for the night. Every once in awhile, customers interrupt him when they hear their favorite meal mentioned. The hot favourite is Karmel steak: sliced spicy camel meat, served with chapatti.

Somalis and their undying love for camels! Kasper, a South African, wraps up the night with a joke about why Somalis, despite a long coastline, prefer camels to fish.

“Fish in Somalia grows a moustache, beards, gets bald and later dies of old age.”

We double over with laughter, ending our Mogadishu weekend on a high a note as any.

Abdalla Mohamed Dahir is a communication consultant. Follow him on Twitter@M_dahir.

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