Anonymous from Somalia: Day 1
This was my first trip to Mogadishu. We got a direct UN flight – a tiny plane, with only 25 seats. It was less than half full.
The flight was an hour and a half. It was a cloudy day, and that was all I could see for miles and miles. Until we began our descent – then I could see the sea.
The beach was incredible. Beautiful – white sands, blue sea. But deserted. Planes patrol the beach – fighter jets and choppers – the danger is palpable.
We were met at the airport and escorted to our hotel. Eight armed guards get in the car behind ours. We travel quietly in convoy. The roads are almost deserted.
Buildings either side of us rise up and fall away – they are pockmarked, some barely standing. Bullets and bombs have scarred everything I see.
Our hotel is heavily guarded, and intact. We meet our field manager, and our partners in Mogadishu –The Centre for Peace and Democracy. They brief us thoroughly – we can’t afford to make mistakes in this fraught environment.
The office is shared with our partner organisation and is unmarked – nothing here tells me this is Save the Children. It’s a security measure.
Our papers have no letterheads, our staff wear unbranded clothes. Yet our teams here embody the Save the Children ethos to the core.
Spectre of violence
In the afternoon we head to the camps. They are heartrending. Cramped and overcrowded. There is barely room to breathe. I’ve seen camps like these before – in Haiti, in India. This is different – the spectre of violence and warfare is all around.
Families live in tiny shacks, cloth strengthened with branches from the indigenous Prosopis tree. Above the shacks buildings loom, crumbling from repeated bursts of gunfire. Some shacks have been reinforced with mosquito nets.
Very few have plastic – when it rains here nearly everyone will get drenched, and disease will spread like wildfire.
Children are dusty, dirty
Each shack contains a few basic utensils, and perhaps a mat to sleep on. The ground is bare. Utensils for water are prized and in short supply. I see one old container, which had split and been sewn back together.
Children are dusty, and dirty. There is not enough water to drink, or to bathe. All the faces I see are exhausted with the constant struggle of surviving in Mogadishu.
I see the telltale signs of no water. Skin disease – irritations that are scratched and become infected, are common because there is no water to wash in. Many cases of measles and diarrhoea have been reported.
Taking to families
I begin my work – talking to women and men. I ask so many questions. Where do you get your water? How much water? How much do you need? How much do you have? Where do you defecate? What do you use to collect water? Do you wash your hands?
There were moments of humour too. I asked one lady ‘do you have to wait for the toilet?’ (I was trying to establish whether there were enough facilities). She said, with a straight face ‘well, yes, if there is someone in there, I wait…’
Work is underway here, but it is painfully slow, and there is so much more to do. Food and water is the primary concern – it is basic survival. We can’t even think about how to help these people thrive, for now – it is enough to help them survive.
Vocal in their desperation
The people are vocal in their desperation. They tell me that they came to Mogadishu because there was no water in their villages. Most have travelled on foot for days..
The vegetables for sale here are very few. A very few small shacks have set up impromptu stalls, but they sell only one or two vegetables.
Normally you would sell a gourd whole, but one market trader had to chop it into pieces – no-one could afford the whole thing.
As we were walking, a child darted out. He sees the guards with me carrying guns and immediately ran away. The guards are plain clothed, but their guns and ammunition seemed like a uniform in itself.
We headed back to the hotel just before dusk.
We left early the next morning. It was eerily quiet and the roads were deserted. It felt like Mogadishu was taking a deep breath in, like the city was pausing.
I couldn’t figure out why. We passed government buildings, with rows of students waiting outside for their exam results. Minutes later we were in the air.
And 30 minutes after that, a bomb exploded near that same government building, killing 100 people. Including those students.