By Abdisamad Nur Bidaar
Is it any better today? To a neutral, objective, remote and disinterested party, it would seem as though the situation has vastly improved for the old “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” and its residents. But first, a little bit more contexts for the pictures. In July 2011, I went to Mogadishu–unexpectedly. It was an abrupt decision while visiting Egypt. Up to today I still think about it and try to understand or rationalize why. I came up with two contradictory yet plausible explanations. (1) Perhaps I was seeking a closure that my home country and I moved on to our own separate ways–permanently. (2) Or maybe, after so many decades away, I needed to reaffirm my identity and seek peace and reassurance for my restless mind.
Home is always home regardless of time and space. Whatever drove me to make the trip; I ended up in my old hometown, the only place I ever knew in Somalia. Anyway, I shouldn’t bother you with the now familiar stories that Xamar was nothing like we remember back in its heyday, peaceful times. And despite its painful destruction and noticeable transformation, I felt a sense of belonging to the place and kinship with its people.
Back to the pictures I selected to share for contrast. My gracious hosts made sure that I had “adequate” security throughout my stay. They were always with me. The places to visit and stay were very few. More often than not, the soldiers would rebuff my requests to go to areas of interest to me. I was told certain neighborhoods were off-limits; others were empty and bereft of people and signs of life.
On the day I visited the iconic neighborhood in the picture (the historic school and intersection); there was not even a cat in the area. It was only a day or so after the government had claimed to have regained the neighborhood.
I also visited Lido Beach right after the other group had “vacated” the area. Honestly both Somali and English failed me to describe my feelings that day. No human souls were there, thus life was left to live. All man-made structures, the old beach restaurants, famous government clubs were destroyed and abandoned. But the beach—it was eerie—was as clean, serene and old, yet new as the day God created it. I have fond memories of my childhood there.
I was transformed back to an earlier simpler time. What struck me odd and tragic were some of the young soldiers with me, never set foot on that beach before, even though they’d lived in Xamar. Growing up there, they missed out on a crucial aspect of their childhood and life, due to circumstances outside of their control.
Based on my observations from afar, things seem on the upswing for the “Old Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” And I wish and hope it stays on the recovery path to peace and prosperity–the same for ALL of Somalia and its people.
Abdisamad Nur Bidaar
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