By Hassan M. Abukar
In mid-August this year, I spent a week in Mogadishu attending the annual book fair there. The general manager of my hotel was a Kenyan, and an Egyptian chef also worked there. I chatted with them briefly and asked about their job experiences in Mogadishu and their impressions of the city and its residents. Their answers were short, but they did not reveal much. Then, in early September, I stumbled upon a live Facebook presentation titled (in Arabic) “The Migration of Arab Doctors to Somalia,” by Doctor Ashraf (no last name was provided). Luckily, he was waiting for more participants to join the live program.
A few minutes after I joined, he started his talk in a quiet, smooth Syrian dialect. Ashraf said he wanted to share his experiences about his life and job as a dentist in Mogadishu. More Arab doctors, both men and women, kept joining the program. For the purposes of length and clarity, here is a condensed version of Ashraf’s presentation:
On securing the job
A friend, a fellow Syrian dentist, recommended that I come to Mogadishu. Not just any foreigner can go and work there—you have to have a job contract through an employer, who will in turn send you a visa and an airline ticket. When you arrive in Mogadishu, the employer will secure a residency permit for you. Because there are no Somali embassies now in many Arab countries, you can get your visa at Mogadishu airport for $60.
The average Arab dentist makes between $1,000 and $1,300 per month, plus a five or ten percent commission for every procedure. Those with experience or who are specialists make close to $2,500 per month. A recent graduate of dentistry will not be hired there, as at least one year’s experience is required. The good thing is that dentists can often save their whole salary because employers provide housing and sometimes food.
If you have to pay your food expenses, it is relatively cheap; I don’t spend more than $150 per month on food in Mogadishu.
The food is ok, but there aren’t many vegetables and fruits in the Somali diet. I do miss Syrian food, which includes all kinds of vegetables. Sometimes, I go to the supermarket in Mogadishu, where I can get all types of food and snacks, like anywhere else in the world. Somalis get a lot of stuff, ranging from medical devices to various types of food, from Dubai.
Mogadishu has beautiful weather, with a breezy wind that is lovely. I was in Khartoum, Sudan, before, and it is very hot there, just like the Gulf countries. Mogadishu is hot only in March. Sometimes I go to the beach, which is within walking distance.
I can’t say whether it is very safe here or not. When I go to the supermarket, a guard comes with me until I finish my errands. Occasionally, there are bombings that lead to blockades in the city; however, it is fine overall.
Somali is a distinct language with a Latin alphabet. We have assistants who also serve as interpreters, and they speak Arabic or English.
There are patients who really make me happy when I am treating them. However, some get frustrated with me at times due to the language barrier and the inadequacy of translation. The Somalis are good people, and they are all Muslims.
For the year I have been here, I have encountered only two patients with Hepatitis B, and this only came out while I was doing their medical history. There are cases of malaria, but I don’t think there are problems with other diseases.
Number of Arab doctors
We have mostly Syrians here. I met two Egyptian doctors who are general practitioners and two Yemenis working in a lab. The doctors get together every Friday; in fact, we are having a party tomorrow, which will be attended by 28 doctors. Most of the Arab doctors are men, although there are two couples, both husband and wife doctors. Personally, I do not encourage female doctors to come and work here. It is challenging enough for bachelors, let alone families. I do not know much about schools for children, but I know there are Somali universities and some even teach medicine.
Occasionally, the agency sponsoring doctors may engage in misconduct. A contract may be cancelled after three months in favor of a new, cheaper contract. You may lose about $900 or a month’s salary as a victim of such misdeeds. Unfortunately, this has happened to me and some others, too. I invite Arab doctors to come and work here, but I tell them I will not be responsible for anything that has to do with job contracts.
What is next?
In five days, I will complete my one year of work in Mogadishu. Generally, we work 11 months, and the last month is a paid vacation with free airline tickets. I may stay here one more month or two, but I doubt I will be here for six more months. I may look for another job opportunity elsewhere.
End of the presentation
In a nutshell, the fact that there are foreign doctors working in Mogadishu seems a positive development. It shows the potential the city has for job opportunities, booming business, and creative enterprises. Mogadishu has different attributes that do not revolve around government corruption, political impasses, and terrorist bombings. There is another side of the city that operates without being hampered by a state of fear or endless political chatter.
The Arab doctors all saw an opportunity in Mogadishu that is financially rewarding and adventurously intriguing. It is interesting that some foreign doctors are willing to take risks by working in Mogadishu when many of us Somalis in the diaspora are suffering from psychological impediments that shackle our desire to move there. To many of us, a return to Somalia is viewed through the narrow prism of seeking a government job. Mogadishu has other opportunities that need to be explored or created.
Hassan M. Abukar
Mr. Abukar is a writer, a contributor to Wardheernews, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at: [email protected].
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