By Guled Osman
Around the middle of 2013, when I grew very accustomed to living and working in Mogadishu. I was enjoying life in my new surroundings. I knew the risks, but Mogadishu had a lot more to offer than risk to life and limb, and I wanted to demonstrate the fact.
It was then that I made the acquaintance of a taxi driver whom I had hailed down one morning, as I was going to work. Thereafter, the two of us became frequent companions. Whenever I was running late, or I needed to go somewhere quite far from my home in Mogadishu, I would call him.
This taxi driver was an elderly gentleman with his hair having long turned white, but stylishly tinted a brownish red with henna. I found him to be good company, and very knowledgeable.
Many times he would drive me around the town to places where I could benefit from gazing upon spectacular views of the city. From the vantage points atop the prominent hills of Mogadishu one could see much that was incredible. I wish I had been a photo-journalist at the time. For example, down from the busy Dabka corner, to see Casa Populari and the Bakara Market beyond.
We would visit the port area, or drive to the vibrant and colourful neighborhood of Xamarweyne. I found it all very useful. The Taxi driver, a member of the Ayr clan, was very knowledgeable about the south of Somalia. I was always impressed by his dedication to his work and, on countless occasions, he mentioned how important it was to work in order to support one’s family. I liked him and, as I was comfortably drawing my Villa Somalia salary by then, I was only too happy to support the work of such an individual. Therefore, it would be fair to say that we had developed a good, and mutually beneficial, exchange between ourselves.
Well, three months in to our relationship. I called my taxi driver friend, as usual, one morning. He said he would meet me on Via Makka Al Mukarama within twenty minutes. Once he arrived, I walked out of our building and there he was, parked across the road. However, his car was empty. I didn’t know what to make of this. I realised belatedly that he was in one of the shops. The taxi driver was inside a newly refurbished shop with heavy glass doors, deep in conversation with the store owner. Mogadishu was going places, you might find similar shops in the Old Town of Dubai, I thought to myself.
The taxi driver waved to me, as if to suggest that I sit in the car, and that he would be out in a second. So I did so. I entered the car and sat in the front passenger seat.
When I approached the car, I noticed there was a man sitting in the back. Now, I began to wonder what this was all about. The taxi driver came out of the shop then and said: “Don’t worry about him. He’s not feeling so well. I’m taking him to the clinic. On the way to your destination. Is this OK?” My destination was the President’s palace, where I worked! My taxi driver knew this, he had dropped me off there on numerous occasions. This wasn’t an ordinary development, but I knew the risks, and I didn’t mind. I knew I still possessed a few advantages.
Using a taxi driver of advanced years, who needed the money, was not beneath the insurgency. That day–at that very moment–our relationship changed. Now, the taxi driver had assumed I was going to work then: to the President’s office that morning. I wasn’t.
I instructed him, as I sat in the front seat, with the strange gentleman sitting in the back with some kind of towel draped over his leg in the back seat, “Let’s go to Trepiano.” I had to go to the bank that morning.
Both men seem very surprised by this. The taxi driver asked me, “Trepiano?” I said: “Yes, let’s go.” So he turned the car around. A U-turn on Makkah Al Mukarama, a rarity for me, and we then headed to Trepiano.
I didn’t say anything on the way. The traffic wasn’t flowing particularly freely, but it was a pleasant day. I felt good. We moved beyond the new and imposing construction, at the time being built for Dahabshiil. A striking high rise. Then I said: “This will do.” I got out, I stood up and looked at the strange passenger in the back seat. I looked straight into his eyes, but only emotionless emptiness stared back at me. I made a point of saying to this man: “God grant you health.” He didn’t respond. I turned and walked away.
I didn’t think too much of the event then, but as the day wore on, it slowly dawned on me that I just had a lucky escape.
The insurgency was very real, and the soft target is what distinguishes the committed insurgent. He probably thought he’d get rid of me, and maybe a few guards stationed inside the perimeter of the President’s palace. It never happened, and I believe it never happened because I have some other purpose, yet to manifest. Still, such close calls would make anyone think, I’m sure. I never carried a weapon in Mogadishu, or anywhere else. I believe in my mission. Pure and simple.
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