Prescript: This was a post I wrote for TripAdvisor which did not get published because it gets to greater social issues. It was my first post there and I had signed up only to help out Visit Mogadishu which arranged my trip there. I understand TripAdvisor's policy and not wanting to get into controversial issues, but for me, any post is meaningless if it does not discuss important topics. So here is my view on travel to Mogadishu, Somalia:
Going to Mogadishu should not be something to do light-heartedly. Or perhaps, on the contrary, you should only go there if you are or can be light-hearted. If you can take what comes, if you can do like the locals and live life with a certain degree of fatalism. Even though the security situation has improved and the country is reconstructing, there is always a risk as the recent deadly attack which took place three weeks after I was there shows.
It is also true that risks are everywhere in the world. One should always keep in mind that anything can happen anywhere given all the news around the world. One is never safe from mass shootings or other attacks be it in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Turkey or any other place.
As for me, I took this chance even as a mother of an 8 year-old and my husband supported me as I am on a big project to go to every country to protest against global apartheid and categorizing people according to the imaginary lines they happen to be born in, lines that were drawn by either a bloody war or by bloody politics.
For me, Somalia always had a special fascination as a land of anarchy. I believe that most of the trouble there originates from outside forces interfering with the local structure and trying to impose their way of ruling. For anybody interested, “The Law of the Somalis” by Michael van Notten is a good place to start.
I could have just gone to Hargeissa, Somaliland and consider it as having visited Somalia but for me, going to every country is not about counting countries or checking out a list. I fell in love with the photo of the Lighthouse on the cover of Andrew Harding's book “The Mayor of Mogadishu- A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia” and since that day I've been wanting to go to Mogadishu. It's so romantic to imagine the glorious days of the city recounted in the book, times when people used to go to open-air movies, then take a stroll by the Lighthouse. Being there and seeing the beauty of the setting with my own eyes was very rewarding. Of course, I'd have loved to stay there for hours sitting on a rock and gazing at the ocean, the horizon, the people and the buildings. Even though battered and full of bullet holes, their grandeur is still there, just like an elegant lady who has aged, with whites in her hair, wrinkles in her face but her posture and the way she carries herself tells a captivating story. I wish to see the day that Somalia is peaceful, the ruins in Mogadishu are renovated and I return with my family to the same places I have been.
Lido Beach is still lively and for some reason safer I suppose as we got to walk the beach, be among the locals without too much rush and have lunch there.
The fish market was also a very special experience. I've been to many fish markets but the one in Mogadishu really stands out with the volume and variety of the big fish that is pulled out of the ocean, carried on people's backs, loaded and downloaded from trucks by huge men.
Somalia has such great potential. Like Diyarbakır in the Southeast of Turkey which has the longest city walls in the world. Unfortunately, it is mostly off-limits to tourists due to the Kurdish issue. Visiting places like Dubrovnik and paying to walk the city walls I cannot help but think that there should be toll-booths in Diyarbakır as well with people walking around and enjoying the good food and the culture there. Similarly, it is such a shame that places like Mogadishu which have so much to give to the world are mostly off-limits.
“Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis” by Gerald Hanley is an account of a British soldier working with Somalis during war time and gives an idea of Somalis, their way of life, their outlook and values. Even though you don't need to share their sentiments or even agree with their views, it is so enriching to learn about them.
I believe Somalia deserves much more than what it gets on the news as the place of car bombs and gun attacks. The Somalian people seem very friendly and smart. Most of all, they are resilient. Even though I detest security measures and being so heavily searched, the air there, or should I say the general impression I got was not one of fear, but of life. Living life with a certain degree of resignation, accepting what life throws at you, surviving and enjoying life in spite of the circumstances.
I am Turkish by birth, Italian by marriage and I don't like classifying people according to their nationalities, I believe people are people, there are all kinds of people among every nationality, but it is also true that people carry some special characteristics depending where they come from, our environments shape us. Anyway, I am not a nationalistic person at all. In spite of that, I must admit that whatever criticism people may hurl at Erdoğan, I am “proud” that “my” country is supporting and investing in Somalia.
I wish all the outside help could be done without self-interest or imposition of certain values, without interfering in the internal dynamics of a place and everybody could rule themselves the way it suits their society.
One day Somalia will be attracting many tourists to its many beautiful beaches with its lovely people. Hopefully just not too many to ruin its essence.
For now, Visit Mogadishu is your way into the country. You need to go in with an agency, with armed guards. It is not cheap but I believe it is worth because they take a lot of responsibility, plus, it is a way to help the economy of the country. Visit Mogadishu has been very precise and attentive when arranging the trip. I've been wanting to go there for a long time but could not arrange it due to personal constraints. Omar kept up informing me so that we finally made it a reality in the end. So a big thanks to them.