Gila Livni Zamir: focuses on the real victims, the unfortunate men who created a man over them

Welcome to Mogadishu! Here there is no sign and no terminal. Border control amounts to a small wooden table and a large umbrella. Below it sits an “official” who asks to take a look at our passports. He identifies us with three Israeli passports and one British.

Mohammed, who has already unpacked the treasure he brought from Nairobi in jute sacks, calls one of his men on his cell phone, and indeed a few minutes later three vans arrive. A machine gun is installed in the open box of each of the vans and next to it stands a boy “soldier” who looks like he just finished reciting the Parshah of the week at the bar mitzvah celebration and immediately joined Aidid’s militia.

In a few minutes 3 vans arrive. In the open box of each of them is a machine gun and next to him is a boy “soldier” who looks like he just finished reading the week’s Torah at the bar mitzvah celebration and immediately joined the Aidid militia

“I arranged a ride for you to the city. Ibrahim is your man from here until you leave the country in a week. He will take you to his home, take care of your safety, coordinate your meetings and accompany you wherever you go. It is very dangerous to walk around here without local security,” he explains in unintelligible language for two faces

Hanani Rapoport and the security guard in Mogadishu (photo: courtesy of the photographer)

Get into the middle Toyota, he asks, the white van. We load the equipment boxes in the back and the four of us get inside. Martin is next to the driver, Amikam, Yossi and I are in the back. The other two vehicles, one in front and the other behind us, are the escort vehicles. Ibrahim drives our Toyota, and we head out into the city with screeching tires that raise a cloud of dust from the dirt track. I look back and see the boy-soldier standing in the back box of the draft holding a machine gun – and smiling at us.

Twilight time. We enter the main street of the city. I’m alert, peeking out the window. Peddlers with wooden stands on wheels, in market stalls, tins, there are no shops here on the main street, there are armed young men on the street. You hardly see women at this hour. A local cafe in Keren Rehov, and one more. Low tables, hookahs, the men sit chewing and I notice that everyone has a swollen cheek. Not To Self – later ask Ibrahim, who tries to be a tourist guide as well as a host, a security guard, and later will also be revealed as a perfect cook.

There are no traffic lights in Mogadishu. There are checkpoints in Mogadishu. local police. The representatives of the ruling gang by their side. They are looking for infiltrators from the north of the city, a stronghold of Aidid’s bitter rival.

Twilight time. We enter the main street of the city. I’m alert, peeking out the window. Vendors with wooden stands on wheels, in stalls, tins, there are no shops on the main street, there are armed youths on the street. You hardly see women

A sharp turn into an alley, a large iron gate that opens like a magic wand as we approach the house. The vehicle in front stops outside the “villa”, as does the vehicle behind us. “The two vehicles with their men will stay outside to make sure they don’t bother you,” explains Ibrahim with a smile.

The house in Mogadishu

The house in Mogadishu

Our white Toyota pulls into the wide courtyard, and the gate closes. We arrived safely, met the contact, he drove us to his house, we put the equipment in the rooms and Ibrahim suggests we meet again in about an hour for dinner in the large courtyard. So far so good, Martin smiles.

“Welcome to Somalia”, Abraham comes out to us in the yard with a large tray and on it plates with a mountain of rice, chicken thighs, pita bread and tomatoes cut into quarters.

In the distance we hear the voice of the muezzin calling for the evening prayer. In another corner of the wide courtyard, two of Ibrahim’s employees roll up their prayer rugs and kneel in the direction of Mecca. Each of the two has an assault rifle that he places next to him, just in case.

Have a conversation about ha and da. Take some stills for memory. First dinner in Somalia. There is some reflection on those millions here in Somalia who will not eat chicken or rice tonight either. And I ask Ibrahim how it is that the UN and donor organizations send thousands of tons of food by sea but the people on the street are hungry.

In the distance we hear the voice of the muezzin calling for the evening prayer. In the corner of the yard, two of Ibrahim’s employees roll up their prayer rugs and kneel down in the direction of Mecca. Each of them has an assault rifle that he places next to him

Ibrahim explains to us that in the port of Mogadishu there is indeed enough food stored to feed a million people for a month, but the gangs control the warehouses and trucks and use the food as hostage, despite the heavy price that hunger takes here in the big city.

“And at the airport?” I ask.
“Tens of planes can land here a day,” he explains, “and instead: no aid comes in here.” The pilots are afraid to fly large planes here because of the instability and the lack of a central government, police or trained army. And in the meantime – children will continue to die of hunger from malnutrition and diseases.

Distribution of food to children in the camp (Photo: Hanani Rapoport)

Distribution of food to children in the camp (Photo: Hanani Rapoport)

Children in a camp in Mogadishu (Photo: Hanani Rapoport)

Children in a camp in Mogadishu (Photo: Hanani Rapoport)

After a restful night’s sleep to the monotonous sound of the small generator rattling in the yard, we wake up on Sunday morning, to a breakfast of white flour rolls, soft and warm as before, like the milkman would leave for us at the door with the bottle of fresh milk when we were children. Buns baked in our honor at home along with the coffee that was simmering on the gas in the kitchen. There is also a hard-boiled egg, cucumber, tomato and jam.

The white Toyota that brought us yesterday is already waiting for us near the house, inside the protected compound. Outside, our van is joined by a second van that will drive behind – just in case, Ibrahim explains the security arrangements. He promised Mohammed in Nairobi that he would do everything to keep us safe.

Left and left again and we arrive! This time it’s a large field that looks like a football stadium only without the grass, an ice surface and a large iron gate with the UN flag hoisted next to it, and a sign in Arabic and English “Welcome to refugee camp number 105.”

Ibrahim explains to us that the port of Mogadishu has enough food stored to feed a million people for a month, but the gangs control the warehouses and trucks and use the food as hostages, despite the heavy price that hunger is taking in the city

This refugee camp is run by an Irish Christian aid organization called GOAL IRELAND. We go in with the van, with the other one staying outside in the name of security of course. We search and find the camp offices and Annette Callaghan, the manager. Annette came from Ireland, she is a nurse by profession and with a heavy Irish accent she greets us, “Good morning and welcome”. Distribution of breakfast portions is underway.

In the far corner is a tin shack. “This is the clinic,” she explains. In the clinic, a local nurse who walks between the beds – she can’t help much. Medicines in moderation, also food and water that can be drunk sparingly. The medical equipment – the “medical”, yes? This is also in quotation marks, is a weight taken from the laundry or butcher shop with a straw basket, where the child is placed. Iron beds. Two or three metal poles that will be used for intravenous infusions when the infusions arrive. There is currently a shortage.

The weight of the nurse in Mogadishu (Photo: Hanani Rapoport)

The weight of the nurse in Mogadishu (Photo: Hanani Rapoport)

Salima is the nurse responsible here at the clinic for the children in the room. Her family stayed in the village on the mountain and she went down to the capital city to look for a living. She heard that there is a shortage of medical staff. Before the war, she worked in a clinic in the district town north of Mogadishu.

Annette points to a closed door at the other end of the shack. “Here we bring every morning those who didn’t survive the night”she tells in a dry and monotone voice.

The nurse at the clinic in Mogadishu and one of the treated children (Photo: Hanani Rapoport)

The nurse at the clinic in Mogadishu and one of the treated children (Photo: Hanani Rapoport)

We see a group of five walkers pushing a makeshift treadmill. A body wrapped in a colorful blanket is placed on the wheelbarrow. “A nine-year-old girl,” explains the Irish nurse, a combination of malnutrition, with malaria, dysentery, fever, worms, or scabies. Any child can suffer from several diseases at the same time, which of course brings him closer to his end in the absence of proper treatment, medicines and sanitary conditions.

The small group follows the makeshift wheelbarrow, three men and three children walk muttering something in an incomprehensible language. A prayer for the repose of a girl who never knew one day of joy in her life. They arrive at the pit on the outskirts of the camp, pits prepared in advance.

We see 5 people pushing a makeshift run. A body wrapped in a colorful blanket is placed on the wheelbarrow. “A nine-year-old girl”, explains the Irish nurse, a combination of malnutrition, with malaria, dysentery, fever, worms or scabies

The two adults go down to the pit and the third drops the wheelbarrow And the body slips from his hands and in another moment or two the pit will be covered. There is no name and no tombstone. No one will remember her name. No one in the world has probably heard of her in her lifetime and will not hear of her after her death. Another girl who didn’t see the sunrise this morning.

I remember in another case, in another camp, we accompany a volunteer doctor who goes through the senses on the morning tour, and when she comes out of one of the senses she whispers to us that there is a child here who will not last.

We hear the silence. No one here shouts. Accepting fate, realizing that it might be better for him to end his life lying on a bed of straw with the woman next to him stroking his head. Yossi the photographer peeks in, maybe he will put the camera in for one last photo, a final photo for the article. Yossi comes back and explains to me, apologizing, that he is unable to take pictures. He cannot prevent the young woman sitting there in the dark by the side of the living dead from saying goodbye to him with his last breaths.

A girl-woman sits beside him and says nothing. She doesn’t cry, doesn’t complain, doesn’t call for help. She realizes that there is nothing that can help anymore. We are waiting outside, waiting, like the eagle waiting for the carcass that will be thrown away shortly, waiting for a closing picture for the article.

About two hundred and fifty kilometers northwest of Mogadishu after four and a half hours of exhausting driving in the bouncy Toyota we arrive at the capital city of the southern province, Baidoa. A city of about three hundred thousand inhabitants. Like Mogadishu only smaller, and the problems are just as big.

We hear the silence. No one here shouts. Accepting fate, realizing that maybe it’s better for him to end his life lying on a bed of straw with the woman next to him stroking his head

Even here in Baidoa the gangs rule. Here too they do not allow the small airport to be operated in order to bring here the cargo planes with the food and medicine that are so much needed here. The roads are dangerous here too. also here, As in other parts of this torn, starving, diseased and infectious country, food is a weapon and a hostage.

Here too only the strong survive and they are few. The people we meet, the people of the organizations, claim that eighty percent of the food that reaches distribution – is robbed. Everyone is convinced that only the American army will be able to stop the robbery in broad daylight. And the question, if so, is when the American army will arrive. The US Army assisted by a force of the French Foreign Legion entered Baidoa three weeks later.

We meet Aadi Al Bawad. He is seven years old. His father, mother and seven brothers and sisters did not survive the days, the nights, the journey, the diseases, the war and the famine. He is here alone in the Irish camp, an orphan, weighing only about ten or eleven kilograms.

Aadi sits expressionless in the doorway of one of the senses, between the laps of a grown woman-girl who took him under her wing. She may even be a relative. It is impossible not to think again about our children that we left at home, children the same age as Aadi the seven-year-old and hundreds of other children that we met in the days when we moved between the camps.

Tomorrow is November 25th, my 40th birthday! We won’t be eating a big cake anymore, but a cold Kenyan beer in the evening in Ibrahim’s yard will be. I look around trying to guess how many of the children who are lined up and waiting for lunch to be handed out will get to celebrate their 40th birthday. What are their chances in a country where the average life expectancy is below the age of fifty. A cake with a candle will certainly not be accepted in any case.

We meet Aadi Al Bawad. He is seven years old. His father, mother and seven brothers and sisters did not survive the days, the nights, the road, the diseases, the war and the famine. He is here alone in the Irish camp, an orphan, weighing only about 10 or 11 kg

We return to our Toyota. Ibrahim at the wheel, the weapon at his side. 15-year-old Aslam, the “machine gunner” of our escort force, holds a machine gun in one hand and feeds the bullet chain into the tool’s chamber with the other. A boy with a big smile revealing two rows of white teeth, who is happy to be photographed as much as possible in Rambo’s poses.

After six days of filming in Somalia, the materials are viewed. Martin sits and writes texts. He will edit the materials in London.

In the morning we take off again with Ismail’s Cessna, who picks us up at the airstrip outside Mogadishu. We say goodbye with a hug from Ibrahim who brings us to the plane and promise him that we will meet again soon.

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