I’ve arrived at my seaside location. There are glorious long empty beaches, blue seas, waves that shimmer in the scorching sunshine.
Influenced by news reports and pictures of suicide bombers, as a first-time visitor it’s not the vista I expected to greet me on arrival in Mogadishu. But it is the one that hits you – and very nearly literally. With the runway practically extending into the Indian Ocean, it’s only as you’re about to reach under your seat for your life vest and feel the thump of the wheels on the ground that you realise you are actually over land. But only just. No doubt a fun landing to execute for the pilots of African Express Airways, as their unsuspecting passengers peer out of the windows at the expanse of blue coming up to meet them.
I was greeted at the airport by a smiling Ismail who immediately took me under his wing to negotiate the bustling organised chaos that were the visa and passport counters. In the small arrivals hall – nothing more than a large dark concrete building with a couple of booths – families arrive to greet passengers, a yellow arrival form is thrust into your hand, self-appointed porters offer to go and find your hold luggage for you and arguments break out about queue-jumping. Just as I made it to the front of the snake of frazzled passengers, an American news crew swanned past to the booth accompanied by big burly body guards, leaving Ismail feeling somewhat put out. Although not as much as the elderly Kenyan lady behind me who remonstrated about preferential treatment with anyone who would listen.
The smiling immigration official welcomed me to Somalia and Ismail, my bag and I headed out to a battered minibus for the trip to my new home. No sooner had we stepped out from under the concrete awning than we were drenched from head to toe by a almighty storm. The kind of African tropical downpour that is so sudden and ferocious it’s like someone tipping a bucket of water over your head. The advantage though – unlike our constant cold and grey drizzle in the UK – is that it lasts minutes, stops as suddenly as it began and the sizzling sun has dried you back to a warm crisp within seconds.
Our driver took us off along a bumpy dirt track flanked by tall and overgrown bush, avoiding large trucks and AMISOM (the UN mission in Somalia) vehicles careering ominously towards us from the opposite direction as they swerved around the large potholes.
On arrival at my new home, more smiles – this time from the Ugandan army soldiers providing security for the area. Having crawled out of bed in Nairobi what seemed like days ago at 4 o’clock in the morning, I was slightly alarmed to find that it wasn’t even noon and nowhere near time for a longed-for sleep. Bags dumped, it was straight into a day of introductions, walkabouts, explanations and meetings. The hours passed in a bit of a daze with my brain gradually reaching capacity so that by dusk, it was all I could do to remember where my accommodation, food and the loos were. I may not have had much of a clue where I was or what I was doing by this stage, but the entire Somali mosquito population had no such difficulty. They had my location tracked and logged as the new local juicy eaterie.
I breathed a contented sigh of relief when I finally made it under the covers at the end of the night. No generator, buzzing flies or whining mosquitos were going to keep me awake as I allowed the overload of senses and information to settle gently overnight before starting afresh in the morning. And get down to the serious business of counting my mozzie bites.