It was about three in the afternoon in Bosaaso and the sun was still intensely oppressive. From my window, I could see that the plane had landed on a coarse runway, between mountains, scattered with gravel and stone. A barbed wire bordered the stretch of the airport, leaving just adequate room for vehicles’ entrance and a small concrete wall guarded by some exhausted soldiers. A small house with two rooms, each with two windows and a tin roof occupied a corner of the airport and passed for ‘Imagration’ (immigration). Along its borders, each of the wooden windows was reinforced with a shield of iron. Within a distance of a few paces stood another building adjacent to a cafeteria; a house built in the same way as the former. “Customs Office Airport Bossaso” was painted in faint dark colours on a board attached to a mesh of concrete patterns. I was in Bosaaso, and the constant fear of the small clattering Russian plane crashing at any minute had left me.
As soon as I stepped off the plane, some memories of the Dubai temperatures floated before me. A wave of baking heat greeted me, and my lungs seemed unable to inhale the boiling air. It seemed as if I was short of breath and the quick agonizing gasps of hot air scalding my throat felt like drowning. Huffing and puffing, I glanced ahead in to the bright sunshine with my eyes slightly squinted as my body tried to adjust to the severe conditions. With great struggle, I managed balance my weight on the wobbly staircase and set foot on land. I was on home soil and a slight sensation of relief came upon me. I was still brimming with my anticipation of life in Miyi and that of meeting relatives and family. But that feeling was soon drowned under the humid air.
A gush of uncontrollable trickles of sweat appeared on my forehead. I hate sweating profusely, and no matter how many times I wiped the sweat off with my face towel, more sweat from the open pores would drench me again.
Giving my ticket and passport to my cousin to deal with the immigration, I made my way past the swarm of porters each pestering in his own unique way to carry my luggage and went and sat in the car. Thirty minutes later and I was at the hotel. Situated in AL Rowda, Emirates Hotel is a new four-storey building attracting a large number of visitors. After a flight of stairs, the smell of fresh paint swimming through the corridors of the first floor waylays the nostrils and in the far corner several paint cans confirm the source of the smell. In each room of the hotel are two beds, two bedside cabinets, two cloth hangers and a TV. The funny thing about the rooms is that they rent the beds so you would have to share it with another person, thereby throwing privacy out of the window – that is unless you want to rent the whole room. The <em>rent coast</em> of each room as the Conditions of the Hotel stated – is 9 dollars a night for a bed and 18 dollars for the whole room.
Bosaaso is perhaps the fastest growing city in this region. The city that was almost concentrated on the port a few years ago is now being stretched out. Almost hundreds of houses are under construction everyday and new houses, some with brilliant designs, stretch the city far out of its borders. Soon people will be building houses on the bordering mountains or even past the city control limits. Along the main road – the only asphalted road in Bosaaso – that originates from the port and dissects the city into two are thousands of people displaying different merchandise under corroding tin roofs and makeshift shelters. Perhaps one of the most valuable, highly purchased and highly profitable commodity displayed on the side of the road is the stimulant Qat. Several stalls of Qat decorate the sides of the main road, and are usually filled with animated activities. You will also find roaming products – people carrying their goods along with them and selling them. These are usually young children and sometimes even adults with a few pairs of clothes, some watches, batteries, socks and perfumes for sale.
By day Bosaaso is a city full of activity, blaring horns, busy streets and the clamor of noise that fills the street. The main road road is the hub of commotion and becomes almost jam-packed with cars and people and it seems as though no one has a right of the road, thereby adding to the angry outbursts from drivers, carts and people walking by.
But as soon as daylight disappears, the city’s face of evil is adorned in the darkness. Criminals wait in ambush at almost every corner, sharpening their teeth, waiting for a victim to take along. Walking through Bosaaso at night could mean the end of your life. A new wave of crime has erupted in the city. Groups of armed robbers, thugs, rapists and murderers roam the streets at night, stripping any possession from whomever they jump upon. It has been reported that several women have had their breasts cut off, ears chopped, raped and then discarded. The perpetrators, sometimes dressed in Burqas for anonymity, seize their victims and torture them until the early hours of the morning when they either release them or their bodies are found lying in some dingy corner.
Women too have now become part of this trade. Though few of the women are reported to have killed their victims, the majority of them would prey on lone men at night, rob them under gunpoint and take them home. This may seem absurd and incredible to say the least, but it happens.
Throughout my short stay in Bosaaso I was confined to the limits of my guarded hotel everyday after 6 PM except for a very few days. One particular day was when I stayed late at my cousin’s house and froze with fear on my return to the hotel. Darkness seeped from every little corner that led to the hotel. I expected that at any moment a Burqa or balaclava-clad person would jump out of the dark corners brandishing a gun. The wad of money I had then seemed of little significance. The possibility of being stabbed or shot for a few dollars or shillings hovered like a gigantic cloud above my head. With every rock that I stumbled upon, a fresh wave of panic startled me. I looked to the left and right in quick successions. Then behind me, then front. I observed every wall, every corner and expected someone. Sometimes I even saw people squatting down where rocks huddled lifelessly. I then looked back and saw darkness, adding to the constant fear that amidst the darkness, something will bounce upon me at any moment. Even the gentle breeze of warm air that blows at night startled me until the minute I reached the compound of my hotel.
The streets are teeming with beggars and shoe polishers. Even when the sun is at its peak, you will find shoe polishers as young as 5 or 6 years old, walking barefooted in the torrid heat of July or August, or beggars with the clothes outstretched on the streets.
Outside Al Rowda mosque, several women sit at the door regularly with their Hijabs widely spread in front of them. Several shoe polishers also shine shoes while people pray. And this is where I met him. A young scruffy chap in tattered black tee-shirt (looking closely I realized that the colour was originally blue) and a threadbare trousers came to me while I sat at Al-tawfiq restaurant, just outside the mosque, and said something indiscernible. I asked him to repeat what he said and he once again mumbled the same indiscernible words with a small smile, pointing to the water bottle I’ve been drinking. At this point, a waiter at the restaurant saw the incident and chased the little boy away. I went outside after him and handed him the water bottle at which he graciously smiled.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked him.
Several flies took off and landed on his forehead in succession. He made no effort to wave them off. They descended down the bridge of his nose, scavenging whatever nutrition they could along the way, then down to his lips. His face darkened by the scorching heat had accumulated so much dirt and from neglect had become darker than the hands of a car mechanic.
‘Liban,’ came a faint reply.
‘How old are you Liban?’ I questioned him.
He looked up at me with pitiful eyes, parted his lips slightly, and then lifted his left hand up and gestured the number three with his fingers, then the number four and finally two. From his lack of willingness to talk and mumbled voice I sensed that he had a speech impediment and did not know his age either. I guessed him to be about 6 years of age if not younger. Hundreds of children similar to Liban roam the streets of Bosaaso daily hunting for their livelihoods. They are paid 1000 shillings – the cost of a small chewing gum – for a pair of shoes they polish.
My stay in Bosaaso lasted only for a few days whilst I waited for a car to take me to Miyi and when it came I was glad I was out of the heat, for the nomads live in far cleaner atmospheres with cooler temperatures…