Somalia Journal, Day One: “You Come to Africa, but You May Never Leave.”

18.11.07

Categorie: Africa, Axe in Somalia, Personal |

nairobi-center-november-18-2007small.jpgYou don’t fly direct to Mogadishu. Not if you’re an American. There are two ways to go, and one of them is via Dubai. I hate Dubai – it’s Disneyland with camels – so I opted for the other route, stopping over in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

It’s an interesting place, Nairobi. The city began life in the 1890s as a base camp for railroad workers. The railroad spurred development that resulted in the camp becoming a British colonial administrative center in 1907. Since Kenya achieved independence in 1963, Nairobi has become one of the biggest cities in Africa and hub for safari tourism on account of its Westernized, English-speaking populace and the proximity of major national parks. You can’t walk down the street without a dozen safari agents grabbing your arm, throwing open their wallets to show you their business cards and promising the best views of the best animals for a new low price: “We can hop in my van right now!”

But Nairobi is changing. Conflict in neighboring Somalia and in Sudan further west have seen a huge influx of refugees. Across Kenya there are dozens of U.N.-run refugee camps, including several each housing hundreds of thousands of people. Despite a fair amount of international assistance – the U.S. alone has spirited away tens of thousands of minority Somali Bantu refugees in recent years – the camps are only growing, their wards spilling over into the cities. Beside those safari agents on Nairobi’s muddy streets are thousands of huddled refugees: hungry, jobless, hopeless.

nairobi-city-center-on-november-18-2007small.jpgI’m traveling with another journalist. We were walking down Moi Avenue today looking to buy a towel. A thin, bent man wearing a wrinkled blue suit jacket sidled up behind us (the only white people around) and launched into a rapid-fire narrative, in perfect English, describing his flight from Darfur. “You know who the Janjaweed are?” he asked. When I said that I did, he seemed surprised. “My name is Joseph. You are my brother,” he said. And as his brother, could I help him buy some rice to feed his starving family?

“I’m on my way to Somalia to tell stories,” I said. “That is my way of helping. I’m sorry, but I cannot give you any money.”

His bloodshot eyes darkened. He said he knew I was lying – if I was a journalist then I must be wealthy – and bad things come to liars. “You are white. This is not your country. You come to Africa, but you may never leave.”

“We know it’s dangerous,” I said. “We have to go now. Good luck.”

“I don’t need your luck,” Joseph said.

And I thought, Now who’s the liar?

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15 Responses to “Somalia Journal, Day One: “You Come to Africa, but You May Never Leave.””

  1. Simon says:

    What is your on Eritrea ?
    How did we manage to alienate Eritrea when it used to be staunch ally ?

    “Eritrea Could Teach U.S. Much to Combat Terror”
    http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=42407

    I found this interesting article about John Bolton’s recent memoirs, where he claims they are pissed off with us, because we manipulated things in the UN in favor of Ethiopia inspite of the border decision favoring Eritrea.

    http://www.biddho.com/content/view/481/29/lang,english/

  2. Simon says:

    What is your take on Eritrea ?

  3. Nicholas Weaver says:

    You don’t know where your towel is?

  4. [...] David Axe is on his way to Somalia to cover the African Union and some of the fighting. Should be interesting writing. After he’s done there he goes to Basra to report on the British withdrawal. Must be an interesting job. [...]

  5. [...] Somalia Journal, Day One: “You Come to Africa, but You May Never …You can’t walk down the street without a dozen safari agents grabbing your arm, throwing open their wallets to show you their business cards and promising the best views of the best animals for a new low price: “We can hop in my van … [...]

  6. [...] Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Somalia pics No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  7. [...] Related Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Somalia pics No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  8. [...] Related: Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Day Fourteen: Arresting All the Wrong People Day Fifteen: U.S. Playing Both Sides Somalia pics Sounds of the Somali aid crisis Mogadishu’s wheeled battlecruisers Somalia’s mystery weapons A.U. Patrols Moga Sounds of African Peacekeeping No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  9. [...] Related: Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Day Fourteen: Arresting All the Wrong People Day Fifteen: U.S. Playing Both Sides Day Sixteen: Back on the Air Somalia pics Sounds of the Somali aid crisis Mogadishu’s wheeled battlecruisers Somalia’s mystery weapons A.U. Patrols Moga Sounds of African Peacekeeping No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  10. [...] Related Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Day Fourteen: Arresting All the Wrong People Somalia pics 1 Comment so far Leave a comment [...]

  11. Anna says:

    Why couldn’t you just give him some money?

  12. David Axe says:

    Because I didn’t have any. Every penny was accounted for. And the last thing you want to do while traveling in Africa is run out of money. Very very dangerous.

  13. [...] Related: Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Day Fourteen: Arresting All the Wrong People Day Fifteen: U.S. Playing Both Sides Day Sixteen: Back on the Air Day Seventeen: Moga ER Somalia pics Sounds of the Somali aid crisis Mogadishu’s wheeled battlecruisers Somalia’s mystery weapons A.U. Patrols Moga Sounds of African Peacekeeping 4 Comments so far Leave a comment [...]

  14. CJ says:

    you are one brave soul. i am traveling to somalia this coming summer and i found all of these journals extremely helpful. its hard to find anything else as helpful as your experience there.

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