The first time we went to the tiny movie house near the Mogadishu seaport, with a mind to doing some interviews, the manager fussed at us for not making an appointment. It was tense, but not alarming. We promised to call ahead next time.
And we did. Even so, when we arrived at the cinema a couple days later, we almost started a riot.
Our security guards stayed outside. We went inside with our fixers. A hundred pairs of moviegoers’ eyes — kids, mostly — drifted away from the Bollywood flick on the big TV and followed us as we walked to the back of the room. There were murmurs; a few got up to leave. And outside, we could hear arguing. Someone had confronted our guards.
That someone was a man claiming to be the neighborhood “mayor.” He bustled inside with his thugs, waving at us to put away our cameras. He said we needed his permission to work in the neighborhood — and permission from the government. We said we had government clearance. So he invented a sub-level of clearance and said we needed that, too.
The theater owner was aghast, caught in the middle, having invited us in without realizing how the ‘hood would react. He was powerless to stop the rapidly growing and angry crowd. Several AK-47s were in evidence.
“Let’s get out of here,” I muttered. We raced outside, muscled through the crowd and hopped into our truck. Our fixers and guards tried to reason with the crowd, but it was hopeless. We sped away, the theater owner clinging to the outside of the truck. A couple blocks away, in a quiet alleyway, we interviewed him about his business, slipped him a couple thousand shillings for his trouble and let him go.