First Published: 2007-09-11

 
Escaping bombs in Mogadishu
 

Journalists in Somalia face more danger than ever before, but who else to tell the story?

 

Middle East Online

By Sahal Abdulle - MOGADISHU

Body of Ali Iman Sharmarke

I am in a car full of journalists driving from the funeral of a colleague murdered hours earlier in Mogadishu for doing his job. We don't get far.

An explosion throws our vehicle up and fills it with excruciating heat. Black smoke billows about us. I can feel the pressure rushing up inside my clothes, my neck splits open.

Climbing from the smoking wreck, blood spits through the fingers I clamp to my throat.

It was a remotely detonated bomb. Death is often random in Mogadishu, but in this case we were the target.

Journalist, friend, and founder of local media house HornAfrik, Ali Iman Sharmarke, lies dead beside the wreckage.

Amid the chaos and pain, I scan the crowd, looking for a doctor to help, or maybe the killer.

Somalia has become one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a journalist. I spent the last year there, staying in my family house, during some of the worst violence to hit Mogadishu in the last two decades.

I saw countless burned bodies in hollowed-out houses, the corpses of 90-year-olds and infants ripped to pieces. I watched colleagues die trying to get the Somali story out to a world already jaded by wars in Iraq, Darfur and Afghanistan.

Riven by conflict since the 1991 ouster of a military dictator left Somalia in anarchy, Mogadishu is wracked by an Islamist-led insurgency against the government and its Ethiopian military allies.

My colleagues and I in Somalia often talked about why we did the job. Some of us had left lives and families in the West. Mine was in Canada.

Ali and I asked each other that question many times. He too had a Canadian passport. Ali believed until the end that he was giving Somalis a voice and, like me, kept coming back.

MOGADISHU'S 'CONSTANT GARDENER'

We all had our own way of coping. A motley crew of reporters used to hide out at my Mogadishu home. They teased me about the hours I spent every day with my eyes closed, blocking everything out, listening to John Coltrane.

When the violence woke us before dawn, I tended to my garden. I planted 72 new species this year. The Australian at head office in Nairobi called me The Constant Gardener.

I once forced a reluctant taxi driver to help me save a tortoise. It was caught in the crossfire on a city street. I adopted him. You need to protect something amid such danger.

When I told my 11-year-old son, Liban, about the plants and the tortoise and his homeland, he sent me a text message: "Are you sure these bombs aren't going to your head, Dad?"

Swaying by the wreck in Mogadishu on Aug 11, sure that I've lost my left eye, that I am bleeding to death, that whoever detonated the bomb is near, a local man comes to our rescue.

The man recognises Ali, saying he would be homeless today had the journalist not helped him in hard times.

We race in his car towards Madina hospital, where my parents brought me in my childhood to see an Italian doctor.

The driver speeds through the city and I tell him I don't want to die in an accident on the way to hospital.

I had made myself a favourite of doctors and patients at the hospital this year, often berating journalists for intrusive behaviour: "One day you'll need these doctors to sew you up!"

Now that I need their help, the overworked doctors treat me with the same painstaking care as so many thousands of others I had seen wounded and wheeled through to the emergency room.

I'm with my family in Canada now. I don't know what I'll do -- if I'll go back.

Journalists in Somalia are in more danger than ever before, but if we all leave, there'll be no one to tell the story.

 

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