Words and Pictures by the Blogger
In Australia it appears as if more is made of change (monumental or less so) and its associated implications than elsewhere including South Africa (change and xenophobia central). It’s to the extent that the concept of sea change (also a profound transformation, translation, conversion, metamorphosis, about-face reversal), courtesy of wider Australian society and especially the media, did not feature in my functional vocabulary until fairly recently. There is clearly a pre-occupation with the term, change processes and plethora of conventional / illegal ‘change’ coping mechanisms. Its so topical that its ‘serialized’ on public television in the reality TV genre depicting, dramatically and glamorously, how couples often nearing retirement handle their respective sea changes or meno-paused. Rooted to their lazy-bloke arm chairs, one can only imagine the running commentary provided by the high definition, fish-bowl seeing public as they try and get to grips with this unfamiliar and unnerving portent.
|Sense-Surround mountains of Kabul decked out in a final sprinkling of snow|
|Afghanistan's marked seasons and the transition from one to another was always a revelation - a fascinating mood barometer and a stark reminder of how closely we are anchored in the bio-physical environment despite our hi-tech lives|
Australia has escaped, partly due to its geographical isolation – we’re all right mate - where the bloody hell are you phenomena, most of the significant change that has reverberated throughout the international community of late. The sum total of Australia’s recent change events are the steady procession of and ‘Italianesque revolving door’ Prime Ministers; creative ‘stimulation’ and financial ‘fixing’ of the economy which has enabled the country to generally avoid both GFCs; battening down of the hatches by the Abbott government on the asylum seeker issue; a flirtation with and knee-jerk reaction to growing, global Islamic fundamentalism and a real recession that is beginning to bite as a consequence of the resource boom gone to bust due to the Chinese juggernaut grinding to a ‘ticking over’ status.
|Final few months in Laskar Gah - Helmand with family|
|A bygone but not forgotten era that enriched our lives immeasurably|
I pen 100 Sea Changed Days in this context and that typically of elected or self-appointed Heads of State (HoS) that are à la mode report-carded on their conduct, governance and delivery within the first few months in office. Whereas I’m not exactly a HoS, I nevertheless consider my recent, personal life-changes quite dramatic and worth waxing over. One hundred days represents something very different for me – my sanity and reality check – letting go ever so reluctantly, consolidation and re-building with great anticipation and hope – embracing and celebrating ‘privileged’ change.
|Homecoming in many more ways than one but also an enlightening illustration of how commonplace the global 'diaspora' phenomenon actual is where South Africans, unsurprisingly, are staking a strong 'excellence' claim|
I left my landlocked and beloved Afghanistan in mid-January and tele-ported to east Africa – exchanging an Afghan winter with snow shrouded, wrap-around Mountains of Kabul (approx. 1800m amsl) for the endless summers of Somalia – to be precise seawind-sprayed and sun-bleached Mogadishu. More importantly, I’m back after a hiatus of almost a decade and with Africa teetering on the brink of the much vaunted but now passé renaissance or a revolution - a new and different ‘total onslaught’ (Boko Haram, Al Shabab and a greater, general restlessness et al). With eyes averted and attention focused on the continent - it’s arguably the best place to be right now.
|Close of the Horn of Africa (East) - MIA - Mogadishu International Airport bathed in twilight|
|One of many self-contained compounds that dominate MIA - Mogadishu city can be viewed mid-ridge|
Not so different from Afghanistan, historically and culturally Somalia operates off an antique system of ‘hosts’ and ‘guests’ promoting ethic and tribal co-existence, tolerance/integration and harmony countrywide. There is no doubt that past annexation and international interference has knocked this orientation somewhat awry but the fundamentals are still in place. Strange though, that after all these years and experience the international community still struggles with the notion of being a good and exemplary ‘guest’ (a recipient of hospitality, specifically someone staying by invitation at the house of another).
|The well worn MIA exercise track flanked by the ocean on one side and runway on the other|
The ever so profound changes don’t end there either. I long for the daily, especially dawn and dusk, inner soul and core-comforting call to prayer with its well-known regularity, cadence, pitch and reverence, so real and at your windowsill in Kabul, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. At our Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) location we are cloistered in compounds so distant from the hustle and bustle of authentic Mogadishu life and the call to prayer is disappointedly disembodied - but a distant and drowned out promise. Life on MIA’s tarmac and under the flight path of countless aircraft is fascinating and frustrating at the same time. Security, road closures and gridlock paranoia-fueled trips to KIA light-years in advance of Kabul flight departures are replaced by leisurely and far more relaxed non-events. Being on the flight-line, as it were, is a perk not to be taken for granted.The lingering and wintery Kabul cough is a thing of the past and Mogadishu is constantly caressed by exceptional quality and smog-free airy, alternating sea-breezes.
|Final approach to Mogadishu - endless surf, sand and sun!|
|Another day done and dusted|
Other changes include my friendships and social network – I’ve traded ISAF/NATO and the Taliban for the African Union (AU) and the exotically sounding AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia) and Al Shebab although research reveals that there is a strong familial / alumni link between the Afghan and Somali Al Qaeda affiliates. The 22,000-strong AU force that includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda is particularly conspicuous for me due to the absence of pale-faces although Europeans are represented, in a sprinkling, specifically in strategic / military advisory roles. The Italians are by far the largest group – what would we do without them?? They certainly add a touch of glamour and plenty of drama.
|Village people - Kabul - most now cast to the four corners of the world|
|With colleagues from the Office of the Prime Minister - Federal Government of Somalia|
In stark contrast, UN agencies in Somali are directly targeted by Al Shabab as ‘enemies of the state and people’, a deed made blatantly clear recently when UNICEF colleagues were targeted in an horrific suicide bombing attack in Puntland, northern Somalia. The same agencies operate relatively openly and freely in Afghanistan and any per chance or ‘accidental’ targeting is described, in military parlance, as collateral damage.
|A jet prearing for take off amongt flotsam fringing the airport apron|
Generally, boyz will be boyz the world over – still puffed and pumped up (take your pick … self-importance, flatulence, testosterone, steroids, whey / protein shakes, Tusker Malt or Castle Lager and ego) and the pissing competitions rarely differ although the ‘boyz from da hood’ are far more laid back and relaxed, as only Africans can be. I personally revel in all things African and celebrate my re-discovered Africanism. Being surrounded by so many enigmatic southern Africans, especially Afrikaans-spruiking country-folk, is very special. All manner of rugby is once again on the menu, after a drought of 3 years, including the 2015 World Rugby Cup - Go Bokke! The gals are numerically inferior but that’s essentially where it ends.
|Exploring exposed rocks and wave-cut platforms adjacent to MIA|
|Gill-netted reef fish|
|Mogadishu coastline at low tide exposing off-shore reefs, wave-cut platforms and sea-caves|
Earliest and vivid in-country recollections include:
· Running the Mob-adishu gauntlet through dusty refuse and rubble-strewn streets where life has hardly skipped a beat for generations…. in nondescript AVs escorted though by very noticeable pickups bristling with Kalashnikov-toting private Somalian security contractors. It’s a stop-start, helter-skelter affair …. barely a few melodramatic, manic moments but enough to guarantee freebie cortisol-adrenal-infused highs. Until the next one – perhaps in a week or fortnight! Shattered and battle-scarred infrastructure - old and new-world memorials - full circle .... black hawks down white doves up; frenzied and football fanatical youth scrapping it out in super-dusty bowls spectatored on by lethargic militia and aged-toddlers
· Old rhythms of a new life in a country and society dubbed as ‘the most notorious failed state.’ An explosion of outer and other worldly expectations with little management thereof. Somali entrepreneurial endeavor - vibrant, flourishing and opportunistic exported globally from Cape Town, to Cairo, to London and beyond - a die-hard diaspora like no other
· Transient, millisecond voyagers greeted by a 'knowing' nation - with the joke on us as we kid ourselves that the longer we stay the more we 'purportedly' know.....
· DNA-programmed resilience having spent so many nomadic years in an almost eternal, inhospitable wilderness
· Mistakes to be repeated, by countless Neville’s, ad nauseam with reckless, gay and arrogant abandon.
|UNSOM digs in MIA|
|Select Icons providing some sense in a sea of change!|
|Digs - rudimentary refuge and place to becalm|
|One of many wide open bays adjacent to MIA with Mogadishu city on the horizon|
|Raw 'elemental' energy is enough to transcend our own individual sea-changes |