We arrived here safely yesterday and it's been quite a ride. I'm trying to keep the updates weekly so I'm not clogging your emails but there are just too many things to tell you that I'd rather not wait and forget - although I doubt that would happen!
Before that though, just a note to all of you to thank you for all of your encouragement and emails...I really appreciate them and your prayers have helped me through a lot of adjusting!
The flight into Somalia was really smooth until the landing:) All I could see out my window since crossing the border was rocks, dirt and bushes so when we started descending I thought it was really weird since I couldn't figure out where we were going to land. A moment later and the plane dipped to the right at what felt like 45 degrees and we started twirling. I regret not taking Paul's advice and leaving the Gravol in my packed luggage! The runway was - I kid you not - a patch of dirt where some bushes had been removed! How those tires make it is beyond me.
Once we landed they asked us to disembark since they needed to refuel. That was fine until we realized that this fuel stop was actually going to be over night...doh! It was in an area where World Vision had a compound though so it was fine.
Two things I've had to get used to REALLY fast:
Everyone has a gun - very strange to see a father walking down the street, with his little 3-year old son in tow, and an AK47 around his chest. The gun culture here is deeply ingrained as there has really been no reliable rule of law since 1991. Only way to be safe is to have a gun - a big one.
Covering my head - it's extremely hot here and I can't stop fidgeting with my scarves. I have to say though that there's something freeing to not having to worry about my hair, my makeup, my clothing. I just put on my black one piece top/dress with a scarf and I'm ready to go:)
Interestingly enough, when we showed up at the airstrip this morning to continue on to our final destination ( a town called Bualle), we were told that there were four (!) other stops on the way to that town since others had arrived and they needed to make the best of the run. I couldn't believe it, the plane we were on was like a taxi just deciding where to go depending on who showed up! The most worrying stop for our pilot was a place called Kismayo which is a few hundred km's from Mogadishu and where all of the Islamic Court Union folks retreated to when the Ethiopian army came in last winter. We were supposed to land and take off immediately after basically throwing one of our passengers out the back door but all of the sudden these guys came up to the plane and told us we had to wait - the "manager" of the airstrip wished to speak to the UN pilot. Well, as you can imagine he got very stressed very quickly and started shouting that he was never coming back here again and that there was no reason to wait. Our Somali colleagues in the plane told him he needed to just relax and not lose his cool - especially with a whole bunch of gun-toting men asking us to kindly wait 10 minutes.
My mind went back to a conversation I had had with a Somali colleague in Nairobi. He had told me that Somali male culture can be very loud and bent on bravado so don't be afraid if everyone starts shouting. Shouting is manageable. It is when people get quiet that you should worry. Well, we sat in silence for some 30 seconds before the doors slammed, the pilot swore and we took off over the men so close to their heads that I'm sure I could have reached out and touched them. Hmmmm.
On the flip side though, I have had nothing but genuine, friendly, welcoming interactions with the people. Everywhere I turn people are smiling, waving or trying to carry something for me. The women are so inviting and laugh constantly. They're always telling each other jokes, making fun of the men or preparing something incredibly delicious. I had so many pieces of this sweet cake yesterday that I could hardly eat dinner. Although dinner was great too. Everything is fresh with nothing chemically added and tastes so good. I was a bit hesitant about trying the meat but ended up really enjoying the goat. They say the best goats are in Somalia because it is so dry that they have to hold all the water they can (like camels) so they're very juicy ...mmmm...goooooaaaat.
Okay - long enough story. I have to run as it's lunch time and I have to build up the courage to use the outhouse before we eat.
I love you all. Thank you for your prayers and thoughts!!!
P.S. It's incredible to think that I'm in the middle of a country that hasn't had a government for more than 16 years and I have access to internet, my phone is crystal clear and we're watching BBC on the television. Technology is unbelievable.
P.P.S. It's also incredible to think that we look at countries like this and call them failed states. What other country has had no government for almost two decades and is able to still have rudimentary economic, social etc, systems in place. If I was dropped in the middle of this country on my own I wouldn't survive a single day! There's a lot we can learn from people who can depend on no one but themselves for survival - a lot of strength here I hope to learn from.