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A Court Of Fowls: Episode 49

As Somalia descends into violence and chaos the beautiful Amina and her Masai companions settle in the comparative safety of a small coastal town near the Kenya border.

Michael Conrad Wood continues his thrilling novel of warfare and romance set in turbulent East Africa.

To read earlier episodes of Michael's novel visit
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_court_of_fowls/
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Chapter 17
Kaambooni

Said Barre’s ousting gave rise to much celebration in our camp.
Towards the end of his dictatorial and tyrannical rule, we had witnessed
a nation on the brink of starvation. Torture, indiscriminate
killings and political imprisonment had been our President’s trademark.

When opposing warlords looked like gaining the upper hand
in gun battles which blazed on a daily basis, Barre ordered his troops
to shell their strongholds in Mogadishu. It was his final desperate act
before fleeing temporarily to Kenya and later receiving muted acceptance
in distant Nigeria. I prayed that this banishment, away from
his own kind, would leave him lonely and bereft of good company
for the rest of his days.

My pleasure at Barre’s removal was tempered by knowledge that
the chain smoking insomniac had escaped justice. He would never be
tried for the blood on his hands, including that of my dear parents.

The sale of small arms which Nimrod orchestrated for opponents of
Barre probably made little overall contribution to the President’s ultimate
demise. Perhaps it helped only to raise the head of steam behind
the putsch which finally blew the top off a corrupt, ruthless,
decaying regime.

After he’d gone however, the country, and Mogadishu in particular,
descended into still greater chaos. Continuous factional fighting
became the norm. Hundreds of militants and innocent bystanders
died in daily street battles. Somalia transformed itself into the
world’s leading failed state. There was no semblance of government.

Warlords became de facto rulers. They talked with rockets, grenade
launchers and heavy calibre GPMGs37. In this dire environment one
man emerged stronger than the rest – General Mohamed Farrah
Aidid (Barre’s former Intelligence Chief).
Aidid was born into the Habar Gidir clan. He showed no more
compassion towards the Isaaq than Barre had done, nor inclination
to halt the discrimination against us. Declaring himself President by
decree he was soon fighting a rearguard action against other clans.

Neither was his authority recognised internationally. The United
Nations came ashore with Pakistani peacekeepers. Aidid, in whose
interests it was to maintain a state of anarchy, had some of them
murdered. In the wake of this brutality the UN proved next to useless,
just as they were in Rwanda and Kosovo. While they drew their
fat salaries, and drove around in fleets of top of the range armoured
Land Cruisers, corpses continued to line Mogadishu’s streets. Reportedly,
the rank smell of rotting flesh pervaded the air everywhere
one turned.

When the Americans followed with a mission to eject Aidid, they
failed too. Brashly they moved in with their gum chewing, illdisciplined
marines and helicopter gun-ships. Many left in body bags,
mutilated beyond recognition. What did they think they were coming
to? Clinton finally issued orders to pull out completely. A thousand
US troops left Somalia, bewildered, their narcissism in tatters, never
before having had to deal with the unorthodox violence perpetrated
against their patrols by khat38 crazed gunmen. The drug-induced
bravado caused America’s opponents to stand waist naked, bandoleers
slung casually over their shoulders, pumping their assault rifles,
oblivious to the possibility of death.

While our little community had profited handsomely from its
trading with Scallattari, we could never have predicted the vacuum
created by Siad Barre’s removal, and the new mayhem which overtook
us. Before there was a modicum of order, even if it was driven
by fear and repression. Under Aidid and his successors, Somalia continued
to spiral downwards like dirty dish water sucked into a drain.

Fleeing countrymen sought refuge in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and
much further afield. They could be counted not in their thousands,
but hundreds of thousands. The social fabric of my country had
fallen apart completely, its best brains long gone.

During this tumultuous time I retreated with Nimrod and his followers,
with women and children in tow, to the relative safety of a
small coastal town called Kaambooni, right on the border with
Kenya. It was remote and held no interest for the warlords. We were
able to lead reasonably normal lives without fear of arrest or persecution,
in a part of the country which after a fashion, had the capability
to run itself. Nimrod spent some of his time doing what he
liked best. Rebuilding his herd of cattle, and trading some of these.

Our camp was set up a mile from Kaambooni, on the beach
among a grove of palm trees. For several years we lived comfortably
enough under canvas (from which we collected fresh water when we
were blessed with rain). Our diet was mainly fish supplemented occasionally
with a goat stew. We bought delicious fruits and vegetables
from small markets on both sides of the border. Daily we savoured
coconut milk and ate its flesh while it was still soft. In many respects
it was an idyllic if simple existence, made easier by our continuing
cattle and gun trade bringing in more than enough money for the
group’s collective needs. We could even afford to send to Malindi or
Mombasa for the occasional luxury. I was also able to wire money to
my sisters in Rome, enabling them to complete their education. They
soon found work in Italy. I would be forever in Nimrod’s debt for
helping me to look after them up to the point of their graduation.

There was an inevitability about him and I becoming more than
good friends. I always liked the look of him once I had seen beyond
the raincoat and beanie. When he saved me from the fate that Gabobe
and al-Rashid had planned, my feelings for him grew stronger.
He was my hero. Without any physical contact I fell in love. ‘Maybe I
want you for my wife.’ I remembered him saying that the first day we
met on that road to Gelib, and thinking what a cheek. How things
change! The longer I stayed in his company, the more I wanted to
become just that. Yet he was so reticent. I felt I saw yearning in his
eyes and believed that he loved me too. But in word and deed he remained
what? ...... respectful, I suppose is as close as it got – until I
could stand the waiting no longer and took matters into my own
hands.

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