Tipping Point

“Every individual Somali fights to stay himself, a person.” (Gerard Hanley in ‘Warriors’)
The atmosphere can change in a matter of seconds while working in Somalia.

Today we were traveling with a militia south of Mogadishu in part so that Philip could take some photos of a ‘technical’, the well-known battlewagon in Somalia popularized in the fighting of the 1990s.
All went well until we reached the limit of where the militia could operate and we stopped momentarily at the border to say goodbye before moving off to the next area on our own.

Mustafa, our fixer, said we should get out of the car and Philip takes a photo as we get out.
Small discussions break out around us. We have two guards in the car with us, but between militia soldiers and the border checkpoint soldiers there are perhaps 20 other men armed with anything from an AK-47 to the large Duska/Duskia anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back of the technical.
Our own two militiamen get out of the car, shouting all the while.

To our right, two men raise their weapons both holding the barrels of each other’s gun. The soldier is tall and has his finger on the trigger of his half-metre long automatic weapon. Philip and I are a metre away, moving slowly back into the car. Our guard is confronting the border guards and all the militiamen have cocked their weapons against each other.
Now they’re lunging out, snatching each others’ weapons.

Our two guards are disarmed. Philip is telling me to get back into the car. I swing into the left-hand side at the back, keeping the door open with Philip to my right. The atmosphere is tremendously tense and everything is happening too quickly.
The right side of the car is now a whirl of movement, people repositioning themselves. I look for Mustafa and tell the driver we should leave. He stays.

Mustafa walks calmly round the back and gets in on the left side. Militiamen still arguing, with arms locked and outstretched in anger, our guards are handed back their AK47s through the right window.
We are slowly moving off but still we leave them mid-argument. Throughout the whole incident – which lasts perhaps three minutes, but feels a lot longer – I have no real idea what is going on or what the problem is.

One of our guards jumps on the outside frame on the right-hand side of our 4WD car and we pull out of the dusty square on the side of the road. Philip lights up a cigarette; I look at him, take a deep breath.
Turns out the soldiers at the border checkpoint assumed we had paid the militiamen to have the right to take photos. They were demanding money from us.
Another day. Another story.
[Photos from today viewable here.]