Exotic Cities, Part Six: Mogadishu, Somalia
May 13, 2009
Somalia was created by the union of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland, which were granted independence in 1960. Today, nearly a half century later, it is a showcase for what the modern Negro can do with his own country once freed from the shackles of European colonialism. And nowhere is this achievement more aptly demonstrated than in the capital city, Mogadishu.
Civility, refinement, peace, order, safety, courtesy, and cleanliness: these are the qualities that set Mogadishu apart from most other capital cities. The natural beauty of the sea, the sand, and the surrounding countryside combine with the calm atmosphere of its pretty, tree-lined streets and the graciousness of its people to make it just the place where you can go to decompress, recharge, and feel human again.
You can choose from numerous little hotels that are cheap and very basic in their amenities, or you can splurge and enjoy the luxuries afforded by the Park Hyatt Mogadishu, which overlooks a harbor usually full of multi-colored sailboats and yachts. Manager Paul Verciglio runs a highly efficient establishment with a cadre of bellhops resplendent in their original Versace uniforms of emerald green with gold buttons. You will find fresh flowers (corpse lily, dragon arum, Stapelia, and Huernia) in your room, as well as a little fridge with wine and cakes and a bar stocked with miniatures.
“It’s a good life in Mogadishu,” says Paul with a contented sigh. “Much more peaceful than the big cities in Italy, with all their violence and social unrest. In fact, it’s an extraordinarily quiet city. At night you will only hear the gently pounding surf and the cuckoos calling to each other. By day, if you go downtown, you won’t even hear a radio playing loud or a car horn.”
Another reason for the peacefulness of the city is the curfew on juveniles under sixteen. They must be off the street by midnight, otherwise they can count on being picked up by one of the many serious-looking officers clad in stunning scarlet uniforms and white pith helmets designed by Gucci.
Despite its break from its colonial past, Mogadishu is full of Italian influence in its architecture, food, and fashions. Along the fashionable Via Jamaal Cabdi-Naasir, you will find shops of Dolce & Gabbana, Georgio Armani, and Roberto Cavalli, fine Italian restaurants, and the Globo Cinema, which runs a lot of spaghetti westerns. But two Canadians have also opened for business. Twin fashion designers Dan and Dean Caten, originally from Toronto, have opened a store called Dufarr. They are the prime movers behind Mogadishu’s nascent annual fashion show, which is rapidly developing into an international event. And now it is rumored that they have struck a deal to bring Victoria’s Secret to Mogadishu with a show this coming December and the simultaneous launch of a boutique.
Be sure to have a meal at Pelle’s, an Italian restaurant run by Sebastiano Pelle, former head chef at the prestigious La Pergola in Rome. The best deal is the “Catch of the Day,” which consists of whatever washed up on the beach that morning, served with no-name pasta and sauce.
High culture abounds in Mogadishu — live theater, a Shakespeare Festival, ballet, and the Mogadishu Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Coolio (a Negro), which recently recorded a 12-hour compilation of Songs of the Somali Fishermen for Sony.
Mogadishu’s large metropolitan area is well-served by a fleet of electric buses, whose operators are splendidly clad in pickle green and mustard yellow uniforms designed by H.J. Heinz of Pittsburgh. But this is a city that was made for walking, so put on your comfy shoes and just walk. You’ll notice that there is not a scrap of litter anywhere. These people are fanatics about clean streets, so don’t litter. It means a $50 fine.
Head for the city’s Central Park, which features spectacular fountains modeled after those found on the palatial estate of Benito Mussolini, and meticulously groomed plots of foxglove, water hemlock, titan arum, and Jimson weed. It’s the perfect retreat for poets. Indeed, the Toronto Star once informed its readers that the Somalis were the poets of Africa. You’ll see them sitting on the benches, scribbling away. I met Mogadishu’s Poet-in-Residence, Yusef Qanees. He showed me his latest poem, titled Epiphany:
The steam from a cup of tea
sets frogs a-singing
in the pool of blood behind my typewriter.
The richest neighborhood is the ultra-chic Wagberi district, where a number of new stately homes have sprouted up. Robert Pattinson owns one. Others are owned by Jennifer Aniston, Annie Duke, Michael Vick, and Gene Simmons.
Mogadishu has joined the growing trend in Third World countries of pairing up with a “sister city” in the U.S. Mogadishu is now the sister city of Miami, whose Mayor, Manny Diaz, explains why: “Both cities begin with ‘M.’ Both cities are on the ocean. And both cities consist mostly of minorities.” Making the arrangements was difficult because Mogadishu tends to be “in and out” of mayors. Fortunately, a prominent citizen, AbdiRisak Isse, took it upon himself to make the deal, since he manages the Coca Cola bottling plant, a position of even higher prestige than Mayor.
Mogadishu’s future is indeed bright, thanks to its proximity to vast deposits of silicon dioxide, which one can literally scoop up by the bucketful. And foreign capital is eager to invest in this grand, exotic city, kissed by the warm waves of the Indian Ocean, where porpoises and sperm whales frolic without a care.
As I was leaving my hotel, the bellhop, upon learning I lived in Canada, asked, “Do you know Michael Ignatieff?” I said I didn’t know him personally. “He looks like a big, stupid dung beetle,” the bellhop continued. “I want to step on his head and crush it like the dung beetle he is. I feel so sorry for Canada.” I tipped him generously.
Recommended vaccinations: encephalitis, yellow fever, Buerger’s Disease.
Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org