Many Struggle To Survive In Somalia's Capital

A view of Mogadishu's strategic junction, known as Kilometer 4. While the city is very dangerous, bullets don't fly all the time. When things  are calm, people are often out and about, shopping and chatting. i i

A view of Mogadishu's strategic junction, known as Kilometer 4. While the city is very dangerous, bullets don't fly all the time. When things are calm, people are often out and about, shopping and chatting. Frank Langfitt/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt/NPR
A view of Mogadishu's strategic junction, known as Kilometer 4. While the city is very dangerous, bullets don't fly all the time. When things  are calm, people are often out and about, shopping and chatting.

A view of Mogadishu's strategic junction, known as Kilometer 4. While the city is very dangerous, bullets don't fly all the time. When things are calm, people are often out and about, shopping and chatting.

Frank Langfitt/NPR

Part 2 of a four-part series

After two decades of civil war, Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, remains one of the world's most dangerous cities.

More than 100 people died in fighting just last week, according to officials. But every morning, hundreds of thousands of people wake up there and somehow make it through another day.

High school economics teacher Abdifatah Ali Hassan lives on the front lines in Mogadishu. Ali Hassan sleeps in his shoes. Given the location of his home, he has to — because mortars hit his neighborhood all the time.

"We are ready to run. All our things are ready. I and my shoes are sleeping together," says Ali Hassan, who lives with his parents.

After the first mortar hits, Ali Hassan races through the dark to the nearest shelter, a concrete house.

Map Of Somalia

Mortars aren't his only problem — another is shakedowns. Mogadishu is mostly lawless.

Over the past four months, Ali Hassan says, clan militias in his neighborhood have robbed him of $700. That's more than half his annual salary as a teacher.

"I hate being robbed, but we cause some of the problem ourselves," he says. "These militias are from the same clan we belong to! So it's a problem created by the community."

Somalia's weak, transitional government provides almost no services.

Fatima Abdi Ali has lived without running water for more than two decades. She lights her apartment with kerosene lamps, because she can't afford electricity.

Ali relies on the $200 her son sends her each month from South Africa — and the small profit she makes buying and reselling honey from a bee farm outside of town. But to get to the bee farm, she must take a minibus through a checkpoint controlled by Islamist rebels called al-Shabab.

"It's not safe to go there, but I have no alternative," Ali says. "If I had another alternative, I would not do this job, because it's dangerous. Sometimes they steal your money."

And, she says, late one afternoon, they killed a fellow passenger.

"They shot a man because he did not participate in afternoon prayers," Ali says.

Somalia's government claims loose military control over more than half of Mogadishu. Al-Shabab, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, controls the rest. The group wants to destroy the U.S.-backed government and set up a strict Islamic state.

Some Somalis are fighting back. Abdullahi Hassan is a businessman, who sells sugar, flour and building materials. He helps finance a moderate Islamist militia that is battling al-Shabab.

"Actually, they know me. I'm one of the targets," Hassan says.

Hassan travels around town with six or seven armed guards. Al-Shabab has tried to kill him.

"Many times," Hassan says. "The last attack they hit our car, but luckily I survived; but another three were killed ... they used an RPG-7." An RPG-7 is a rocket-propelled grenade.

Fartuun Abdisalan Adan lives near a trash-strewn roundabout. It's well inside the government lines, but she says nowhere is safe. A couple of weeks ago, a woman tossed a grenade in a market there, killing a handful of street kids.

"Every morning it is scary. You are thinking, today we [have] survived — how about tomorrow?" Adan says.

Adan runs the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, a nongovernmental organization that, among other things, teaches teenage boys electrical and mechanical skills. Adan wants them to find jobs so they don't join militias or al-Shabab.

Every morning she must check to make sure boys from al-Shabab don't slip into her training sessions.

"We want to help them, but at the same time we are afraid," Adan says.

The view through the wall of a bombed-out villa  in an abandoned neighborhood in Mogadishu. i i

The view through the wall of a bombed-out villa in an abandoned neighborhood in Mogadishu. Frank Langfitt /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Frank Langfitt /NPR
The view through the wall of a bombed-out villa  in an abandoned neighborhood in Mogadishu.

The view through the wall of a bombed-out villa in an abandoned neighborhood in Mogadishu.

Frank Langfitt /NPR

She says the kids are frisked every morning to make sure none is carrying a bomb.

Adan returns home by 4 o'clock each afternoon for safety. She describes herself as middle class. Evenings are more worldly than you might expect.

"We have electricity, we have a TV, we have Internet, we have everything. You can watch every channel in Mogadishu ... I watch Oprah ... I watch the BBC news," Adan says.

Adan buys her electricity and water from private companies, and bought a satellite dish for $150. She returned to Mogadishu a few years ago after living in Canada. As difficult as life is here, she has no plans to leave.

"I want to stay as much as I can, because we committed [to] this work, and we [are] doing it, and we wanted to make a difference," she says.

There's a personal reason, as well. Her husband, Elman Ali Ahmed, ran a similar vocational program, but it tapped into the labor market for child soldiers. Warlords became angry, Adan says, and had him killed.

Amid the ruin and violence of Mogadishu, she wants to finish what her late husband started.

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