Signs of optimism in one of the world's poorest countries : Goats and Soda One of the world's poorest countries, Somalia is coping with conflict, a historic drought and a devastating food crisis. But there's another side to the country. Just take a look at the capital city.

Friday at the beach in Mogadishu: Optimism shines through despite Somalia's woes

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. And yet, NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, there are reasons for optimism as an emerging middle class makes its mark on the East African city.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: In Somalia, Friday is the start of the weekend. And in Mogadishu, Friday is a beach day. Early in the day, before Friday prayers and before the sun gets too hot, people flock to Liido Beach on the eastern side of the city, including 22-year-old Mulki Anwar.

MULKI ANWAR: This is a very important place because, you know, all these people - they came to here to have fun, to enjoy, you know? To us, it's very important to us.

BEAUBIEN: The university student says it's one of the few public spaces in Mogadishu that's free and relatively safe. Families sit under cloth awnings on the beach and drink tea. Young men play soccer barefoot on the sand. People wade out into the shallow waters of the Indian Ocean.

SHAFIE SHARIF MOHAMED: I'm Dr. Shafie Sharif Mohamed. I'm a managing director of Somali Researchers Association. Today, I came here with my kids. They're here to swim.

BEAUBIEN: Shafie says Fridays at Liido Beach are a respite from the hectic workweek.

MOHAMED: The weekdays, we have a very full day. We are very busy - as a father, and our children go to school, universities. So they have very busy week. And now we have exams. So now we need to have some sort of fresh air to come here and to see people are playing around. People are happy.

BEAUBIEN: Life in Somalia is still hard, he says, but it's way better than it was in the past. The security situation, in particular, Shafie says, has improved dramatically.

MOHAMED: When you compare five years or 10 years ago, someone who's a foreigner, like, you know, in media, could not able to come here and talk in peacefully manner.

BEAUBIEN: He's talking about me in how unusual is to have a reporter from America standing on the beach in Mogadishu with a big fuzzy microphone interviewing people. That just didn't happen even a few years ago. He says he's optimistic about the future, and he's not the only one in Mogadishu to feel that way. Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It's facing a historic drought. Attacks by al-Shabab occur regularly in the capital. Yet many residents now say they're refusing to let fear define their lives. Sitting on the beach in front of the Elite Hotel, which was partially destroyed by a car bomb two years ago, Asha Mahmoud Warsame says Mogadishu now is relatively peaceful.

ASHA MAHMOUD WARSAME: (Through interpreter) We are here. Mogadishu is calm. Those who have been threatening, the country has been pushing back. We haven't seen them these days. And we are seeing it is peaceful in the city.

BEAUBIEN: She says this despite multiple bombs going off in Mogadishu earlier in the week. In October, when an al-Shabab attack on the Ministry of Education killed more than 130 people, high school graduation ceremony continued just a few blocks away, even as ambulances rushed to the blast site. Asha, who runs a water trucking company, says she's more worried about inflation than terrorist attacks.

WARSAME: (Non-English language spoken).

BEAUBIEN: She says, "the price of water is up 50% this year." Burhan Warsame Abdi, who served as the chief of staff to the Somali prime minister in 2012, says in addition to attacking inflation, the country needs to rebuild basic governmental institutions.

BURHAN WARSAME ABDI: It's a huge challenge. And it's basically remaking an entire country.

BEAUBIEN: A new president took office in Mogadishu in May of last year, and his top priority has been to defeat al-Shabab.

WARSAME ABDI: Security is the biggest issue that's holding Somalia back. But now al-Shabab is on the run.

BEAUBIEN: Burhan says as security improves, Somalis are creating new businesses in Mogadishu. The city has super-cheap cellphone service and a fiber optic internet network. A couple who emigrated to Canada years ago have come back and set up a chain of fancy coffee shops.

WARSAME ABDI: Look around in Mogadishu, and you will be surprised - in the past six, seven years, the million-dollar apartments and houses that are being built in the country. And it's the private sector that is driving that growth in the country.

BEAUBIEN: He says the relative stability that Mogadishu is enjoying is due to the entrepreneurial spirit of individual Somalis and their faith in their country.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mogadishu, Somalia.

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