Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leaving Mogadishu

Although no one knows what the future may hold, I doubted that I would ever have the chance to return to Somalia. Unlike the camel in the photo, I had to look forward, not back, and prepare for our move to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Leaving Mogadishu

With the assignment cable in hand, we could start making plans. I brought out the calendar. ASM classes started in August; we would leave Mog in early October; our home leave in Texas and New Mexico would last six weeks; in January Fred had to report to Washington for training, consultation, and Spanish classes; our arrival in Santo Domingo was expected in April. This program looked like fun but maybe not the best plan for school age children.
I didn't want Dakota and Tina to have to change schools four times in one year. I did some research and found out about the Calvert School in Maryland. Calvert School offered home schooling materials with optional teacher support by mail. I signed us up for the whole deal – fifth grade for Tina and sixth grade for Dakota. If successful, my master plan would keep them up-to-date with their studies and able to enter the appropriate grade in Santo Domingo for the final term of the school year.
We asked around and learned that many families faced with the same problems would choose to split up, the wage earner going his way and the spouse and children spending the intervening months in their home of record, until time to show up at the new post when they would reunite. We scoffed at that idea, a practical solution perhaps, but not our style.
I turned my attention from education to logistics. Embassies usually contract with local moving companies to pack employees' household effects. Somalia didn't have moving companies as we know them, so the job reverted back to the employee, or, in most cases, the employee's faithful (or even unfaithful) spouse.
Before I started packing, though, I had to go through the sorting process. Airfreight, sea freight, accompanied baggage, items to discard or give away – our fifth time through the familiar old routine.
As soon as GSO delivered the stacks of packing boxes and packing paper, Dakota got to work. He packed all of his possessions the first day.
In his words, "I figure you'll be needing my help with the rest."
I did need his help as well as Fred's and Tina's. Our team effort finished the job on time and resulted in no breakages whatsoever. Can't say the same for all packers, even the professionals.
We sweated as we worked on our packing at home, and the kids and I sweated at school. ASM had no power for three weeks after a backhoe operated by Somali road crew demolished the school's power pole. An emergency generator ran water pumps to keep the bathrooms functional, but the school had no lights, fans, air-conditioning, computers or electric typewriters.
Tina said she didn't miss computer class at all. Fred asked her why.
"I don't think computers are necessary for my chosen profession."
"And what is your chosen profession, Miss?"
Fred laughed and said he imagined that Tina thought a typical housewife lived in a fine home, had lots of cuddly babies, and told the maid to fix lunch.
As we left Mogadishu, we carried away fond memories of many exciting experiences. But our final adventure in Africa happened during the taxi ride from the Nairobi Hilton to the airport to catch our midnight flight to the States. It was a moonless night, velvet black beyond the reach of the city lights. The hum of the tires and the cozy warmth of the cab almost lulled us to sleep, but the taxi's abrupt stop in the middle of the road bounced us awake. Across the yellow beams of the headlights streamed a parade of phantoms. A herd of wild zebras strolled across the highway, taking no notice of the insignificant intruders in their kingdom. Goodbye, Dark Continent, and thanks for the picturesque farewell salute. ###

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