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Reading ‘The Magician’s Land’ in Mogadishu

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The book: The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman

The place: Mogadishu

AT LAST! I have been checking every couple of days, waiting for the ebook of this to be available for people in the UK (couldn’t even pre-order it! WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE), and a few days ago it finally happened. I was in the middle of at least two other books at the time and so if I had any aptitude for delayed gratification I would have saved it until I was finished – possibly even until I go on holiday next week – but no. I cannot. I am not that sort of person and never will be.

It’s been a tricky couple of days in Mogadishu. On Sunday evening a large car-bomb exploded outside a café in town, killing ten (including four children) and injuring 15, at last count. This is the first major incident in Mogadishu since al Shabaab’s change of leadership, and there’s been a lot of speculation about what the change might mean – based on Sunday evening, the new boss looks depressingly like the old boss. The situation in Mogadishu is such that incidents like this don’t make much of a difference. I spoke to someone the next day, a British Somali who’s recently returned, and whose shop is directly opposite the café: “my first bomb since I’ve been back,” he said. “We just closed up the shop as quickly as possible and got out of there.” A colleague was telling me that a friend of his narrowly escaped being killed when a chunk of the exploding car flew through his own car window, but of course this guy turned up at work the next day as if nothing had happened. What else are you going to do, I guess.

I do find it fascinating that these incidents are so rarely reported outside of Somalia. Often when I’m in other places people are like “Mogadishu? I guess it’s safe now – you never hear anything much about it.” Yeah, not so much. Throughout Ramadan this year there was an average of three assassinations a day. I don’t think a single day has gone by with me being here when I haven’t heard at least one gunshot, and usually several. One of our security escorts was subject to an assassination attempt a couple of months ago (he survived, and is now back at work). There was a significant coordinated attack on the government compound in early July, and even that was barely reported outside the country. I suppose it’s natural: the news focuses on change, and changes in the security situation here are, sadly, minimal. But it’s still odd to compare this global lack of interest to the minute by minute coverage of the security situation when I was in Egypt last summer.

Given the context, it’s nice to have a bit of escapism in my reading. Admittedly this book contains its fair share of people being awful to other people, but at east they’re all imaginary.


Written by Jess

October 14, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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