Sunday, December 30, 2012

Arrested for Espionage

© Greg Cummings

Sun, Nov 10th 1985
I'm standing on the rooftop of the Red Sea Hotel as dusk falls. The Yemeni port of Hodeida hums with commerce, hustle, trade between seafaring cultures in transit. It's a busy, sprawling seafront town, of two and three storey sand-brick buildings pierced by half a dozen slender minarets. 

The port juts out into the sea, strong-arming passing ships into harbour. And there are hundreds of ships here, as many vessels as there are little restaurants filled with khat-addled Yemeni men in sarongs, tucking into steaming plates of barbequed chicken, beef stew with puffy flaps of pita bread, salad. No alcohol. No women. 

I'm only in the Yemen because I won second prize in a raffle at the United Nations 40th Anniversary Ball at the Addis Ababa Hilton: two weeks in the Yemen "What was first prize," asked my father, "one week?" 

The night before lastwhen I stood as now outside my room on the rooftop terrace of the Red Sea Hotel smoking a cigarette, listening to the muezzin's call to prayera favourable off-shore breeze broke through the haze, and the intense pre-dusk sunlight revealed a spit of land stretching northwest beyond the port.

The next morning I found my way out to this forbidding province of flatland, and spent most of the day sitting cross-legged in front of the Red Sea, on an empty, wind-swept beach on the far side of the port. It was an elemental convergence of sky, sun, sand, sea, and prodigal son. 

Everything on my barren beachhead was flat and simpleI could not see another soul anywhere. Such a desolate scene deserved a photograph. My father had loaned me his Yashika single lens reflex camera for the trip. I placed it in the middle of the road, set the timer, then walked away. After ten steps I heard the shutter click then wondered how the picture had turned out. As I retrieved the camera, I spotted a vehicle approaching from the direction of town, a white Land Rover heading straight for me at high speed. Still, it took an entire minute for it to reach me.

The vehicle came to a screeching, sideways halt just a few feet in front of me. Out jumped half a dozen men in headdresses, armed with traditional Arab cutlasses around their waists. One of them politely ordered me into the vehicle. “Please! Please!” he said. 

Crabs scuttled like ragged claws across my back. I didn't know these people. Was I being kidnapped? He showed me his badge and then his pistol, and I realised all along he'd been saying, “Police, Police!”  Reluctantly, I climbed into the vehicle. 

We sped back to Hodeida. They parked the car in front of police headquarters then escorted me into a compound where everyone was carrying weapons. I was forced at gun point into a room furnished only with a single mattress on the floor and naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. "This is fucking it!" I thought.  

They went through my leather satchel, sifting through letters, removing my journal, my passport, my camera, smiling all the while. Then I was hustled out of the station, back into the Land Rover and dropped back at the Red Sea Hotel. Once inside the hotel lobby, they informed the proprietor I was under house arrest, and me that they would pick me up the next morning at nine o’clock sharp. By this time I was intensely shaken by the whole ordeal, unsure what to do next.

The police had my passport. Still, I recalled a page in it that stipulated, in leu of any Canadian diplomatic service, I should seek out the nearest British Counsel. I found him in the bar of the nearby Ambassador Hotel nursing a gin and tonic, and told him my story.

"You were taking pictures of the harbour?" he laughed. 

"Not intentionally," I said. "All I saw was empty flatland. I was photographing myself, if anything."

"You should be grateful you're standing here, talking to me now," said the Counsel. "The last chaps they arrested for that offence were thrown in jail for two weeks." 

Just then I spied a man trying to conceal himself behind a pillar outside the hotel entrance. It was the same stalky bearded guy who'd been following me since I left my hotel. He was obviously my minder, though I found I could keep him at bay as long as I held an alcoholic beverage in my hand.

Hoping he'd eventually tire of waiting, I shot a few games of pool with some Norwegian aid workers, who reassured me this was all just a storm in a teacup, then left the Ambassador at around midnight. My minder was nowhere to be seen. Back in my rooftop hotel room I spent a hot, sleepless night dreaming a ghostly visit from a dead friend and awoke in a pool of sweat, held fast by desert moonlight, no idea where I was. 

The next morning, as promised, I was picked up outside my hotel at 9 am by the police and taken back to their headquarters where this time they ushered me into a different room, filled with suspects. There I waited for about two hours, chain smoking, listening to the complaints and queries of the aggravated assembled. 

Finally, I was led out of the waiting room and up a flight of stairs to the second floor. As we walked the corridors, the high ceilings and mosaic floors had a cooling, calming effect. We eventually reached a large office. There, seated behind a desk, was a tall, well built man, wearing a white dish-dash and red checkered kefeyah, and screaming into his phone. 

I saw my journal, letters and passport strewn across on his desk and wondered if he'd read any of my writing, or all of it. I'd written some fairly blasphemous content. How would he react? When he hung up the phone, he intstructed the man who had led me there to translate for him. That's when I realized he couldn’t have read any of it. Phew! 

They gave me back my camera. The film had already been developed. The shot of me walking away, down the abandoned highway wasn't that bad at all, in focus and with good depth of field.

The chief of police situated himself in front of his desk, with one foot in his hand, then stretched and twisted his neck. He repeated this again and again as he asked me my purpose in Yemen, my profession, and why in God's name I'd been taking photographs near a military installation. I answered the questions slowly and precisely, explaining I had no idea I was in such a sensitive area. 

"Why would you take photographs," asked the translator, who had the air of an undertaker, "when you wrote in your journal someone had already warned you when you arrived at the airport not to take pictures?" I swallowed hard, but the words escaped me. So my journal had been read.

Nevertheless, the chief of police seemed convinced that I was not a spy, and the conversation soon moved to the situation in Ethiopia, a nation gripped by famine. As we talked, he became more interested and concerned about their plight and asked me what I thought was the best solution to the problem. 

"The misuse of land that has contributed to about a third of the problem," I said. "Development, and a better understanding of agriculture are the best long term solutions."

"Perhaps we can be of some help," he said. "We Yemenis have been farming the desert for centuries."

He then dismissed me, saying he was grateful for having had the opportunity to meet me and that in future I should be more responsible about where I take photographs. I thanked him and left, with my passport, my letters, my journal. 

I'm preparing to leave old Hodeidah-by-the-sea now, breathing in the rich, sweet air as I struggle to stuff the endmost of my things into a suitcase.  I think my favourite kind of climate is breezy tropical coastal, with lots of sunshine. And the life must be simple and free...Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Dar es Salaam, and Hodeida are all places which meet the criteria. But I doubt I'll pass this way again.

I recall the time I placed a long distance call from New York to LA for an Arab who could not speak English, after he accosted me at JFK airport. Christ, I don’t know how I pulled that off. 

I stuff the photographs into my satchel and smile, glancing momentarily at the shot of me walking down the road. In the distant background I can just make out the silhouette of a missile silo. It won't take much to enhance it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Non-Lethal Deterrent

Watching a young man in the suburbs load an arsenal of weapons into the boot of his car, the powers that be concluded his intentions were hostile. Accordingly they eliminated him before he could do any harm. Imagine if this had been in Newtown, Conn last Friday. Twenty children would still be alive and enjoying the holiday season. 

Instead this was a “signature strike” drone attack in a region of the Yemen under the control of Al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). A signature strike targets individuals or groups “who bear characteristics associated with terrorism but whose identities are not known.” In this case, the signature was a young man stocking his car with AK-47s. 

As it turned out, he wasn’t an AQAP militant but a civilian on his way to a wedding. It’s traditional to fire guns in the air at Yemeni weddings. Consequently, the United States government launched yet another botched drone attack in which innocent people were killed.

Looking at the two events in tandem - the drone attack in Yemen and the Newton massacre - it’s clear Barak Obama’s priorities are completely wrong. Here’s a president who hasn’t passed a single bit of gun legislation during his entire time in office, yet approves dozens of drone attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia -fostering the next generation of militant Islamists bent on attacking Americans, I might add.

“When Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2009, he had authorized more drone strikes than George W. Bush had approved during his entire presidency. By his third year in office, Obama had approved the killings of twice as many suspected terrorists as had ever been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay.” 

So wrote Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman, in his book Kill Or Capture about Obama’s secret war of drone strikes and covert operations. Klaidman’s unique insight recounts the painful deliberations the president went through over successive briefings by the military and CIA regarding the planned executions of people on the “kill list”. He also describes how Obama ultimately wholeheartedly embraced the practice. Homeboy has a jones for drones.

Drone attacks on Somali pirates aren’t common, thank God. Rather, to monitor the multifarious activities of majeerteen fishermen around the Horn of Africa, the US military flies regular unmanned arial missions out of Arba Minch airport in Ethiopia for surveillance purposes only. It’s up to the combined task force 151 (CTF 151), an international maritime defense fleet deployed in the Gulf of Aden, to come to the aid of any vessels under attack by pirates.  

Although many ships these days will not sail through the Gulf without armed guards on board, the wider maritime community disallows lethal weapons on seafaring vessels. Most countries forbid them aboard ships that sail into their ports, which kind of makes sense. In an effort to combat piracy within the restrictions of maritime law, therefore, more and more shipping companies are now deploying non-lethal defences aboard their ships.

What constitutes non-lethal? Wether its a dazzle gun, long range acoustic device, boat trap, electric fence, slippery foam, optical laser distractor, robot anti-pirate boat, or active denial system, the key characteristic of a non-lethal weapon is its effectiveness in deterring and disarming attackers without necessarily harming them. 

Take the active denial system, an energy weapon designed for “area denial, perimeter security and crowd control.” Sometimes referred to as a heat ray, it works by cooking its targets, much like a microwave oven, causing intolerable pain. Burn injury is prevented by limiting the beam’s intensity and duration. It was developed by the US military and deployed to Afghanistan, but withdrawn without ever letting the Taliban feel the heat.

A long range acoustical device onboard ship
The long range acoustic device (LRAD) is a unidirectional combat loud speaker that uses intensified sound waves with similar effect. It has a metre-wide beam and only those in the line of fire receive the full excruciating blare, as the LRAD sends forth an audio assault of pain inducing tones that force attackers to cover their ears and let go of their weapons. 

Sweeping the beam across a crowd in a metachronal rhythm produces a similar effect to a Mexican wave. There’s also a ‘ghost battalion’ selection on the device which replicates the sound of warfare at a thousand times the decibels. Imagine being pursued by an LRAD blasting ABBA’s “Mama Mia‘...

Perhaps the most ingenious non-lethal weapon is the dazzle gun, or laser rifle, a man-portable piece that uses intense directed radiation to temporarily blind or disorient its target. Dazzlers have been used in Iraq to halt (but not kill) drivers who fail to stop at checkpoints manned by American soldiers.

Laser rifles temporarily blind their target
Could this be the way to defend America’s schools without bringing lethal weapons into the classroom? Would a dazzler have been effective in thwarting Adam Lanza’s attack on Sandy Hook? Could an LRAD have forced him to let go of his weapon?

It seems incongruous that in deterring America’s enemies, in far-flung failed states, the United States government is willing to consider non-lethal means, but in defending its own children, it’s an all-or-nothing debate about firearms. How is it that Somali pirates get more consideration than American citizens?

There is an alternative, and the US has the know how to invent it. Meantime, if you must continue with your “signature strikes”, Mr President, at least use them to target the mass murderers in your midst.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Yemeni Road

Journal entry, written on a bus in The Yemen, aged 23 © Greg Cummings 

Thurs Nov 7 ‘85
About an hour outside Sa'na, the earth suddenly falls away and plunges some five thousand feet into a sandstone valley. It makes for pretty precarious driving but, with a grooving Yemeni tune rolling round the bus, I feel quite comfortable. I've just noticed the rocks are green, not from moss or anything like that, just green. The weather is cold but the air, chocked with dust, and random twisters dance between the hills.

Entire towns are perched precariously atop towering rock promontories, two to three thousand feet above the saddle, leading one to wonder how the fuck the inhabitants of these eyries manage to say a neighbourly 'Good morning' to each other. 

The bus was stopped just outside Sa'na at a military road block, and a young  soldier carrying an AK-47 came aboard and scrutinised the faces of the bus passengers, presumably looking for subversives. He took one look at me and demanded, “Pazzpord.” I trusted my papers were all in order.

Climbing up the other side of the valley now, where the rocks are blue and the clouds roll between the sun and jagged peaks of the southern rift. 

I want to escape into these mountains and wail a despondent solo, live in a clay tower with a veiled wife and goats, read the Quran every day and soar with the hawks, learn to play the harooz and weave silk with hennaed hands. Only then will I be able to write home and tell mother everything's just fine.

Down we wind, through a maze of jagged hills and passes, where more tropical vegetation clings to the river banks we cross. It’s certainly warmer and more humid in the valley below, and I see more women without veils, some quite beautiful. We’re still a ways from the sea, zigzagging our way up and down foothills. The boulders appear carbon-based and ready to issue wisdom. Their smooth wispy shapes evoke wild impression, a sense of madness in the geology. 

We’re on the coastal flats now, where a thick haze of dust hangs over miles and miles of farmland, so thick the setting sun disappears behind it. For all I know in this murk, we could be nowhere, trapped on a doom-bound bus that's hurtling its way through desolate uncertainty towards the edge of the earth. No more farmlands, it’s now only desert. We're headed for world’s end. Hang on, there’s a town up ahead. Could it be - yes it is. Hodeida-by-the-Sea. I get it, what seemed a desert was really the world’s widest beach!

Alas, the Red Sea! The balmy, balmy Red Sea!

Getting To The Bottom Of Things

Excerpt from the first draft MS for PIRATES (Cutting Edge Press) © Greg Cummings

Johnny hesitated, scrutinizing the darkness. There was a chance predators would try to come near, but Derek had taken the precaution of erecting a fence of thorns around their campsite to keep animals at bay. Johnny turned back, and continued. “In time, they told me I was free to go, but I chose to stay, not least for the incredible tuna fishing. I’m telling you, Derek, it was Yellow-fin genocide all day long!”
“You sure do love your tuna, Johnny Oceans,” laughed Derek, as he stoked the fire, causing sparks to erupt from the embers. “So, you’re telling me that all this time you were in Somalia? Damn, you must have really wanted to get away from Uncle Bobby.”
“Somalia’s incredible, man; I love it. It’s nothing like people think it is.” Johnny glanced around their surroundings but, except for the fire and his and Derek’s glowing faces, there was nothing but blackness. “A bit like this place…”
“Even so, it would have taken a brave wise guy to venture in there after you.”
Fuhgetaboutid! It took a while to detox the casino racket, that’s for sure, but Puntland had everything I needed. Man, they’ve got Black-finned marlin the size of Cadillacs. Five hundred kilos or more - I shit you not. And the diving, oh, you wouldn’t believe the diving. It’s like an underwater basilica down there.”
“You make the place sound like heaven, but this is Somalia we’re talking about...”
“Puntland. It ain’t like the south. It’s a semi-autonomous state. Sure, the people are Muslims, but they’re not Islamists. The Land of Punt is its own land, with its own people - mostly from the Majeerteen clan.”
“Did they make you feel at home, these Majeerteen?”
“Not to begin with, not until I earned their confidence. The Majeerteen are notoriously xenophobic. It takes a long time to earn their trust. I think at that time I was the only American in Puntland, but that didn’t matter. For the first time in my life I got a sense of my own identity, you know, my place in the scheme of things.” Johnny gazed thoughtfully at the fire, as he recalled the profound transformation he had experienced In the Horn of Africa. “After a while I immersed myself in their culture, converted to Islam, changed my name to Abdul Rahman, and married a Somali woman.” He paused and dropped his head, overwhelmed by the thought of his wife.
“Is she beautiful?” asked Derek, reclining back in his chair.
“Khadija? Uh, like no other woman.”
“Really?” Derek clasped his hands behind his head and gazed up at the stars. “Tell me, how beautiful?”
“Think of Iman, David Bowie’s wife, only 20 years younger.”
“Nice! Where is she now?”
“I had to leave her behind. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. But after years of living in peace in Puntland, our lives were in danger. I had to leave, and in a hurry, in order to free her of the threat.”

Out On Big Blue

Excerpt from an article (East Africa Magazine, 2010) by Greg Cummings

The sun is pegging and all around us fish are jumping: wahoo, swordfish, tuna. We’re on Albatross, fishing somewhere over the Malindi Watamu Bank, about 17 miles off the Kenyan Coast, with more hooks than Jay-Z trailing from our stern. 
Suddenly a line screams off the reel. “We’ve got a strike!” shouts Joe Baker, and hands me the rod. I struggle to take control of it, grappling with the method and muscle required, but my enthusiasm vastly outweighs my experience. All the while, I’m being given orders from above and behind: “Feed the line!” “Let the pole do the work!” “Don’t let your line touch the boat!” “You can’t take a break now!” I soon get the hang of it, and am rocking and reeling, dragging up a monster from the deep.
It feels like I’ve been fighting for hours, though it can’t be more than fifteen minutes, and I want to give up from the ache in my left arm but I know I have to see this through. Finally I spot him, just below the ocean surface, shimmering in the big blue, and he’s still fighting hard. I put everything I’ve got into the last 5 meters. When at last he’s close enough, the boatmen lean over the stern and grab him with their gaffers.
“Bu yakka!” I shout, staggering away from the fighting chair, breathless, bone-tired and dripping with sweat from the fight. 
“You can’t be a Tuna Murdra without getting blood on the decks!” laughs Joe, as my yellowfin is pulled aboard by the two Kenyan boatmen, and immediately bled with long knives. 
“You must eat the heart of your first yellowfin!” adds skipper JJ Nicholas. It’s a sobering thought but nothing can contain my excitement at seeing this great fish in the flesh. It’s a beautiful beast with vivid silver and black markings, a turquoise stripe down its side, and bright yellow fins and finlets, which give it its name. In my mind it’s plenty big - at least 25 kgs - but I’m told they can reach 5 times that size. I just know it’s going to taste delicious - heart and all - when Felipe cooks it up at Rosada’s in Malindi tonight. 
“Last week I got two tunnies tangled and a Black came up and snatched them both,” says JJ, recounting a recent close call with a Black fin marlin. “Couldn’t hold him for longer than a minute on two bloody lines!” Albatross might be Joe’s boat, but chartering this 33 foot Black Fin Express is JJ’s operation. Born and raised in Watamu, he has spent more than 30 years fishing and diving off the Kenyan Coast. His experience shows as he steers Albatross lightly into the swells with understated skill, like a expert safari guide, instinctively drawn towards the game. 
I open a can of Tusker, Kenya’s award-winning beer, take a hard swig and am feeling very satisfied. We’re getting strike after strike, and with each one every one of the half a dozen lines and teasers trailing from our stern must be reeled in and the rods put aside on deck, so as to not tangle with the active line. The boatmen are hard at work. Mbololongu, a lanky Bantu with ungainly features, is the more experienced of the two and has a pretty good handle on the routine, though he has only been doing this work for two years. 
“Who’s the daddy?” cries Joe, as reels in another yellowfin tuna. He’s an experienced Angler and it shows: it takes him less than ten minutes to bring in his tunny. “It’s yellow-fin genocide!” he hollers with sheer delight.
Joe’s big appetite for big pursuits in Africa is in the vein of Hemingway. Like many Americans here, he just wants to enjoy himself, unencumbered by white man’s burden. He respects the English who settled in East Africa but he doesn’t share their point of view. When he first moved here in the early Nineties, he let his enthusiasm for deep sea fishing be known at the Malindi Fishing Club. “Just what we need, a Yank coming here to teach us how to fish,” was the response. So Joe went out and caught the biggest Black fin tuna recorded in Kenya that year. When he returned to the Club he was greeted with an obliging handshake and a, “Well done old chap!” These days, he’s a deep drop ninja, stalking the swordfish grander: over 150 kg. He believes a day-time deep drop - just one line and bait down - could do the trick and catch one of these deep water monsters.

We are headed back to shore now, Albatross brimming with as many fish as the bin is brimming with empty Tuskers. There are few things in life that satisfy me as much as spending time in Africa’s big open spaces. I have travelled from Congo to the Coast and I am contented. And from this tapestry of sun, sky, ocean, shores and forests I begin to unravel myself, knowing my inevitable departure approaches. We pass a dhow with a big samosa sail, but without much water between us, and I get a glimpse of the skippers eyes: old and sunken but as bright as the day he was born. No doubt he’s been fishing these waters for time immemorial, following the ancient trade routes up and down the Swahili Coast. Perhaps I should follow him.

“Nothing exceeds like excess,” says Joe, bringing me back down to sea level and reminding me of the decadence of our pursuits. I’ve only known him a couple of days, but I think we’ll end up being life-long friends. I have a feeling Papa would have liked him too, and the other Americans I have spoken of on this Big Hemingway Safari, those whom he inspired to take the buffalo by the horns and settle on the Bright Continent. 

Believing I’m all out of quotes, and about to throw the last beer in the bin, an inscription on the back of my Tusker suddenly catches my eye: “When you know where you come from, you will know where you are going.” Ain’t that the truth?!

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Chapter One

Excerpt from the first draft MS for PIRATES (Cutting Edge Press) © Greg Cummings

Brandishing a baseball bat like an exclamation mark, Mehemet Abdul Rahman eased open the large, brass-studded, Zanzibar door to his house and stepped into the dead of night. Against this stretch of the Somali coastline the Indian Ocean was windless and hushed, gently beating the shore beyond the perimeter of his compound. Apart from his wife, children and servants asleep indoors, there was not another soul for miles in either direction. Nothing stirred, though he was certain he’d heard something. A trespasser, someone who was presently hiding in the mottled shadows of twisted juniper, palm and aloes draped across his garden. 
He held his baseball bat with both hands, as though expecting a sudden curve ball from an unseen pitcher, all the while knowing it was of little use against an assassin armed with an AK-47. There was a loaded .38 snub nose tucked into the back of his pajamas, but he believed he stood a better chance if he appeared unarmed to the intruder. He would duck and roll out of the line of fire the instant he heard a charging handle being released. 
Although in his mid fifties Mehemet was in good physical shape, well-built, of medium height, and with a full head of dark hair. As he crept through the shadows, his distinct Roman nose caught the gleam of his garden lights, though it was his sense of hearing he was most relying on. A twig snapped. He dropped the bat, reached around, grabbed his pistol, released the safety and aimed it at the shadows. “Who is it? Who goes there?”
“Mehemet,” came a frightened voice, “It is I, Abdu Takar.” An elderly, lanky, bearded man with his hands raised above his turban stepped into the light. Mehemet recognised him at once as one of the Majeerteen elders to whom his wife deferred during clan disputes.
“Abdu?” cried Mehemet, replacing his gun into the back of his pajamas, “What the hell are you doing creeping around outside my house in the middle of the night?”
“I’ve come to warn you, my friend. You are in very grave danger. Assassins are on their way from the Yemen to kill you. You must leave Puntland this very night.”
“Whose assassins?”
“Who told you this?”
“That’s not important. We know it to be reliable information. Al-Qaeda fighters are on their way here now by boat from the Arabian Peninsula, with the intention of killing you.” 
As a naturalized American who had lived for the past decade and a half in Puntland, Somalia’s semi-autonomous state, no one was more aware than Mehemet Abdul Rahman of the radical elements on both sides of the Gulf of Aden that had begun infiltrating the region. He was the infidel in their midst, an obstacle to their unscrupulous designs. Mehemet turned back towards the house, but Abdu caught him by the shoulder. “You cannot fight them, my friend. You must leave.”
“I must protect my wife and children!”
“It is you they want. We will see to it Khadija and the children are protected.” Mehemet pulled himself away from Abdu and went straight back into his house to where his wife lay sleeping in their bed. 
“Khadija,” he whispered, gently stroking her coffee-coloured hair that was spread out across her pillow like a splash. “Khadija. Wake up.” She stirred, turned slowly to gaze at her husband with a smile. Mehemet turned on the bedside lamp and Khadija squinted in the sudden burst of light. 
“What is it, my love?” she croaked. 
“You’ve got to go, Khadija,” he said.
Her Somali features were childish - full lips, doe eyes, elfin nose - but as she became aware of what he was saying, they quickly formed into a frown. “Go where?” she asked.
“It’s not safe here,” said Mehemet opening the cupboard where he kept his M-60 assault rifle. He hesitated upon seeing the weapon but grabbed an already packed black duffel bag instead, into which he stuffed his pistol. 
 She sat bolt upright. “I don’t understand...”
“You and the children must get away from Bender Siyaada tonight,” he said, quickly changing into a black sweater and black jeans. “Abdu Takar is here to take you to safety.”
“Abdu? Here?” asked Khadija leaping from her bed and frantically searching for her own clothes. “Tell me who, Mehemet? Who is after us?”
“Abdu will explain everything to you,” he said, heading for the living room. “C’mon, there’s no time to waste.” A few minutes later, a confused Khadija and her four children, still rubbing the sleep from their eyes, were fully clothed and gathered at the front door. Mehemet turned off all the lights while Abdu and the servants began ushering them outside into the humid blackness. Mehemet clutched the shoulders of his eldest boy and said “You are in charge now, Nadif.” 
“What about you?” asked Khadija, turning in desperation to her husband, “Aren’t you coming with us?”
“I have to make my own way,” said Mehemet solemnly, “without you.”
“But Mehemet…” she cried.
“Forgive me, my love, but it has to be this way. I must leave Somalia tonight, alone.”
The tears began to roll from her beautiful eyes. “When will I see you again?”
Mehemet pulled her into a passionate embrace, and whispered in her ear, “We live in a strange world, Khadija. But no matter what happens, I love you. I will always love you. Have faith in us.” With that he released her, dashed over the garden wall and disappeared.
“Quickly,” shouted Abdu, bundling the distraught Khadija and her children through the compound gate. First light was breaking on the horizon, though it was still too dark to see the coast. Khadija looked south, knowing Mehemet would be heading in that direction. Then she heard the sound of an approaching speedboat; they immediately began running across the sand to where a Land Cruiser was waiting by the road, with its engine running but its headlamps turned off. As soon as they reached the car and opened the doors, the interior light came on, alerting the approaching speedboat to their flight. Bullets began flying all around them. The family quickly leapt inside the car and sped away.
The attacking speedboat hit the beach with a loud scrape and a whine, and a band of fighters scrambled ashore, firing their weapons. They tried to pursue the fleeing vehicle on foot but were too late. The fighters then turned and headed for the solitary house on the beach, searching the entire compound for anyone left behind, while their commander stood guard outside the gate. They found nothing, except Mehemet’s M-60 assault rifle. 
“Omar, we found this,” said a mujahideen fighter, handing the American weapon and a bandolier of a hundred rounds to his commander, who unravelled his head scarf to get a better look, as did the others. It was clear from their appearances that these were not Yemeni assassins after all, as Abdu Takar said they would be, but Somalian.
“The infidel was expecting us,” said Omar, releasing the safety on the American machine gun and aiming it at the iron gate. He then opened fire and did not stop shooting until he’d expended the entire bandolier. When the smoke finally cleared it became apparent from the pattern of bullet holes in the gate that he’d written the words “al-Shabaab” in Arab script. “The lads.”

Continue reading, Chapter Two...