Amid dangers, Mogadishu residents relish ordinary pleasures

Thu Oct 17, 2013 11:02am EDT
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By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Street lamps now light up some of Mogadishu's battle-scarred roads and couples hold hands at the seaside, scenes unthinkable when the Islamist al Shabaab group was in charge of Somalia.

"We feel free," said 18-year-old Samira Aden, emerging from the Indian Ocean with her boyfriend at Lido beach, where women were banned from swimming until just two years ago when African troops drove the militants out of the capital.

Rebuilding a life that many in the world take for granted is a slow and often imperfect process. Islamists still control swathes of countryside and some towns, and have launched several attacks on the city since 2011. Last month they showed their reach by striking a Kenyan shopping mall.

But residents of Mogadishu appear determined to enjoy their new freedoms and not be deterred by the threats.

With al Shabaab no longer in charge, the city's youth flock to the beach or gather at coffee shops to chat, testing the boundaries of a still conservative society.

Residents savor the new routine of shopping at well-stocked stores, filling up cars at gas stations rather than buying jerry cans from roadside vendors, and even enjoying a night out at the clutch of restaurants and hotels rising from the rubble.

"We had none of this freedom during the years of Islamist rule," said Aden, her hair - which would have been covered under al Shabaab's strict version of Islamic sharia law - dripping with salty seawater.

A few main streets are lit by solar-powered lamps. Police are testing traffic lights, but only in their compound for now.   Continued...

A man, who is covered in sand, poses for a photograph on Lido beach in Mogadishu October 4, 2013.REUTERS/Omar Faruk