Duty station: Mogadishu, Somalia

I don’t know what the hell I thought when I knew I was definitely going to Mogadishu, Somalia, to help the United Nations with the coordination of humanitarian affairs there. I probably did not “think” in Eckhart Tolle’s sense, because at that time I was in the holistic retreat.

Reactions from friends were varied. The more informed ones asked for clarification whether I would be based in Nairobi and rotating into Mogadishu. The answer was: No, my duty station is Mogadishu, Somalia. They said anything from a soft “That’s going to be a challenge” to an outright “You have gone totally crazy”. 

I am now here since 20 days yes, it’s an enormous challenge, but no I haven’t gone crazy yet.

Amongst the unfortunate people of this world affected by conflict and other disasters, Somalis clearly rank last. That is if there is a rank to be found at all. For many aspects of poverty, “Somalia” has simply “no data”, so it shows up White instead of Deep Red on those maps. I have not seen yet a single house with no bullet holes. At least a generation seems lost. The security situation is still extremely volatile. Access to the vulnerable children, women, and men, remains our primary concern.

Coordination between the humanitarians seems like a boring job: Organizing meetings and filling out tables. But it’s far from that. Coordination is saving lives. By trying to ensure that gaps in assistance are filled, and trying to avoid duplication, resources are used more efficiently for those, who need it most. We also work with our partners in order to be prepared and if possible avoid future humanitarian crisis. Presently, for example, the October – December “Deyr” rainy season is a big concern. Disease outbreak is a distinct possibility given the overcrowding of camps, bad drainage, no functioning garbage collection, and sewage, which could infiltrate drinking water. Partners work with high intensity to distribute more plastic sheeting to the displaced people, to do mass health promotion campaigns, to chlorinate water sources, and stock up on medication if worst comes to worst.

 Being involved in coordination also means that you meet people from absolutely all walks of life, Somalis and foreigners.

Whatever you have planned for in Mogadishu, Somalia, your day will be different: Time goes by so quickly that when I look at my watch and its 5 p.m., I am often surprised and feel I have just got started.  Every day humanitarians are working into the evenings.  The needs of vulnerable Somalis are first and foremost in all of their minds. The environment is so difficult that even the basic things take an awful lot of time.

“Duty station: Mogadishu, Somalia”, means working and living under very strict security rules and living in a communal environment. It means I get up early and go to bed late. It means checking my Emails and answering my phones permanently, meeting staff and partners, maximizing the time I can spend on making this operation more effective and inclusive. I cannot overstate how much I admire our Somali staff and partners. For them, it’s not a duty station; it’s their home, their daily life.
Good thing I followed my instict before I went to Somalia. Some long-term humanitarian workers, like all professionals, have a tendency to think “been there, done that”. I will never think that again even when my tour in “Duty Station: Mogadishu, Somalia”, will be finished.

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