A year after my first Somali sojourn, I was asked to return and conduct a series of one-week agricultural communication workshops for extension agents in three locations: Janale, Jowhar and Baidoa (Baydhabo on the map). I was keen to go not only because of my love for the country and many friends there, but also  because the second trip would be a chance for what a colleague has called “bamboo.” The concept is that multiple consultations, each one building on the previous one(s), can have an effect like that of a bamboo forest grown from a single shoot.

Here are some excerpts from my journal.

Map courtesy of Nations Online Project


Mogadishu – Janale – Jowhar – Baidoa

March 17
Clouds over Mogadishu — rains near — but landing smooth. Currency exchange not open and no one from AID to meet me. Customs officer loaned me Shs. 200 (about $32) so I could take a taxi. Only in Somalia!

Found AID empty — guard said they’d moved across the city. Walked to house of WP [AID agricultural  officer], learning I wasn’t expected today, but I’m supposed to stay with them. Mrs. WP gave me lemonade, a salt pill and a small snack. Toddled off for a three-hour nap before going to an unexpected reception this evening.

March 18
AID Project officer JG very surprised to see me, having only yesterday sent off a cable asking when I was coming. He talked non-stop for two hours, most of it complaining and self-serving. I put it in neutral and waited  for him to finish.


Big reunion with Waare. He and Guure will assist at the workshops, something I’d hoped for. They were the most outstanding participants last year, and I’d like to get them involved in conducting some of the training this year. Bamboo!!

JG, Waare and I worked out a general daily schedule for the workshops, with [other trainer] CP and I sharing content. Waare and Guure will train some skills sessions. JG will take CP’s topics until he arrives.

Two different people have indicated CP may be a little hard to get along with: “pushy,” “never stops,” “still promoting the old ways,” etc. I’m reserving judgement.


[After a couple more prep days, we were ready to drive to the training center at Janale (English)/Genale (Italian)/Janaale (Somali), near Marca (Merca) on the map.]

March 21
JG took me to the AID warehouse, where I got a safari water filter, gas lamp, 2 glasses, trash bags, toilet paper, insect spray and kleenex.

JG returned from a long line for gas with CP in tow. CP was due tomorrow, but he flew straight through from California, skipping his overnight in Rome. I’ve never seen eyes that red outside a hospital ward. He must not have slept at all.

At Janale, four participants attended the course last year. They’re now District Officers, but they’re to be Ps again(?!). The AID agronomist asked me on the QT if they could be excused to attend to their demonstration plots. I said it made the greatest sense in the world. They’ve already had the more comprehensive course, and they should be planting their plots. If they miss the rains, due in a matter of days, a whole year will be lost.

CP wanted to go round-trip to Baidoa (6 hours, minimum) to get some missing supplies. JG told him to return to Mogadishu, where his luggage is, go to bed and come back tomorrow. CP then suggested that he come back here tonight. JG practically ordered him to Mogadishu and sleep. CP finally acquiesced and took off after lunch.

Waare taught lettering for posters/flip charts/etc. Building training skills into his repertoire.

Checked into Merca’s Hotelka Safari and hung up my clothes as soon as they found a bar for my closet. Killed about a million ants and called it a long day. Feeling spiritually at home, in touch with the natural rhythms of life, serene.

March 22
CP returned with a footlocker of fancy extension materials he brought from CA, English-language with no relevance to Somali setting. He condescends to Somalis in a way he seems to think is ingratiating. The antithesis of what I teach grad students that development should be.

By contrast, two other foreigners here have a productive approach. The AID agronomist, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia, is working with District Officers to develop extension methodologies appropriate to Somali farmers. The German who’s helping Somalis create ag slide shows lets his counterparts take the lead, supplementing and helping as necessary.

March 23
JG arrived with materials he’d got yesterday at Baidoa and a racist story about having to threaten to use an ax on the storeroom in order to get the key.

Discovered CP didn’t teach his afternoon session on field work yesterday as scheduled. Instead, he had Waare extend his lettering workshop for another three hours. 

March 24
Road from Merca to Janale lined with carcasses of cows which didn’t survive the drought. Fat ibises feeding on the remains. The smell can be imagined — slaughterhouse on a hot day. People are digging in the dry Shebelle River bed to find a few drops of muddy water.

As I was training, I sensed rapid movement through the grass and past my sandaled feet. Several Ps jumped up like a shot, and one of them explained, “Black mamba. Very bad.” Yes, very bad. One of the most poisonous snakes on earth.

Saw CP shoving carpenter Mohamed across the compound, ridiculing him in front of 20 people when he didn’t move fast enough to get a tool. Spoke with M afterwards, hoping to soothe his feelings.

Lanced and cleaned encapsulated infection at the base of my right fore-finger. Had a small nick that healed on the outside but not on the inside. Now a little hole full of antibiotic.

March 25
Dear God preserve me, this man is going to get me killed. For the first time the hotel had beer, warm but wet and safe. As we sat drinking and waiting for our dinner, a Somali came over. He’d done his B.S. and M.S. in America and wanted to visit. When the food came, CP tried to get rid of him, but mercifully, he didn’t leave.

Some cats arrived, circling and crying for a handout. CP grabbed his beer, shook it and sprayed the cats, me, our new Somali friend and several Somalis at nearby tables. Bad behavior in America, potentially fatal in a Muslim country. I was furious and showed it.

Our new friend, though embarrassingly soaked in the crotch, proceeded to stand up for us to the angry Somalis who’d just come from the mosque, now ready to do bodily harm. He argued that the Koran says you may not drink beer, but it says nothing about touching it. They sat back down, and he left abruptly. CP never said a word of apology to those at the tables, our friend or to me.

This morning, I learned driver Hamzah is sleeping in the car. He gets Shs. 50 a day in per diem, and the hotel wants 70 to put him up. CP is managing the per diem and won’t pay for a room for Hamzah. He’s overtly vindictive about this and has several times harped on H’s attempt to cheat. I still don’t have any Somali money, or I’d take care of it. I like Hamzah very much. A refugee from Harar, all his family staying behind.

With Zahra at Janale

Had a nice chat with Zahra, head of the Janale Farm Center (unusual for a woman). Her father is very modern, having taken a university degree in Italy and traveled in Asia, North and South America. He’s educating all his children, male and female, to at least the Bachelor’s level. Zahra hopes to study for an M.S. in Extension in the U.S.

Workshop here finished. I haven’t kept exact count, but CP has only taught a couple times, not what’s on the schedule.

March 26
Returned to Mogadishu, learning current AID Mission Director and his Ag Officers want me to take over JG’s job. The director wants to get rid of JG and put me in immediately. The two officers want to give JG one more chance and if it doesn’t work, ask me to step in. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’m flattered of course, but I don’t think I’d want to do it. WP sounded me out this evening. I said, “Let’s talk about it if and when the time comes.” I was honest about where I’m coming from: I’m trying to finish a PhD; I’m not, and don’t want to be, a civil servant. What I didn’t say: As a consultant, I can work around/through the bureaucracy to focus on the beneficiaries of a project. But as staff, I’d have to play political games at all levels, from promoting U.S. policy to working full-time with people who’re looking out for their careers first and project beneficiaries second.

March 28
Off to Jowhar — 56 miles and 2.5 hours. Road eroded and bumpy, bone-jarring and slow. At the Training Center, we heard we’d be staying there instead of in a hotel, as planned. We each have a “suite” of chipped plaster, broken doors, holey screening and stale smells. Probably the worst place I’ve ever stayed. Shared toilet is a hole in the floor surrounded by feces, shared shower full of sludge.

Tonight the bugs came out — 2″ cockroaches, 1″ brown beetles, mosquitos and scores of unidentifiable insects. They crawl, creep and fly on every surface, including me. They keep getting inside my clothes. Don’t feel good about going to sleep. I keep spraying — the floor is littered and crunching underfoot — but hundreds keep coming, attracted by the light. I could turn it off, but being in the dark doesn’t feel good either. I wonder if there are bed bugs….

Beginning cystitis symptoms. Don’t know whether to start medication or not. Must increase hydration.

Cooked freeze-dried dinner. OK for tonight, but the food situation here is grim. I left meal supplies at WP’s house because we were to stay in a hotel. Boiled water and put it in the ceramic filter. Washed dishes outside under the single tap shared by four buildings. Fought 1000 bugs.

And got the car keys from Hamzah. I’ll sleep in the backseat since he has a place to stay here.

March 29
CP and Guure started the workshop sessions while Hamzah and I set out for Mogadishu to get what we need to camp out here. Slithering thru axle-deep mud — including a 360° spin — now that the rains have started in earnest.

Picked up mosquito nets, food, flipflops for grungy shower, mosquito coils, bug spray, disinfectant, camp beds, folding chairs, buckets, desert water bags and more.

Throughout our journey around town, people kept calling out, rejoicing over the mud on the Blazer, asking where we’d come from and congratulating us on the rain. The upper Shebelle is now full, and the flood has made it to Janale. We cannot know in America what the rainy season means to Africa.

Moved by the warm welcome of Somali staffers at the Embassy who remembered me. Surely these are the most gracious people in the world.

Back to Jowhar, Hamzah passing a tandem lorry by driving off the road and scooting thru the bush when the driver wouldn’t give way. About 5:00, he was looking very tired, so I split a Payday with him. [I always brought some from the States when working upcountry — no chocolate to melt, sugar and peanuts for when you need energy in a pinch.]

I thought this evening, as we were returning, that there was nothing I’d rather do at that moment than ride through the sunset in the stark African countryside. Such a change from the green hills of West Virginia, and I love them both.

Water off again, so only mildly cleaned up from the jerry can. This really is like camping.

Learned the participants aren’t getting fed on time, often hours late, or none at all. The Ps have to buy their break tea from a woman who brews it over charcoal behind one of the buildings. We gotta get this fixed ASAP.

Also learned CP had taught the lesson I was supposed to teach. In fact, he didn’t teach at all, just had the Ps make posters. I spoke with him, saying it was my understanding I was to teach communications theory from 8-10 and a skills workshop from 2-3:30 with Guure and Waare assisting. He was supposed to teach field work during his sessions. He didn’t respond, leaving shortly thereafter and staying away the rest of the day.

I’m sitting here watching an army ant advance. Hope he’s the only one. I still remember the marching column at Tengeru and Babette screaming, “Keel zem! Keel zem!” Thousands died that day.

Guure and Hamzah. Somalis often hold another’s wrist as a sign of affection among friends.

Opened a tin of caponata, splitting it with Hamzah and Guure. They’re not getting enough vegetables.

Here come two army ants — I’m going to start keeling.

G&H helped me rig up a mattress and net in the back of the Blazer. Enough space to stretch out comfortably. A nice breeze has sprung up; should be cool tonight.

March 31
Both Guure and Waare have grown noticeably in skills and confidence since last year.

During the break, I asked G if he thought the participants here were different from those at Janale this year and those at Bonka last year. Their morale seems low. Turns out the head of this center has been demoted, mistreats the extension agents and is a poor manager. They suspect he’s not spending all the money allocated for workshop food but is pocketing it. The food comes not at all or in poor quality/quantity. Not much I can do about this now, but I’m going to write one whale of a report for AID/Somalia.

Waare and the AV team arrived during our lunch break. We sent them to town to eat because of the food problem here. They returned later and shared the news that Reagan has been shot. Few details — a young man, in front of a hotel, others wounded, Reagan not dead.

In the evening we viewed and discussed a slide show that Waare and his German counterpart had made for the Extension Service. The AV folks went back to Mogadishu in the dark. CP had been drinking all evening and was in a foul mood, first picking on Guure, offering him a pencil flashlight if he’d give him 40 hectares at Janale, knowing it was impossible and going on and on. I got so disgusted, I went inside for the pencil flash my Dad gave me and handed it to Guure.

CP turned on me, saying my training is full of lies, that I shouldn’t be here, a good woman stays home and takes care of her husband, and it would serve me right if my husband took another woman while I was gone. He asked the Somalis for confirmation. They, bless them, took up for me, and I mostly didn’t rise to the bait, except to ask if he knew what his wife was doing while he was gone. A bit low, but so was he.

April 1
April Fool’s Day and two weeks from home. When I was a PCV, I would’ve been crushed by all the challenges here. Now, it’s to be endured with an attempt at grace. Baidoa will be better. Lots of friends there, and Joe’s family has sent word they want me to stay with them again.

We’re only a couple hundred yards from the Shebelle, and the hippos are setting up a racket. Some swallows have been building a mud nest in a corner of my “living room.” Tiny mouthfuls of mud plastered bit-by-bit into an upside-down cone. When I’m gone, will the doors stay open so they can get in and out to tend their young?

April 2
Back to Mogadishu. A real bed in an air-conditioned room. A shower and a hairdryer.

No one here knows any more about Reagan than we do. Big news in Mogadishu: sharks killed 5 people in the last week.

April 3
Day off. Late in the afternoon, WP, Mrs. WP and I went north of the city to sit on the beach, drink rum punch and watch the sun set. He and I waded out thigh-deep and squatted down to get wet, but the thought of sharks kept us from going further. Too bad, a perfect beach for body-surfing.

Really wiped out this evening. Don’t know if it’s the heat and humidity or what.

April 5
Before leaving for Baidoa, we got an official chit to buy 10 liters of gas — in such short supply, it’s rationed. At the govt. gas station, a cop tried to throw us out of the line. Hamzah, Guure and Waare put up a good fight and finally secured the gas. I sat serenely through it all, figuring there wasn’t any contribution I could make. Turns out my serenity was a contribution, because part of our side’s argument was that this was no way to treat a lady-guest in our country.

CP travelling in JG’s car. Are they buddies? Is this why CP gets jobs over the disapproval of Ministry and AID folks?

Arrived at Joe’s house and learned I wasn’t expected til tomorrow. On to Bonka Farm Center, discovering the Ps haven’t been gathered yet. That’s 2 days gone out of the original 6 scheduled.

Logistics meeting at guesthouse: Guure, Waare, Abdulkadir [head of Bonka] and CP. Developed new schedule to make up for lost days. I must return to Mogadishu as originally planned, but CP to stay for Sat./Sun. sessions. Somalis dressed in shirts and trousers. CP shirtless, in shorts. He later said he wouldn’t be here for his scheduled Sat./Sun. sessions.

Back to Joe’s for a full, warm welcome. They have no bottled gas, so Sandra’s been cooking over charcoal for months. Joe says CP was here last fall and didn’t do much work then.

April 6
Cool front came in, very pleasant. Everything’s so green. They’ve had a lot of rain — not the brown Baidoa I remember.

Waare scheduled to train first session, but JG kept him to talk about good camera technique. Worked around W’s sequence, which he taught when he was able to come.

April 7
We broke at 10 for the Opening festivities with bigwigs, supposed to occur two days ago on the original schedule. I greeted the Deputy Minister, whom I’d met before. Then we found out the festivities were to start at 11 — surprise to us both. Back inside for another hour’s training. Next, the festivities, where I spoke about how Waare and Guure were former participants, now fellow trainers — a tangible sign of extension agents progressing.

During lunch, the regional governor’s animation and “host-liness” reminded me it’s been said the Italians were culturally better colonial masters for the Somalis than the British. Yes, the British built schools, hospitals and roads, but they had no soul. The Italians did little but were simpatico with the Somalis, who preferred their zest for life compared to the Brits’ coldness.

After lunch JG and CP disappeared into town, while Waare, Guure and I went back to training. G.O. — who “saved” me from the MIGs last year — came to say hello, remarking I looked terrible and should be taking some iron. Later, when I told Sandra (one of whose parents is Black), she laughed and said G.O. hasn’t seen a white person in so long, he’s forgotten what they look like.

April 8
Up several times in the night. Still feel sick. Seems to be a combination of cystitis, GI tract and sore throat.

After the morning sessions, CP returned to ask if I wanted a ride to town. In the midst of a  petrol crisis, when we don’t even know if we’ll have enough to get back to Mogadishu, he’s going home for lunch. I ate my usual “brown bag” at Bonka — today dried apricots, beef jerky and a bakery roll.

Learned Abdulkadir would be fine with CP not conducting his scheduled sessions, because he doesn’t think CP has anything to teach the agents.

Got to be a way to get Guure and Waare into college. Nothing seems to have come of last year’s recommendations for their scholarships.

Common Somali headrest on left, often worn on the wrist during the day. Y’s unusual one on right.

Feeling exhausted, so took a nap before dinner. When I got up, I learned Y, one of last year’s participants, had been waiting patiently for me. I went to greet him, and he opened a plastic bag, pulling out the most elaborate headrest I’ve seen. I was really overcome. He was one of the quietest ones last year. Silence doesn’t indicate a lack of impact.

Hamzah has come up with 5 liters of gas, so we’ll be able to get to Mogadishu tomorrow. CP will accompany us but return to Bonka to teach his originally scheduled Sat./Sun. sessions.

April 8
Still feeling sick. Spent morning at Bonka, where the participants delivered great flip chart presentations. The governor showed up for the last one, taking lively part as a farmer and asking good questions. No closing ceremony because JG and CP are to return for Sat./Sun.

M, another participant from last year, came to clasp my hand with both of his, lay his cheek on the back of my hand, kiss it and say, “Goodbye, my mother. Inchallah, you will return to us.” Yes, Inshallah, I will.

Then down the road to Mogadishu, heat blasting once we dropped the c. 200 feet of escarpment. Stopped halfway for a planned picnic under the only tall tree for miles. CP had wanted to eat in town before departure, but he was outvoted by everyone. We each shared all we’d brought — grapefruit, bananas, tuna fish, tinned chicken, hard-boiled eggs, dried beef, water and reconstituted powdered milk. CP and H drank beer and later smoked Cuban cigars. G&W scooped depressions in the dust and played bao, the traditional East African strategy game, with pebbles.

A Land Rover came racing along. CP waved it down, shouting, “Khat, khat, give me khat.” Khat’s the local drug of choice, a stimulant in green leaves which must be chewed when fresh. The khat drivers fly back and forth dispensing joy, now and then breaking their necks at 120 km per hour. CP traded a warm beer for a handful and gave it to Hamzah, who offered to share it with Guure and Waare. They declined. H wanted me to drive so he could sit in the back and chew, but I refused. I don’t care what he chews in the evening, but I’m not licensed here, and it’s bad enough that an American in an official capacity bought it and that we were carrying it in an official car. If we’d been caught, we could’ve landed in a Somali pokey. Luckily, we were waved thru every checkpoint thanks to our AID logo.

April 10
A quiet day of rest, which I really need.

April 11
Guure came by to visit before returning to Janale. I told him I’d talked with WP about his and Waare’s Stateside schooling, and that we’d both be making strong efforts on their behalf. He listened with a lot of strain on his face. Then he sat silent for so long, I didn’t know what was going on.

Finally, he started to talk. Twice before, he’s been nominated for foreign training. But his immediate superior refused to let him go on the grounds he can’t be spared. He’s close to desperate, considering leaving his job. I tried to reassure him and asked him to wait one year before making any rash decisions. He agreed. Now I have to do my part before I leave.

April 12
Awoke at 6 with cramps and diarrhea. Had some juice and tea but no food.

Took my report to AID, where it’ll be typed on a stencil and duplicated for distribution. Embassy nurse suggested taking Lomotil immediately and having a stool check when I get home. Popped a pill back at WP’s house and started feeling better in a couple hours.

Read March 30 Time magazine which came today. Too early for attempted assassination news. Also read UPI/telex reports, but they’re also from before the attempt.

April 13
WP and I met with Guure’s supervisor. Two disturbing points: 1) he doesn’t believe in demonstration plots (we’ve been teaching “A successful demonstration is your most effective form of communication” — as proven by decades of research); and 2) he has a totally negative impression of Guure (the only person I know who does). WP and I spent some diplomatic moments pro-demonstrations and pro-Guure.

Back to AID to proof my report stencils, only to discover there was no paper, and the machine is broken. So I’ll have to take the original back to DC, retype it, xerox it and distribute all copies.

Met with AID Director and talked about the course. This is the man who wants to get rid of JG immediately and put me in that job. Happily for me, the topic didn’t come up, because the two AID Ag Officers had convinced him to give JG one more chance. I was able to speak candidly about my observations/recommendations, which were well-received.

Spoke with WP about driver Hamzah, and he promised to keep him in mind for any openings. Why must we have a world where people have to flee their homeland and where excellence goes unrewarded? Hard to say goodbye to Hamzah when he came by later today.

Didn’t get to say goodbye to Waare, because he was hijacked to Bonka by CP. Can’t help but wonder who’ll do the training. I’ll write W from the States, but I would’ve liked to see him one more time.

April 14
As the plane left Mogadishu, I proceeded to spill a glassful of scalding tea on my lap, soaking front and back of my dress plus underwear. Absolutely excruciating for about 5 seconds. Then very, very cold as the plane ascended and the temperature descended. Wrapped my top half in a blanket and braced my knees against the front seat so the back of my wet skirt hung down. Thank God airplanes have abnormally dry air.

In Cairo for an overnight, I bought current copies of Time and Newsweek and poured over the Reagan shooting. Unbelievable irony: this guy shot Reagan because of Jody Foster!?!?!

First “beauty shop” [top-to-toe cleaning and grooming] in six weeks. Then BED.

April 16
Walking the dog
Talking with friends
Washing dishes

Russell with our two Somali brothers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

Guure and Waare were awarded college scholarships and came to the States in 1982, staying with us during Washington-based orientation and holiday breaks. They then returned to Somalia, but political unrest soon made it impossible for them to remain in the Ministry of Agriculture. Civil war broke out, spurred by outside interests from near and far trying to gain advantage in the Horn of Africa. Waare and his new bride literally had to flee for their lives and hide for a month near the southern border. Eventually Guure emigrated to London, where he headed Concern for Somalia, a nongovernmental organization working to end the Ethiopian occupation. Sadly, he was assassinated in 2016 by Al Shabaab. Although Waare  had to resettle his growing family outside Somalia for their safety, he returned for famine relief with the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as other international organizations working for peace. He was repeatedly asked to serve in newly formed governments, but he preferred to act in an advisory capacity. In 2017, he accepted yet another request to serve  and was elected President (Governor) of HirShabelle State, where his main tasks were to disarm and integrate local clan militias into the state security forces and to oversee the construction of local ports. He resigned in 2020 but returned to Mogadishu in early 2021 to help foster free and fair elections. As I write this, bloodshed has broken out in the streets, and we’ve lit candles. As we have, off and on, for thirty years.

One of the strengths of bamboo is that it is easily bent but difficult to break. That is how I think of Guure, Waare and all the Somalis whom I had the pleasure to know and work with. Some have died, some have emigrated, some have stayed to nurture the country Somalia can be. I live in hope


Guyana: “Never cuss alligator ’til you cross bridge.”

LET ME HEAR FROM YOU: nancy@nancyswing.com


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