A lion`s share - © by Joe Palmer


A lion's share

by Joe Palmer

There is always something new out of Africa. - Pliny the Elder

The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like the condemned man who is proud of his cell. - Simone Weill

Two British Tommies in short pants, with machine pistols on slings over their shoulders, escorted us off the airplane from Mogadishu, Somalia, at the airport in Aden in what is now Yemen in South Arabia. Aden was becoming part of the People's Republic of Yemen in south Arabia. It was 1967, the year of independence from British rule.

Aden: an old Roman trading post, and the chief link between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf for Arab traders in their dhows, who with lateen sails and all deliberate speed trade with India and Africa. Until its demise it was part of the Raj, the British rule of the Indian subcontinent, even though Aden is in south Arabia. It was a coaling station on the long run from Southampton,

We were on our way to Hargeisa in Somaliland in an ancient DC-3, a workhorse of an airplane that had been flying since 1935, which shuddered and creaked over the Somali coastal mountains and the port of Berbera on its way across the gulf to Aden, from which we were to return to Hargeisa, the northern capital of Somaliland, which was later to be devastated and mostly abandoned in the civil wars of the 1980s.

We were two pilots and a purser, and six passengers -a Lebanese businessman, a couple of couriers from the Trucial States, Father Fabian, Willy Willis, and I.

Fabian was a sort of monk, a friar, a member of the Irish Order of Friars Minor, a mendicant Franciscan monk remarkable for the full beard and white cassock he wore, who took care of the ritual needs of the few English Roman Catholics in Mogadishu, Hargeisa, and Aden. It was his gray beard that made Fabian stand out, his dress hardly different from that of an Arab. And also his girth. Most people in the desert are skinny, a consequence of the original low-carbohydrate diet.

Unusual for a Franciscan, Fabian had been to university, to Dublin to earn two degrees, and he had made his commitment to the mission of the church in Africa as a middle-aged man. My colleagues Willy Willis and Veronica Brattle and I had sung carols at Midnight Mass on Christmas 1966 at Fabian's request. Veronica, the secretary to our chief of party, was a Negro American whose car was frequently stoned by Somalis when they saw her in it because she was a Negro, and "Negroes are a bad tribe," they say there.

For ourselves and for the 12 worshippers who were there to hear the English Mass, we played our guitars and sang "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," with "tidings of comfort and joy" ending on an uplifting Picardy third. And then Fabian preached a short sermon about the tired and bedraggled passengers one dreary afternoon on a Dublin bus who looked up to see a young mother boarding the bus carrying her newborn child, and about how their frowns turned magically into beatific smiles at the sight of hope and love.

Upon a time when I was ill, down with pneumonia, Fabian paid a call at our villa to comfort and encourage me. Feverish, I padded downstairs to greet him, barefoot and dressed in a comfortable Somali wrap-around skirt, a ma-awis, to the airy salon with louvered windows and drapes against the sun, with lizards and geckos and chameleons that ate mosquitoes on the walls and drapes.

"Will you have a drink, Father?" I asked.

"Surely, and God bless, I will." We State Department people had commissary privileges, unlike mendicant friars.

I poured a water glass two-thirds full of Jameson Irish Whisky and handed it to him. He looked at the glass of whisky in amazement, hesitating while he admonished himself silently.

"Oh, lad, you've a gen'rous hand!" he said.

My paternal grandmother, Delta Heacox, would have disapproved, had she been there, not especially of the whisky, but of my having to do with a Catholic. She was a second rank dragon in the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana in the 1920s, and she taught her children to hate and fear out of a strong moral sense of self-preservation. She had never shared mortal danger with anyone as strange as Fabian; consequently, she never learned to love except selfishly. When I left for the assignment in Africa, she said to me "Oh, Honey, don't go across the Pond!" She did not know that living in danger with others is how we become fully human. In today's world all young Western persons need to be put in situations that shock them out of the ignorance of their ethnic complacency, like the military, the Peace Corps, or missionary and relief work with the miserable. They can then learn to see beyond the ends of their noses

Send the child to work as an orderly or practical nurse or teacher in a country where no one speaks his language, and he will become human, as in humanism.

Casper "Willy" Willis, my colleague at the teachers' college, was an assistant professor of education at Eastern Michigan University on contract with the US Agency for International Development to try to make the Somalis admire us more than they admired the Soviets, that is, the Russians who were supplying and training the Somali Army. In turn we Americans were training and supplying the Somali State Police.

Willy was a junior high school teacher in Detroit, a slight, compliant, and fecklessly nice person, avidly curious about sociological matters. Sociology is the study of people not as if they are humans, but as if they are wild animals, not as individuals, but in groups. It is the ethology of people, a branch of primate studies in zoology.

Willy played the piano for his wife Anna, a large, commanding soprano who pushed Willy around like a dust mop. Her accompanist in every sense, he anticipated her every trill. In exchange she allowed him to relieve himself in her every Saturday as her mother had taught her.

As the only practicing soprano in Somalia, she and her piano player were invited to perform where the pianos were located, at the homes of ambassadors and consuls, and especially at the International School, an American enterprise where the Europeans whose kids were not away at school sent them to learn English.

I was asked to perform a wedding ceremony, that is, to read a Quaker service for the daughter of the West German consul Reinhold Schwab, by Frau Dagmar Schwab. Their daughter Heidi was marrying an American Peace Corps Volunteer, Ernest "Tug" Wilson, who was a Quaker. The Schwabs were nominally Lutheran and I was vaguely Christian and could read aloud.

Dagmar was a chunky blond lady with bracelets and a voice as loud as Anna's. Before the brief ceremony in which Reinhold gave Heidi to Tug, Anna sang and Willy played on the old out-of-tune upright. Clutching a hanky, she sang "I Love You Truly," and "Thine Is My Heart Alone," to polite applause. Then she sang "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" from Porgy and Bess, to loud applause.

Delighted, Dagmar turned to me and said "She sinks yoost like a Nigger Mommy!"

Willie was completing a master's degree in Social Studies when he was back in the world. He had taken a sociology course in Juvenile Delinquency, and had consequently prepared a set of teaching materials, that is, what outsiders call notes, for passing along his understanding of delinquency to juveniles.

We boarded the decrepit DC-3 airplane in Mogadishu with trepidation and resignation. Our flight to Aden in the Yemen and then back to Hargeisa would follow the Shebelle River up to the edge of the Ogadén Desert in Ethiopia, across it and the coastal mountains of the Horn of Africa before gliding down and running up to Aden at the tip of Arabia. The only other Somali Air flight outside Somalia was to Mombasa on the Kenya coast south of Mog.

The smoky old motors fired up, banging and whistling, and we flew low over the few cultivated fields of sugar cane, bananas, and palms, climbing high so that if we had to ditch the airplane we might land near one the few wells at the oasis of Werder in Ethiopia halfway between Belet Uen and Hargeisa, 300 miles away.

Ahmed the purser served lunch, cans of San Pellegrino aranciata, biscuits and bananas. Then he brewed espresso coffee on a hot plate, and served it, pouring the thick, black brew into delicate white cups on matching saucers, and then on request adding raw, unrefined sugar. Fabian and I were sitting in the front seats on either side the narrow aisle. Smiling, we toasted each other.

"Chin, chin," I said, holding the cup with my pinkie finger extended.

"Your health" Fabian said, leaning back, tipping his bearded head to sip the pungent drink.

His seat, a contraption of aluminum tubes and canvas straps like all the others, collapsed. He fell back with his head in Willy's lap, the coffee spilled all down the front of his white cassock.

"Praise God!" Fabian shouted. That was one happy monk. He lay laughing while we mopped up the mess.

We landed in Aden under the mountain ridge next to the port where terrorists were to attack the American destroyer USS Cole in the year 2000, killing 17 sailors. Two people drove a raft loaded with explosives into the side of the ship, tearing a hole so large the entire huge ship had to be transported back to the United States for drydock repair.

Our Somali Air plane taxied to the terminal, a ticket office, an old Quonset hut. Two soldiers wearing Bermuda shorts, knee socks, and pith helmets opened the door of the DC-3 and herded us into the building. There were walls made of sandbags all around it.

"There's been an alert," one of the Tommies shouted. "We're under attack!"

Elated, I shouted "That's damned exciting, ain't it, Willy?"

Willy cringed against Fabian's coffee-stained paunch as they pushed us farther into the building. I walked up to the window in front to see what was happening. An officer shouted for me to get down and back just as someone threw a satchel charge of explosives into the side door of a cargo plane parked on the tarmac in front. The building shook as the blast tore the large airplane in two and shattered the window. Within seconds the fuel tanks exploded in a fireball. Fire trucks converged to extinguish the blaze when the shots died down, and then an ambulance went by, and a pickup truck with bloody bodies piled in its bed. We waited in a feeling of relief with the help of a dram of Scotch provided by our hosts, everyone talking and nobody listening.

In half an hour the all clear sounded. We said farewell to Father Fabian, and with the pilots and Ahmed, Willy and I flew south over the Gulf of Aden to Hargeisa, the capital of the former colony called Somaliland.

In those days the Russians controlled Somaliland by virtue of the military help they were giving the ambitious Somali government. Then as now, the Somalis wanted the land in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti where their own people live. They are the only ethnic group in Africa so dispersed across borders in neighboring countries. And they love to go to war. The Soviets were supplying and training the Somali Army at the base in Hargeisa, provisioned by sea from the port of Berbera on the north coast 135 kilometers away near Djibouti.

Poor landlocked Russia had to send their ships with difficulty from ports such as Murmansk in the arctic, Vladivostok in the Far East, or St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), or through the Dardanelles, winter cursed or sailing in enemy waters only to find in Somalia that they had to transport their cargo from Berbera by way of dirt roads one hundred miles over mountains.

Djibouti, not far from Berbera, today has seen a new purpose in the American base established there in 2003. A telecommunications center, formerly aboard the USS Mt Whitney, was established at the former French military base La Meunière, with 800 Marines on stand-by to counter terrorism in Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Yemen. At long last, Djibouti has a source of income. As a French colonial counterpart to Aden just across the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, Djibouti served as a coaling station. Today it is a republic, unique in having the highest temperatures, driest climate, and the lowest spot in Africa, Lake Assal, 155 meters below sea level. For a while it was a port for landlocked Ethiopia. The people are the formerly Christian Afars and the Muslim Issas, ethnic Somalis. They produce nothing exportable, except salt.

In 1967 we were all engaged in the "Cold War," an ongoing confrontation among the Warsaw Pact, the Chinese, and the Western Allies, the capitalists with their NATO Alliance. They all threatened each other, and tried to "win the hearts and minds" of their clients around the world. In some places the Cold War grew hot, as in Korea, Vietnam, and Angola, wherever the superpowers chose to fight, but in relative terms the war was colder than another kind we know little about.

So we were there in East Africa trying to make the Somalis become fond of us, imitate us, and work for us. It was that simple. And there might be oil there that we could exploit. It was a standoff between us and the Russians, but no one really wanted to win and thereby become responsible for the modernization of Somalia. The Yanks, the Brits, and the remaining Fascisti were in competition with the Soviets and the Maoists for the Somalis' favors. It was a simple case of disinterested beneficence versus actual self interest.

The Chinese were paving streets and roads, and erecting the National Theatre Building in Mogadishu in order to demonstrate their amicable intentions. We were told never to speak to the "Chinks," who always were seen in groups, never alone, dressed in their grey uniforms with Mao collars. But we always waved to them, and at least one would always furtively wave back.

The Somalis did not truly want any outsiders to be in the country, their pastoral, nomadic life suiting most of them perfectly, but many had seen Paree and Roma and a different way of living. So the government of Somalia was a cargo cult, with no one in a position of authority having any idea of how the outside world worked. All of the foreigners were confined to the towns, to civilization. The Negroes, the Bantu Somalis, a slave caste, were welcome only on the dirt farms along the two rivers, the Juba and the Shebelle, which come down from the mountains in Ethiopia. The Arabs and other foreigners left their offspring in the few towns. They were unwelcome anywhere else.

Staunch Shiite Muslims, the Somali have no use for missionaries who proselytize. Only the Seventh-Day Adventists, who keep their mouths shut, were welcome to run schools for Somali children in Beled Uen, a city on the Shebelle at the edge of the Ogadén Desert of Ethiopia, which is inhabited mostly by Somali. The Somali are akin to the Amhars, the people of the Coptic Christian Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, Ras Tafari Makonnen (his name before he became Emperor), the Cushitic, not Semitic, god of the Rastafarians, the Jamaican religious cult that venerates him, promising redemption through the eventual return of blacks to Africa, forbidding the cutting of hair, and known for the ritual use of marijuana, and for reggae music and dreadlocks.

The Somali have no need of the outside world. Strangers seem always threatening to them. They fight. They do not flee. Fighting is in their blood, they think. It is not only stubbornness. They are fierce warriors secure in Islam, people who prove that violence is necessary in the ongoing construction of their collective identity, just as do the Israelis, the Turks, and the Bosnian Serbs, who kill those they have been taught to hate by a nice process called "ethnic cleansing," a fine euphemism.

* * * *

In regard to such barbarity, understanding the killing of people because they are different requires a realization that people live in their own separate worlds. Worldview, the way of valuing the quality of things, is a reality not shared with most others. There are many realities. What is important to you may not be of any consequence to others.

We know and believe only what we have learned, nothing else. Hand a Somali a crucifix, and he'll hold it like a knife, with the cross bar as a pommel or knuckle guard. Our houseboy spent a morning scouring clean down to the metal a new Teflon-coated frying pan. When an Arab was killed trying to shoot a visiting Saudi in Mogadishu, the police at once buried him where he fell, in a flower bed dividing a main street. Once I gave a bottle of soda to a Somali hunter, Nimrod, in the bush who did not know how to drink from the bottle. A houseboy asked to shoot my pistol. I set up a tin can as a target. He took the pistol in his right hand, and then he cocked his right arm as if to throw the bullet toward the target, with the pistol pointing up. Who knows? He might have developed a new technique of shooting.

The problem is greater than just the arbitrariness of convention. There is something that it is like to be a Somali that is unlike everything else. It is the meaning of quality. Call it qualia, the consciousness that all the frames of reference enclose. We see the world as on a screen in a frame, with expectations, disappointments, and satisfactions. The show is more or less different for each of us.

The negotiation of intersubjective reality is necessary for understanding. What I think it is has to be what you think it is. We have to get to common ground, so that what we think is what the others think, and what they think is shared with us, so that we have the same values and appreciate the same qualities of things and relationships. We must see the world in the same way.

I once introduced foreign students to American football before we took them to watch an actual football game. At the meeting before the game I showed a training film and had a colleague, a football coach, on hand to answer questions about the rules and procedures. All of the students were expecting to see a film about soccer. The first gang tackle on the screen brought whoops of astonishment and disbelief from the foreigners, who could not expect physical contact on the playing field from their own experience. Believing is seeing.

* * * *

Somalia is a narrow, barren coastal plain along a quarter million square miles of savannah plateau a half-mile high, becoming low mountains in the north near the Gulf of Aden across from Arabia. There and in the north and west in Ethiopia and Kenya are 10 million or eight million Somalis. Nobody knows the number for sure; they die in droughts and famines, and no one knows how to count them.

The most important fact to a Somali is his identity as a member of a tribe. Large families of tribes are called clans. Any two Somalis can tell you how they are related if they are of the same clan. They memorize their lineage in childhood. They have no notebooks to impair their memories. Within the tribe tradition rules; there is no politics. Violence is remembered and losses resented. Blood feuds result. They are pastoral nomads who covet grazing land.

At a peace, that is, peace among the clans, conference in Djibouti in 1999, the clans were weighted according to their size and importance in discussing the "selection" of a government for Somalia. Among the noble Somali are these clans: Darood, Hawiya, Digile-Mirifle, and the biggest and most important, the Dir. The Dir clan consists of several tribes as big and important as some other clans. Other clans that are not noble are: Jareer, Midgaan, and Ybir. Their members are farmers, merchants, blacksmiths, tanners, and prostitutes.

I am an honorary member of the Dir clan, specifically of the Isaaq tribe, an Isaaq Sheikh, an honor bestowed upon me at a graduation ceremony of the National Teacher Education Center by the president of the Somali Republic, Abdirashid Ali Shermaarke, who was assassinated in a coup in 1978. War, anarchy, and famine under Siad Barre, warlord of the Mareehaan clan, followed, and after a disastrous war with Ethiopia that created a million refugees, the National Alliance attacked and devastated the capital city, Mogadishu. Civil war among the clans followed.

In 1993 when the United Nations was trying to help the starving in Mogadishu, Pakistani soldiers protecting the aid workers and food supplies were engaged in battle by the warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid of the Habr Gidr clan. Of the 24 Pakistani soldiers killed, several were flayed, that is, skinned alive.

US military intelligence, that oxymoron, ordered a US general, who declared later that Muslims are Satan's servants, to relieve the Pakistanis and to remove Aidid.

Rangers, SEALs, and commandos, numbering 120 men, attacked. It was Black Hawk Down with 18 American dead, and 73 wounded, and hundreds of Somali killed. They dragged American bodies through the streets in celebration. Today the Battle of Mogadishu is known in Somalia as "Ma-alinti Rangers," the Day of the Rangers.

Poor Hector, slain by Achilles, was dragged behind his chariot around the walls of Troy "face down like a plow." So what's new in Africa?

More war, anarchy, and famine were to follow. With Somalis flocking to a fight, instead of running and hiding when big trouble starts, there is no simple way to put down insurrection among them. Somalis love conflict as much as the Swiss hate it. They try hard to find an edge to live on.

I went from American-advised Mogadishu, the capital of former Italian Somalia, to Hargeisa in the northern area sometimes known as Punt, and formerly known as British Somaliland, near the French coaling station of Djibouti, the land of the Afars and Issas, those three areas along with eastern Kenya and Ethiopia comprising the five nations represented by the five points of the white star on the light blue Somali flag.

My mission was to evaluate the situations of our teachers' college graduates there along with those of our student teachers, and to introduce to them a practice book for learning English where few people use the language. I had just produced the book, English for Somalis, a manual for learning pronunciation, vocabulary, and structure. I had made a quick study of Somali errors in English, and with the help of JJ Pia's thesis about the sounds of Somali, I made up hundreds of exercises, put them in a book and had it printed at the State Printing House, after typesetting it on a Russian linotype machine with the help of Sandro Evangelisti, who knew no English. Linotype machines use molten lead for molding each line of type. One error made in a line, and it must all be done again. It had taken six months to make a book that today would take six days with a word processor.

My colleague Willy Willis and I were to visit 12 schools in the North. Willy was to demonstrate how to teach his unit on juvenile delinquency to the Somali children. We were also to make sure that our graduates, those who had their teaching certificates from the National Teacher Education Center, also had a chalkboard, chalk, a map, a pointing stick, and some textbooks. We were to arrange for their classes to be self contained in rooms out of ear-shot of other classes, for in Somalia learning is by rote out loud. All children begin their schooling, such as it is, in a Koranic tutorial, a "Dooksie," a gathering of a teacher and pupils. They sit together wherever they can, and then they repeat until they can recite the verses in Arabic. Their teacher is invariably a Sufi wadaddo, a more-or-less literate man who also sometimes serve as a justice of the peace, such as it is. Often the only teaching supplies are a flat, weathered board and a piece of burnt stick for scratching Arabic words on the board: "Insh'allah," God wills it, "Bismillah," in the name of God, "El-Hamdu-l'illah," praise God. It is all they know and all they need to know.

The original "Mad Mullah," Mahammad Abdille Hasan, of the Darood clan, still a popular poet, was such a Sufi Dervish. He raised the Somali resistance to the British, Ethiopian and Italian encroachment on the Somalis' territory that resulted in sporadic and horrible war between 1899 and 1920. The British and Italians were the best of friends against the natives. As a young man Mahammad had become a Hadji, traveling to Mecca by working as a fireman on a cargo ship out of the port of Aden. In Mecca he became a member of the mystical Salihiya tariqa, a brotherhood, a harsh, uncompromising and fanatical sect unlike the Kadariyah of most Somali. He convinced others through his oratory to make war on the wealthier tribes and Ethiopians, resulting in a general uprising against the foreign colonizers.

A case in point: At Gumburu in 1902, two companies of the King's African Rifles and 48 rifles of the 2nd Sikhs came against the Mullah himself. His force was about 5,000 warriors, some mounted on horses and camels. The British square was finally broken by "a rush of spearmen" when the ammunition ran out. Perhaps 2700 Somali died; no one knows for sure because there were no officers surviving witness of the deed. Nine officers and 147 men were killed. Note that the killed troops were African and Indian mercenaries. The officers were of course British gentlemen.

Mullah Mahammad Abdille Hasan was a poet in the old, original sense. He did not write his poems down. He recited them to other Somalis who then remembered them, and then passed them on throughout the clans and beyond the generations. Every Somali today can recite his verses on demand.

Now I'm dead and in the grave with my lips moving
And every schoolboy repeating my words by heart.

- Osip Mandelstam

The Royal Air Force bombed Taleex in 1920, killing the Mad Mullah, the revered and beloved Somali poet Mahammad Abdille Hasan, who named his devoted and favorite horse "Hin Fineen," Sound of Gravel.

The old spelling of Somali names was arbitrary, inexact approximations using the rules for spelling the languages of the colonizers. Today, with a standard orthography using the Roman alphabet, Somalis can easily learn to read their tongue. The name of the poet is rendered today, for example, as "Maxamed Cabdiile Xasan." X means a noisy H; C means a glottal stop, a catch in the throat.

As a consequence of their religious training, the Somalis, whose language is Cushitic like that of other people in Ethiopia, know more or less as much Arabic as we know Latin. In those days the Somali language was not yet written because they could not decide which alphabet to use in writing it, the Roman or the Arabic. Therefore, the language had no standard form, with each clan speaking its own variety of the language. Those Somalis who had been schooled by Europeans favored the Latin alphabet, the more traditionally religious favored the literary Arabic. A special, unique Somali alphabet had been invented by a Somali man, but he was not of a good tribe, and everyone realized the shame of learning an alphabet made up by a member of a tribe not one's own, and so no one would even try to use it. Besides, Somalis did not need to write and read their language; they had got along quite well in their own way forever without doing so. But English, French, German, and Italian were useful in getting wonderful and entertaining things from the world beyond Somalia, like guns and trucks.

In my teaching I used a structural approach of practicing speaking the language by using substitution drills, an old-fashioned behavioral technique that works wonders with intermediate students, who were delighted and eager to participate in choral work that reminded of them of their youths and their first Muslim Sunday school.

When it became known at the American Embassy that I was going to go to Hargeisa for the Ministry of Education, the American military attaché, General "God-damn" Potts sent word (there were no telephones) for me to drop by his office discreetly. The next afternoon I went to the embassy and joked with the Marine guards and the American staff. We were all friends who entertained each other, there being little else to do in Mogadishu. On Thursday evenings we all went to the American Consulate to watch whatever old movie was making the rounds in the diplomatic pouch, projected onto a whitewashed outdoor wall beside a tennis court. We carried drinks in a cooler, and stopped along the way to buy a bag of fried pies, "zambuzis" in Somali, "Somosas" in Hindi, made of camel meat, onions and hot peppers.

General Potts was advisor to the Somali State Police, which was furnished its equipment by the US and the West Germans, the counter to the Somali Army and Security Service, supplied by the Russians and the East Germans. It was a microcosmic Cold War. We wanted only the Somalis' hearts and minds and oil, which still lies under the Gulf of Aden. The Russians, who controlled the army, had the military airfield at Hargeisa in the north, which was useless as a major base because it was one hundred miles from the sea and there was no way to get aircraft fuel to it except by air.

Potts explained to me that they knew from aerial photos the location and size of the landing strips and oil tanks at Hargeisa. What they did not know was the number and types of vehicles and armaments out of sight on the base, and the location and number of the living quarters of the Russian personnel, and whether there were any Russian tactical aircraft hidden from view. The Somali air command consisted solely of three ancient, single propeller, Russian bi-planes, which could occasionally be seen buzzing slowly along the Shebelle River. I was to be a spy when I went to Hargeisa.

And I was not to tell anyone about my mission for General Potts, not Willy, my traveling companion, and especially not John Mitford, our host in Hargeisa, a member of our staff who had been placed there, an occasional advisor to the Somali graduates, as a personal favor by his old friend, the Dean of Education at our sponsoring university back in the States. Mitford had been an elementary school principal in rural Michigan and also the pastor of a congregation of the Church of God, an evangelical group. He was a pillar of the community of Bad Axe. A pipe-chewing, overweight family man, he had impregnated a teacher at his school, she became vindictive, and consequently he lost his job, his wife and kids, and his congregation. The Dean got him appointed assistant professor of education and posted to a refuge far from the world, where he could find himself.

But Mitford, a voluble talker, was known throughout the region, and General Potts did not trust him. He was not even to take us to visit the schools on the military base. Instead, I was to ask the Consul to provide a Jeep for our use.

There were five elementary schools for the children of the Somali soldiers training and stationed at the base. Almost all Somali soldiers lived with their extended families, not with other soldiers. The soldier, one of the few salaried men in Somalia, was the bread-winner; all his relatives who could do so joined him, so there were many children to be given rudimentary schooling. And, the Somali School Curriculum has the English language as a mandatory subject. So I was to advise English teachers on a Russian supplied and controlled military installation. That is how I came to know Foká Chechmistro, the Russian consul in Hargeisa. I had to get permission from him to visit the schools on the base, even though I was working for the Ministry of Education. It was a matter of courtesy, and common sense.

Hargeisa was a sprawling, spreading shantytown of shacks and grass huts emanating from the main street, impermanent dwellings of one sort or another covering the hillsides with no order except for the traditional tracks that led in several directions to Djibouti, and Jigjiga, and to Burao, and Berbera. The streets were not paved, with few sidewalks, no sewers, no trash to collect and dispose of, everything recycled, used again for some purpose. The smell: wood ashes, frankincense, myrrh, urine, decaying flesh, funk like India. Nothing made with the use of electricity is from Somalia. Bottles, cans, boxes, cloth, used until useless and wasted away, litter the sand. All organic matter, flesh and grass is eaten and excreted and dries and blows away. Cooking fires made with charcoal from resinous thorn trees and the charcoal pits where it is made smolder, releasing a sandalwood fog, even today.


We were installed at the Hargeisa Hotel, a British establishment reminiscent of Fawlty Towers, a hotel mostly in name only, where the bar functioned as the social center of the expat community. The dining room offered a sideboard breakfast of beans, fried eggs, cold toast, tea and jam. The dinner menu was to be avoided if possible - kebab, humus, boiled potatoes, rice and onions, ful madamas, cous-cous, and boiled goat, sheep, camel, or cow with cumin.

The guest rooms were in low buildings separate from the small, main building, the whole surrounded by a concrete wall topped with broken, jagged glass bottles against intruders. Screened windows, a mosquito net over the bed, the feet of which were set in tin cans half full of kerosene against scorpions and other crawling beasts, a tepid shower, a toilet, a real sit-down commode without a water trap against the odors of the septic tank. Each evening a boy sprayed the entire room with insecticide. Each morning a boy brought a tray of tea and cookies, and hot water for shaving.

It was in the bar that we received invitations to dine with the local foreigners, many of whom regularly dropped by the bar looking for company. The only public house to serve drinks in Hargeisa, it was there that we met Bwana Don Hunt, the lion tamer who had developed an animal show for children on television, and William Holden, the actor. He and Hunt had a thriving business providing wild African animals to zoos and animal retailers. They traveled from place to place getting information about available animals from White hunters and game wardens. A good part of their work was to arrange the safe shipment of their goods, which required a network of helpers and customs officials. On their way to Nairobi, they had stopped at Hargeisa to arrange to ship a young lion they had just agreed to buy from Guelle Hassan, a local merchant who had got it from some Ogaden tribesmen. Guelle kept the lion in a cage next to his shop on the main street in Hargeisa.

The cage was not a proper one like the ones you see in zoos, but the iron skeleton of an unfinished building. In that climate, wood decays rapidly. Somalis do not live in houses but rather in tents and grass huts, because they are nomads, and besides there is no native wood for building anyway. A permanent building is made of concrete and coral stone, with reinforcing iron bars set in the concrete footings, and extending up inside the poured walls shaped with imported plywood panels that are used again and again. The cage next to Guelle's shop would eventually be a shop building perhaps 20 feet square. The rebars sticking up from the footings made a box of metal bars a half-inch wide, a foot apart, and eight feet high, welded together across the top, a lion proof lid that would support the roof eventually.

The young male lion, nearly full grown, with the beginning of a mane like the soft beard of a teen-ager, kept out of the sun by lying in his niche, made from an old sea freight container. He was tended by Guelle's servants, who brought meat, hides, and bones every afternoon just before prayers and sunset from the local market, scraps of camel and goat mostly. Local children gathered to watch the lion feed. "Simba, Simba," they would call, taunting him in Swaheli. He drank water from a five gallon petrol tin, and saved some of the meat in his niche for midnight snacks. In the cool of the evening the lion could be seen pacing back and forth, remembering his youth.

In the hotel bar after dinner, we sang and told jokes, and tried to learn the lay of the land. I had brought my guitar, and in ways that have been forgotten we amused ourselves. In the days before electric music, people played, and sang, and danced, and told stories. Every person had a party piece to perform on demand. It might be an impersonation, or a funny face, or a recitation or performance. And if you didn't insist that some individuals perform for you, their feelings were hurt. My mother had an uncle who lived through such social occasions by imitating the sounds of chickens; we were grateful that he did not sing. That first evening at the hotel bar we sang the popular folk songs of the day - the Weavers' repertoire, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary. For Bill Holden we sang a bawdy song:

The sex life of the camel
Is more than anyone thinks.
When in a fit of passion
It tried to fuck the Sphinx,
The Sphinx' posterior opening
Was filled with sand from the Nile,
And that accounts for the camel's hump
And the Sphinx' mysterious smile.

Refrain: O way down in France
Where the ladies wear no pants,
And the dance they do
Is enough to kill a Jew.

Holden told a story about a Turkana tribesman, after relating to us how they were planning a safari to Lake Rudolf in Kenya to look for animals, provisioning at Marsabit and basing their trips at the Asis Safari Camp on the eastern shore of the lake. He and Don Hunt invited Willy and me to go along to provide the entertainment, but since they were leaving for Marsabit as soon as they had arranged to have the lion trucked down to Berbera, where it would wait for transport to Aden, we could not take the time to go along. They got Guelle Hassan to asssure the beast's safe arrival at the shippers' godown in Aden by deferring the final payment to him.

The region around Lake Rudolf, the Chalbi Desert, part of the Great Rift Valley that stretches from Jordan in Asia to Mozambique in south east Africa, is inhabited by the Turkana people, akin to the Masai, those lean, spear-wielding Nilotic pastoralists so beloved of photographers. The Turkana men are famed for the great size of their penises, Holden said, and once when he was escorting a mixed party of tourists along Lake Rudolf, they spied a lone, naked Turkana standing waist deep, casting his net. When he saw them, he approached, wading out of the lake, his long penis dangling. The ladies giggled at the sight. Offended, the Turkana asked the men "Doesn't a white man's shrivel up when he's in the water too?"

The next morning we paid a call on the Russian consul, who was expecting us. Dmitri Grigorivich "Foká" Chechmistro, was a colonel in the Russian Army, seconded to the diplomatic corps so that he could manage the military and other aid to Somalia there in Somaliland. Delighted at the opportunity to practice his English, the language he had to use in all his dealings with the Somali, he immediately demanded that we treat him like an American and call him by his nickname, and as soon as we had told him of the individual teachers and students, and which schools we would visit, and I had convinced him of my single-minded devotion to duty as an English teacher, he invited us to have lunch with him in his office, which he had brought in from an Indian restaurant down the street. Vodka and lamb curry went well with the familiar conversation.

Foka was one of those Nordic Russians, tall and blond with no eyebrows, who was enthusiastic and positive in the face of a very difficult job, so much so that he seemed out of place. We expected to meet a dour apparatchick, like Russian officers in the movies. Foka was a nice guy, or very good at his job, or both.

Willy asked Foka all about juvenile delinquency in Russia and the Soviet Union, wondering about Khazak gangs and hustlers on the streets in Moscow, even after Foka had assured Willy that delinquency was found only in the more remote and backward Soviet states where organized crime unfortunately still existed.

Foka had to use English in all his correspondence with the Somali ministries of defense, trade and interior, and English was the common language of the United Nations personnel and other foreigners. He was fascinated by my book of English for Somalis, so I gave him a copy and showed him how to use it, my reason for visiting the schools. I assured him that it was a scientific book, not propaganda, that I was listed with the federal government of the United State as a "scientific linguist." He liked that a lot.

When I told Foka that we had to disabuse our students at the teachers' college of the notion that all Russians are Jews and Zionists in disguise, part of Muslim folklore equating secular Jews with atheistic communists, he replied "They have a point. We all have Zion in mind all the time."

The rumor was so persistent that it must have been spread by the mullahs everywhere - propaganda the CIA could not have bought at any price.

Foka showed us photos of his young wife, Klavdia Alexivich, a stunning Georgian Peach, a tall, thin girl, with curly black hair and blue eyes, wearing a demure shirtwaist dress. An economist of some sort, she had been away obtaining a certificate in accounting, and was to arrive the next day by air from Tbilisi. Childless, Foka was evidently anticipating the reunion with some eagerness. They had been apart for a year. We showed him the photos of our wives and children, and he made appropriate noises. We parted on the best of terms, with letters of introduction, in both English and Russian, which would give us access to the army camp and the schools there.

That evening we had dinner, if you could call it that, with Professor Mitford, at his house a few miles outside Hargeisa. He lived with a houseboy and a cook, who also served as translator and driver. His cook, Abdullahi, had learned to cook at the Hargeisa Hotel. There was not even any incorruptible whiskey to make the food or company bearable. We played cribbage.

Judge Farley Cocks, the local British arbiter, was another denizen of the hotel bar eager for company in the privacy of his home. When we met in the bar I told Farley that I was working for the State Department as an "expert," which my colleague Al Corn said meant that I was first of all an "ex," a has-been, and a spurt, that is, a drip under pressure. He found the observation sufficiently humorous to invite us to dinner, or he had other hopes for us, which I inferred from the topics he introduced to our conversation.

He was intrigued by the fact that the Somali government was calling the National Teacher Education Center one faculty of the University of Somalia. The other faculty of the university was Professore Giovanni Sarducci, an old Italian judge who had three students studying with him to qualify as giudici or conciliatori for arbitrato and arbitraggio in case there might some day be small claims suits or salary negotiations or a secular wedding for the magistratura to be concerned with. There was no divorce among the Italians in Somalia, of course, and the Somalis could divorce by saying it three times.

The visits to schools were unremarkable. Everyone froze in the presence of strangers. We met two American Peace Corps Volunteers who were teaching at a school in Hargeisa and living together in self defense and for convenience. Their school had the largest enrollment and the most advanced pupils, a sort of senior elementary school, a high school, "high" in the sense of highball, highlight, High German, highbred, hightail, hijack... Tony Macaluso and John "Mick" O'Brien were hoping to coach high school football back in the world after their tours were up. College boys living frugally on the local economy, like most "Beace Corpse," as the Somali called them, Tony and Mick made a little money selling liquor and American cigarettes to other teachers, who as Muslims were forbidden to acquire or use alcohol.

The boys justified their bootlegging by explaining that unless a teacher had alcohol he would chew qat. In Somalia everyone who can get it chews qat. Qat is flown to all the major towns daily from Yemen, as it must be fresh to be effective. A cultivated crop in the highlands of Yemen and Ethiopia, it is a narcotic leaf, Catha edulis, like the source of cocaine, coca. It must be chewed fresh, so planeloads are delivered daily to markets in the cities where an elaborate distribution system makes sure everyone gets his fix. Where there is a will there is a way, they say. Those who distribute food aid should hire the qat sellers to do their work for them. In a country with 95% unemployment, that is a place to start building an economy, I should think. People get money enough for drugs, no matter what.

Called "African tea," qat is both narcotic and anesthetic. It makes people drunk, bug-eyed, and sensitive to sunlight. That is why all schools and businesses let out at noon before the heat of the day. By that hour the teachers and everyone who can afford it are all high on qat. Everyone. Old tin cans are used as spittoons everywhere indoors. The spit is green like camel shit.

I am told that today in the anarchy of Somalia, teen-age boys high on qat, and armed with automatic weapons, ride around in "technicals," trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, or with self-propelled grenade launchers, looking for a fight. They know only what they see, and all of them have seen videotapes of The Terminator movies. They think that life in the esteemed West is like a video game. They play for real.

Tony and Mick did not frequently go to the bar at the hotel because they couldn't afford to buy drinks in return for the men who always offered them, but on occasion, to get the "scuttlebutt," as Mick put it, they passed by looking for news or amusement.

Willy and I went to have supper at their little house about three miles from the hotel, and to listen to a baseball game on short wave radio, courtesy of the Armed Forces Radio Network, that beacon of hope for the far flung in the wilderness. Tony and Mick were not there when Willy and I arrived, so we were greeted by a cute Somali girl who said her name was Muna, sweet, smiling, slender Muna. Dressed in a ma-awis skirt and a Rutgers University tee-shirt, she pushed open the door carefully until she saw that we were the expected guests. Then she shouted "What's up, guys?"

"That's groovy, man" said Willy, astonished to hear American spoken, and already in love. He tried to kiss her hand gallantly, and she countered with an elbow to the Adam's apple, not very hard, just to show a playful willingness within a boundary to be set. The boys had gone to town to get some cold beer. She invited us in, and Willy began a hound dog routine with Muna that would have shamed a college freshman, it was so obvious.

"Where you from? I've never seen a Somali girl so beautiful, have you? That's the stuff! I'm hip, man. Are you the maid or the girl friend?" Muna seemed inviting and pliable.

I excused myself to take a walk. The hill above the house was high and mostly bare except for a few stunted trees. I followed a path that led to the crest in a saddle, looking for fossils. Out of sight of the house, I had found one calcified fossil sea snail, nearly perfect and big as a fist, when a foraging troop of baboon, giant monkeys that I surprised, started screaming at the sight of me and running up the track ahead, looking back and jabbering in fright as if I were Satan himself, complaining to heaven of my presence. All fifteen of them ran over the brow of the hill and out of sight and earshot. I laughed to myself, unarmed, of course, and relieved to see that the baboon were not vicious. They have been known to attack and kill children.

Then I heard them screaming again, and saw them loping like chimpanzees back over the hill towards me. I stood stock still watching them approach. They were all looking back over their shoulders in fear. Then one of them saw me, and barked the alarm. They skidded to a stop in a pile in front of me, and looked back up the hill to see a beautiful, haughty, large leopard peering down at us plebian primates.

The baboon scattered to the left and right, screaming and running into the thorn bushes. I stood transfixed, sharing moments with the leopard's eyes. Every Somali's nightmare, it seemed to sniff in derision while looking at me for a few seconds. Then it turned around and walked over the hill out of sight.

It was the second time I had been face to face with a leopard in the wild. Once before, pursuing Guinea fowl with an empty shotgun, I had walked up on a leopard who was gazing at a flock of fat-tailed sheep being tended below the hill by two Somali children, and thinking about supper. It regarded me from 50 feet away with what seemed to me disgust for a time out of time. When I could stand the apprehension no longer, I did what one is not supposed to do. I turned and ran. It didn't follow me. Leopards apparently don't like my smell - Pear's Soap and Burma Shave - for which I am grateful.

The leopard's attack is said to be like that of all other cats. They immobilize the prey with the front feet and claws while biting the neck and ripping at the viscera, the vital organs in the body cavity, with the hind claws.

The Somali teach their children how to defend themselves with a spear against attack from a leopard, the shape of bad luck that always waits in the bush for shepherds and travelers on foot. Leopards are seen always alone, never in pairs or groups like lions, who need the society of their prides in order to share with other lions. Leopards, on the other hand, eat even their own children, their mothers abandoning them at an early age.

Shaken and relieved, I walked back to the house to learn that Tony and Mick lived with two smiling and gracious girls who were cousins of the same age, Muna and Maysa, both sixteen and stunningly like fashion models that did the cooking and cleaning for, and sleeping with, the boys. They were hired from the families of servants of other Europeans in Hargeisa. With beautiful white teeth and a tonsure of black curls, after more than a year of conjugal practice, the girls were charmingly Americanized, yet shy and retiring, it seemed. They went about the business of preparing the food while we opened stubby bottles of Tuborg beer and made man-talk about last year's college football season. Willy had not got to first base in the game he had tried to play with Muna, not surprisingly, moveable-property rights being extremely strong in Somalia.

License my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.

- John Donne

Willy and I had brought along a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes in lieu of flowers, cigarettes being a sort of money good for buying anything from the natives. We had them duty free at one tenth the retail price at the Commissary, so we always bought as many as we were allowed. Servants preferred to be paid in cigarettes, for example, because they could make a profit in selling their pay. I gave the carton to Mick.

"Shit-house mouse, hey, man, that's cool," Mick shouted, delighted with the gift.

It became clear which girl was paired with which boy when Maysa brought into the room a bowl of salted peanuts and placed them not in front of Willy or me, but in front of Tony to give as he would.

Amused, I asked the lovely Maysa "Do you really love Tony?"

She considered her response for a second and replied smiling and pleased with herself. "You fuckin' A," she said.

"I'm hip," I said, trying to sort out the replies in the right style among the possibilities. The conversation was full of colorful current slang, mostly expressions of astonishment, feigned or real, that absolved the speaker from any further elaboration: "Fuck old Maude! Kiss my petootie! Shit and step in it! Fat chance! Do little brown bears shit in the woods?"

At one point Mick said to Tony "Don't ask cat's-ass questions," and not understanding, I asked him what he meant.

"It's obvious," he said. "Ain't a cat got an ass?"

We four men at the table ate Spam baked with canned peaches and spaghetti with tomato sauce, served by the girls, who would have been very out of place sharing a meal with strangers. For dessert, Muna presented Mick with a gigantic papaya, a most delicious fruit, as large as a football, cut into four pieces surrounded with lime quarters on a tray. I had never seen such a large, orange papaya. Every papaya in Somalia has someone's name on it. As the fruit grows larger and riper on the tree, the first person to notice it, if it is within his space, puts his dibs on it, and then listens carefully for it to fall when it is dead ripe. In the same way, Tony and Mick had put their dibs on Maysa and Muna, to Willy's chagrin.

He had not often been let out into the world without his wife's chaperonage, and he was feeling his oats, as we used to say, not caring that the right word is hormones. Willy was confused. You can pinch a Somali girl's bottom, but you may not shake her hand.

Making small talk, I asked the beautiful Muna about the big papaya "Is that a local fruit, from here in Hargeisa?" Of course, she didn't understand that I was showing astonishment, and took me literally. They say that the best place to learn a language is in bed where your mind becomes a child again.

"If it ain't, I'll kiss your ass on Nassau," she said deliberately like a fraternity boy, as if to say I shouldn't doubt it. From this I surmised that Mick was from New Jersey, from Princeton, to be exact. My guess was true, to his amazement.

Judge Farley Cocks was eager for us to come to dinner at his home, a villa in a small compound reserved for former British civil servants. Farley, an older man with a disillusioned jowly face, a younger brother of the Baron Somers, Godber Cocks, he must have had his reasons to live as he did, all alone with a few servants. His wife Camilla had taken the children to her parents' home years before. His father and mother had lived for years across the gulf in Aden when it was part of British India, and he was in school. Since 1836 when the Suez Canal opened for business, Aden had been an important re-victualizing and coaling station on the run to India, with livestock brought over from Somalia from the port of Berbera. British passengers, Kipling's readers, looked down from the decks of passenger ships to watch the "Fuzzy-Wuzzies" loading food and fuel for the run to Bombay.

"Far-called our navies melt away
On dune and headland sinks the fire -
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!"
- Rudyard Kipling

When Aden was fortified during World War II, Farley was sent there as an intelligence officer because having lived there for a time he had considerable Arabic and Somali. Glowering and mustachioed, and hardly judicious in his private dealing with individuals, he held the post of judge advocate for the United Nations, for the judicial commission, an attempt to establish the rule of international law, or any kind of law, a judiciary for the Somali, who had none but their own ad hocery and sharia, Muslim traditional law.

Farley lived by himself, by choice, and one of his servants was a perfect, beautiful example of the Somali practice of inbreeding. Somalis are often said to be beautiful, that is, to be ideally proportioned, tall, with smooth, clear skin, and a patrician mien. The carriage is remarkably aloof and proud, even regal.

My friend Ali Omar, who was a half-caste Somali Yemeni-Italian, who had learned his English with the Seventh Day Adventists, used to argue that the noble Somali are as beautiful as the Jews are smart, the result of a hundred generations of intermarriage and selective breeding. Among the Somali, the best, strongest, and smartest survivors of a rugged way of life chose the most beautiful women. Among the Jews, the smartest boys are trained to become rabbis, and then are supported by the community and urged to have many talented children. By contrast, the Catholics make their best and brightest children remain officially celibate as priests and nuns. It all adds up, Ali claimed. Of course, this conjecture about the genetic basis of beauty and intelligence ignores the fact that Muslims clerics have many children too.

After a year or two among the Somali, you can tell a person's clan, and sometimes their tribe, by their appearance, a skill useful in dealing with groups of them. Preference must be given to individuals because of their place in the pecking order. Somalis defer to one another in ways that are opaque to foreigners at first, until you realize that discrimination is what gives balance and value to every group. For example, a team must be made up of members of the same clan, and preferably the same tribe, because even within the clan, some tribes are better than others. Two opposing teams must be made up the same way. Otherwise, the socially inferior group will refuse to try to win.

Judge Cocks, Farley, immediately inquired about our sexual preferences when we arrived at his home, introducing us to his favorite girl, the tall, beautiful Amina, showing her off, having her pose in her printed-cotton native costume, a coantino, four yards of stuff tied over the shoulder and draped around the waist, with a matching snood that covered part of her long, wavy hair.

"She's a bit of all right, wouldn't you say?" he asserted.

"I should say so."

With big cow-like eyes lined with kohl, slim and graceful in her sari-like dress, she was to serve dinner in her position as head housekeeper. Willy was amazed and fascinated by her, his dog-in-heat demeanor as apparent as a wagging tail, she, in turn, keeping an amused smile that seemed to show that she was enjoying the attention as her due. As we drank gin and tonic on the verandah, Farley explained how one got along alone in such a barbaric place.

"My only want is people to talk to," he said. "Take Amina here, for example. She's nil, zero, cipher when it comes to politics. But otherwise, she's worth a holiday in Paris. I bought her from her old da, you see. They belong to their fathers and then to their husbands. And they're not randy, not tempted to stray. Their old aunties cut off their things when they're babies before they sew them up. Perfect women. Said I wanted a sweet, clean girl to see to me kip and me supper. She's first-rate in bed too."

"You mean you make love to her?" Willy exclaimed. You could see him thinking that Farley was an old goat.

"Well, having sexual relations is not the same as making love, is it? Not to put too fine a point on the matter, not a legal matter, anyway."

"I don't believe it," said Willy.

Challenged, Farley countered. "Go on. Try her out," he demanded. He called Amina aside and whispered a favor in her ear. Giggling, she led Willy by the hand into the house.

As they left us, Willy asked over his shoulder "Aren't you afraid of disease?"

"No, not at all," said the judge. "When you've finished, go in the loo, and wash the old wank off with a bit of Dettol. Works fine for me."

While Willy and Amina were away, Farley asked me whether I wanted a turn, and I demurred, saying that although I did not disapprove of promiscuity, I was still afraid of colored people, a consequence of growing up in the southern United States.

You're not some damned poof, are you?" asked the judge half-seriously.

"No," I replied, "but I work among professors of education, the queerest, most emotionally twisted, most vindictive bunch of back stabbers you'll find anywhere, and I wouldn't let my colleague Willy get a step up on me, not that I don't trust him. But who knows? I have to work among people I would not invite to dinner."

"Well said, young man."

In five minutes Willy came back to the verandah, zipping up his short pants. "Wow! You oughta try that little pistol!" he breathlessly said to me.

"Maybe next time," I said, sharing his relief.

It is no sin to sin in secret. And to this day I have kept Willy's fornication sinless. If anyone deserved Amina's favors, it was Willy.

* * * *

The 26th of June, 1960 was the day of independence of Somaliland from Britain, and the 1st of July the day of independence of Somalia from Italy. Later the 27th of June was to mark the independence of Djibouti from France. Such diversity suits Somalia very well. Now they can quarrel over which date to use as the national holiday. In the North in 1967, the 26th of June was the holiday. There was to be a grand parade of the army units in Hargeisa, with President Shermaarke reviewing the troops.

It fell on a Thursday, which meant that we had a long weekend ahead of us, the weekend usually being only Friday, the Muslim holy day. Fabian stopped by the hotel after dinner and was happy to drink a beer with us. He had come to Hargeisa from Aden to hear the confession of the local Roman Catholic Englishman who said Mass at the tiny Anglican church with the assistance of the Anglican priest, and to cheer him on, his congregation numbering only six people. Anyone who believes in magic may say Mass, according to Ephesians 4: 11-13, and even "a layman may ordain a Bishop," Cranmer wrote. Vatican II was having an effect in Africa, although Fabian could not get a visa to go to Ethiopia because the Christians there were all Copts.

We gathered there in the hotel bar to hear Fabian's version of the attack in Aden the week before. Bwana Don and Bill had already left for Marsabit to start their safari among the Turkana. Of course, Mitford, Tony, Mick, and Farley had heard in detail about our experiences, so Fabian's story added to the points for discussion of which group of revolutionaries might be behind the violence.

The next morning we found our friends Mick and Tony on the street waiting for the parade and enjoying watching the crowds of people. They had agreed to join us for lunch at the Indian restaurant after the parade. It seemed the entire local population and villagers from nearby were there, and nomads had come for quite great distances to celebrate Independence Day. Many weddings had been scheduled for that morning, with dancing and singing the popular Somali pentatonic melodies on the street, like a child playing on the black keys. Occasional rifle fire in the air marked the end of a wedding when the bride was led away by the husband's women for disinfibulation. Guns were not allowed at public meetings, for good reason.

The "Independence Song" could be heard everywhere: "Manta, manta, manta, waa malin weyne manta," today, today, today is day big today, up and down the five-tone scale. The women wore their gold jewelry openly, as is the custom. It is just as risky there to steal jewelry as it is chastity. They wear colorful, long, billowing dresses with petticoats, and the hijab or scarves. Nearly everyone, men and women, usually wear the toob, a giant shirt without a collar. But on special occasions they put on their finery. Nomads were there in their ma-awis kilts, all with knives in their belts, and a few carrying long spears. Men wear pants and shirts with shawls, and turbans or embroidered caps, koofiyad. Somalis talk to each other with exaggerated gestures, their hands twisting and fingers snapping.

A temporary reviewing stand had been erected across the street from the hotel in the middle of the city. When President Shermaarke arrived in one of three Mercedes automobiles preceded and followed by policemen and soldiers on motorcycles, to take his place on the stand, a great ululation arose, starting down the street and following the motorcade along. Policemen in blue and soldiers in khaki were protecting and guarding the president, perhaps against each other. Shermaarke was to last another 10 years as president.

It was there on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, one of the two sidewalks in Hargeisa, that we met Foka's wife Klavdia and his body guard, Salim, a Syrian Arab.

When they ran into us on the street, Foka exclaimed to her "Here my friends," delighted to see someone he had met before. The Russians did not mix with the other Europeans, except on the rare opportunity.

I put on my best Russian, which I had learned from my father's parakeet when he was learning Russian in order to translate patents from Russian into English. He had repeated phrases over and over as his teacher urged him to do, and in his study he kept a parakeet, Billy Boy. When anyone entered the room the bird said "Zdravstvuyte, Billy Boy," hello. All other utterances from the bird were random.

Foka said "Good morning" to us, and Klavdia said, with a cheerful smile that raised the color in her pale cheeks, "Privyet!" hi!

I managed "Zdravstvuyte." She countered with "Dobroe utro," good morning. To Salim I said in Arabic "Marhaba, assalam alaikum" hi, with peace. Foka explained to her that he knew us Americanski because we were the teachers of the teachers at the army camp, and that he would show her my book for teaching like Billy Boy. He put his arms around her and kissed her cheek. She tossed her black curls and blushed like a little girl.

At that moment Fabian appeared like a gray-bearded snowman among us. I introduced him to the Russians and Salim, with polite handshaking all around. "Praise God," said Fabian. "It's a glorious day!" The Honor Guard approached, marching in front of the Army Band, one hundred men playing "Colonel Bogey" as they marched, playing surprisingly well with four bass drums and a brace of glockenspiele.

Ranks passed: riflemen armed with World War I Moisin-Nagant bolt-actions, ancient, wheeled machine guns drawn by pairs of gunners, trucks and jeeps, half-track troop carriers, field guns, a camel corps with blue and white trappings, mounted cavalry with lances, all they would have needed to fight the Turks 50 years before in a different war.

When the last of the ambling children who brought up the rear of the parade in echelons of Boy Scouts, military cadets, and school groups of boys herded by their teachers, the crowds went their way, and Foka asked us to pose for a photograph. He had a Russian-made single-lens 35mm reflex camera. We stood for him with Klavdia in front of some Bougainvillea in the tea garden next to the hotel. Then with his camera I snapped a picture of him and Klavdia together near the lion cage next door. As I looked for Mick, Tony and Willy in order to go to lunch with them at the Indian restaurant, Foka posed Klavdia in front of the cage near the lion, which had come out of the shade to see what was going on.

"Stoyat' okono steny," he said, closer to the wall. She backed up against the bars and smiled sweetly.

Suddenly the lion reached both front paws through the bars, grabbed Klavdia by the throat and breast, and jumped up kicking with its hind legs through the bars, tearing again and again.

She couldn't scream. Foka howled in anguish as she fell face down in the dirt, unconscious and bleeding out into the sand. He dropped to his knees, turned her face up and embraced her as she died. In his rage, he rose covered with blood, and demanded Salim's pistol from the holster under his arm. He cocked the pistol, and fired five times at the lion, hitting it twice in the side. The lion roared and retreated into its packing crate lair, and lay whimpering, licking the bullet wounds in its side. Overcome with grief, Foka lay down next to Klavdia's body, embraced her, and wept. A large crowd gathered around, shouting curses and spells.

Salim took a spear from an on-looking nomad, and with it prodded the lion, enraging it so that it came out of its box, and as it did so, he stuck the spear hard in its neck and twisted it, fatally wounding the lion, which then lay down gasping and spitting blood.

Fabian walked over and lifted Foka by the shoulders, and put his arms around him, to comfort him and share his grief, muttering prayers. Foka wept like a lost child.

* * * *

Needless to say, Guelleh was very unhappy about losing the lion he had not yet been paid for. His day-guard, Nuur, and his friends took on the job of disposing of the dead lion. I asked Nuur if he would sell me the lion's skin, thinking I could get an interesting souvenir. He asked 50 shillings, but without the claws. He could sell those separately and make as much from them as talismans.

That evening Nuur brought the washed skin to me at the hotel, so I had two houseboys sew it up inside an old bedspread after sprinkling it with Dettol against decay. I intended to carry it back to Mog with me on the airplane, and then give it to a neighbor, a Dutchman operating a commercial tannery for the United Nations, for him to turn into a lion-skin rug. Three days later the old DC-3 smelled like rotten lion, to the discomfort of Willy and me, and I don't know what the pilots and other passengers thought. You get used to putting up with anything in Africa. They were polite, and said nothing about it, but it was too late to save the pelt when we got home. The hair and mane slipped out of the skin when it was processed, and so we had a large piece of light-blue, chrome-tanned lion leather, the right color for a Somali flag.

Article copyright 2003 Joe Palmer