At the airport, a large cloth sign stretched between two poles said "Welcome to Somalia." The country was not the famine-ridden anarchy of real life, but rather a bustling, prosperous Third World land (if that isn't a contradiction) full of happy olive-skinned people, perhaps an uneasy prognostication of the Africa of the future, after famine and AIDS have done their work and complacent Europeans have moved in on all that vacant real estate.
On a side street, two kids were playing one-on-one basketball. The ball flew towards me and I returned it by bouncing it off my head like a soccer ball; never mind that basketballs are too heavy to do that without injury. One of the kids told me, tolerantly, "Uh-uh. Wrong game."
This new Somalia was a reading nation. Everywhere we went there were books. Piles and piles of hardback books, old books for the most part, bound in aged maroon and navy blue. The Somalians had a multitude of tricks for getting new books. We were informed, for instance, that we were obliged to leave any books we had brought to the country in the country, or at the very least to trade them for some of Somalia's discards. I felt a grudging respect for a country so dedicated to acquiring new reading material, although it angered me to leave my travel reading behind.
We were guided to a play by a short woman with long, dark hair. My wife paid for the tickets. The custom, it was explained, is for the woman to pay. We were late, so we had to sit on folding chairs near the back of the tiny auditorium, half-hidden from the stage by one of the pillars holding up the roof.
A woman on stage was performing an interactive piece; she picked people from the audience, who had to respond to what she'd just said. We sat down with our cups of coffee and I tried to hear what was going on, but what with the woman's accent, the noise of the rest of the audience, the constant street noise, and the fact that I couldn't see past the pillar in front of me, I couldn't understand what she was saying.
I felt very visible. I was the only white man in the theater. Naturally the woman on stage called on me next. I was unable to respond, so our native guide informed me that I had to throw my coffee all over myself. Even my wife agreed, telling that I needed to go along with their customs, so I drenched myself with my own lukewarm coffee, but then awakened.
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